Brian Underwood: Staging a future might well begin at summer camp

Trivia time! What do actor Denzel Washington, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerburg, astronaut Neil Armstrong, Viacom Music and Entertainment president Doug Herzog, President George W. Bush, actresses Mandy Moore and Natalie Portman, and actor/voice actor Hank Azaria have in common?

It may be more than one thing, but one thing is for certain, each went to a summer camp, and all credit that experience for positively affecting his/her life’s trajectory.

With a month or so left before schools begin to release for summer vacation, it’s high season for parents to be thinking about summer activities for their children, and a week at summer camp has lots of value.

Now, clearly, it’s important for working families to have options available for their children, but the discernment of what a child participates in goes beyond simply ensuring childcare. The effect of a summer camp experience can influence a child’s emotional and social development, as well as his/her career.

“I’ll tell anyone who will listen that I learned everything I needed to know at camp,” Doug Herzog, president of Viacom Music and Entertainment Group told the Hollywood Reporter in an August, 2016 interview.

Several years ago, The American Summer Camp Association (ACA, surveyed 1,000 parents about the top five outcomes their children experienced from attending camp. The results, in order of perceived value, were: 1) My child felt successful, 2) Made friends, 3) Gained new skills, 4) Encouraged my child to get along better with others, and 5) Helped my child have a better idea of what he/she is good at.

“Hank Azaria remembers getting his start on our stage, and he still comes up every year,” says Camp Towanda (Honesdale, Pa.) director, Mitch Reiter.

And the benefits aren’t limited to the campers.

“When young people say, ‘I would love to be an executive,’ I say being a camp counselor helps,” Herzog continued.

In his biography written by Chris Nickson entitled Denzel Washington (St. Martin Press), Washington recalled the transformative experience he had as camp counselor at Camp Sloane run by the YMCA.

“The counselors there put on a talent show for the kids,” Washington wrote in his book. “I put together these little poems and rhymes and skits for the kids in my cabin, and we stood up on stage and did our bit. After the show this guy named Miles Joyce came up to me and said, ‘Man, you ever thought about being an actor?”

I once knew a kid who had everything he needed to be the next Jerry West (today’s Steph Curry) except size, speed, quickness or talent. Unphased and undeterred, he attended the John Wooden Basketball Camp for several years as a youngster. The skills he learned didn’t ultimately translate to riches on the basketball floor, but they did stoke a coaching career that included time on the NCAA Division I level and games involving a plethora of future NBA stars and champions, games played in some of the sport’s most hallowed venues. And it later resulted in time spent learning from Coach Wooden — again.

Though I didn’t particularly like it at the time, I can clearly see God’s handiwork in making me an under-talented player with an enormous love of the game who used Coach Wooden to inspire me to a coaching career that later led me to teaching and administration.

So what about that young lady or young man in your life who’s on the doorstep to summer and either doesn’t have much planned? Consider the benefit of investing in a summer program for him/her that couldn’t only grow him/her socially and emotionally, but also possibly grow his/her passion toward a career.

It doesn’t have to be a live-in camp; it can be a local program, even a part-day experience to put that loved one of yours in a setting that could open up new doors.

If you have a sense of the gifts and talents that could be developed, look for some programs that could further those skills. Here are a few local options that offer excellent summer enrichment opportunities.

This summer Sierra Lutheran and Bethlehem Lutheran Church and School are offering a handful of art, music, science, sports, and church camps — day and overnight. To learn more visit

Also nearby are wonderful programs offered by the Boys and Girls Clubs of Western Nevada. This organization provides excellent leadership and quality programs in wonderful facilities. Visit

Two other sources to check out include offerings from The Brewery Arts Center,, which hosts an array of offerings, including pop-up programs around town, and a fun website — Going to that URL and plugging in one’s zip code unearths all sorts of activities ranging from hands-on programs offered by Home Depot to dance programs, equestrian offerings, local parks and recreation programs.

Supporting that special young lady or young man in your life by registering him/her for camp this summer may not see him/her grow up to be an Academy Award winner, media titan, revolutionary entrepreneur, pioneering astronaut, or President of the United States, and that’s actually a good thing.

You see, we still need people to do such things as cure the common cold, bring world peace, teach our children, fix our cars, pour a cup of coffee with a smile, and so much more. All with grace and kindness.

Now, a week at summer camp in and of itself, will, of course, not bring all this to pass, but it will do one thing. It will inspire imagination and possibilities, which are important seeds to plant.

So get with that special young person in your life, grab a trowel together, and find a summer camp where those seeds can best be sewn. Because you do reap what you sow.

Brian Underwood is Sierra Lutheran High School’s director of school development.


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