by Alaina Mabaso
Germantown Academy alumnus Justin Lavner, 30, came “late” to the activity that launched his career. Before creating an ever-expanding series of kids’ summer camps in the Philadelphia area, this Lower Gwynedd native played in professional tennis tournaments and worked as a coach.
He first picked up the racquet at 10 years old – but it wasn’t soon enough. “Compared to many competitors, that was actually a late start,” he said. “I worked really hard to catch up.”
This year, Lavner is “very excited” to be expanding his Lavner Camps program, which grew out of his work as a youth tennis coach at Bala Cynwyd’s Cynwyd Club, to his old stomping grounds in and around Northwest Philadelphia.
Lavner attended Germantown Academy through 10th grade and transferred to Jenkintown’s Abington Friends School. His childhood best friend lived in Chestnut Hill, so he loved that neighborhood from an early age. Lavner graduated from Abington Friends and went on to the University of Pennsylvania, receiving his undergraduate degree in English in 2005.
Lavner was the #1 singles player for Germantown Academy and Abington Friends School. He played in the singles lineup for the varisty team at GA as a 7th grader and went undefeated in the Friends league at #1 singles in 2000. As an undergrad at Penn, he played #2 singles and #1 doubles. His team ranked #61 nationally in NCAA division 1 tennis. He also played for the U.S. Tennis Association’s Middle States Team (PA, DE, NJ and WV).
“I had a great childhood,” he said. While neither of his parents played tennis, both were very athletic, and he enjoyed going to professional sports games with his dad, a lawyer in Center City.
“My parents supported me in school,” Lavner remembered. “I worked really hard. They didn’t spoil me.”
After graduating from Penn, he enrolled in law school at Villanova and began coaching young tennis players part-time. One of his pupils made it all the way to the junior division of the U.S. Open. His intensive coaching brought such notable improvements to his students that other tournament participants took notice, and “before I knew it,” Lavner was running a full tennis academy, including summer camps and clinics, out of the Cynwyd Club.
Now, the program has evolved to include fun but intensive training in disciplines beyond tennis. Lavner’s vision for his summer camps, which now include courses like salon styling, culinary arts and robotics, grew out of his belief that we don’t need to wait until the teenage years to expose kids to highly specialized interests.
“Traditional summer-camp may have seven activities in a day, and you may not want to do three or four of them,” he said. He finds that many kids would rather immerse themselves in a favorite subject — especially things not often taught in school, like video game design, robotics, cooking or salon styling — and have the fun and satisfaction of noticeable improvement with specific skills.
For almost five years, Lavner’s camps have been operating out of locations like Malvern’s Valley Forge Educational Services facility, Bryn Mawr’s Barrack Academy and the Cynwyd Club. This year, programs are coming to Fort Washington’s Germantown Academy, as well as Abington Friends School. Registration is flexible, with full-week programs available as well as day and half-day options. This year’s camps kicked off on June 18 and run through the end of August.
This year’s offerings include Robotics and Technology, Video Game Programming and Design, Culinary Arts, Theater, Golf and Tennis. Campers at the new Germantown Academy site can enroll in the video game or culinary programs. Young chefs will have a chance to make dishes like spaghetti, fish tacos, flounder with shrimp stuffing, brownies and apple pie bars, to name a few. “It’s not the healthiest camp in the world,” Lavner admitted, “but those are fun to make.”
Lavner, who received his law degree in 2009, sees direct application for both of his degrees in running his camps. Legal expertise helps when it comes to a host of duties within the business, from contracts to insurance. Meanwhile, Lavner puts his English degree to work by writing all of the website and brochure materials himself.
As a young child, Lavner was happiest when his parents unleashed him on the blocks at the Please Touch Museum. He spent hours constructing elaborate towers that the staff immortalized in photos. “Nowadays, that’s what I enjoy about Lavner Camps,” he said of the opportunity to grow his business.
For more information, call 215-767-1354 or visit http://lavnercampsandprograms.com/.