Name: Allen Schwartz
Hometown: Lake Forest, IL & Boca Raton, FL
Current Job & Title: Director Emeritus – currently enjoying family and friends during retirement!
Years at Banner: 1964-2014
Staff Role at Camp: I’ve done everything you can imagine!
What inspired you to open Banner Day Camp?
As a child, I struggled in school – particularly multiplication tables – from being academically behind after a move from California to Chicago. My self-esteem and confidence were destroyed after being the last one standing day after day while our teacher quizzed us on the tables. I was anxious and started to get into fights at recess. One day when I was upset following school, my mother encouraged me and reminded me that I was not dumb and that I could do anything I wanted.
That summer, I had the opportunity to attend National Athletic Camp which was owned by my uncle, Harry Heller (camp runs in the family!) Camp was transformational. My bus driver, George La Beau, became my hero and role model. He taught me that life could be fun and showed me that I had goodness, was worthwhile and important. He liked me for who I was.
Later on, in high school, I was given an assignment to write an essay about what I wanted to do as a career. I couldn’t think of anything and the stress and self-doubt from elementary school crept into my life again. Through tears, I explained the assignment to my mom and told her that I was stuck. She asked an important question, “What do you love doing the most?” Immediately, thoughts of camp flooded my mind. She followed up her question by reminding me, just like when I was younger, that I could do anything I wanted.
It was that day that Banner was born. Banner Day Camp really is a dream come true! Reflecting back, I am grateful for all I learned from my school challenges. They taught me to have compassion and understanding and gave me experiences to better serve others.
What has Banner meant to you?
Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think that Banner would become as extraordinary, as impactful and as life changing as it is. No question that Banner has been a blessing in my life.
I was lucky enough that Banner was ingrained in our family. My wife, Helen, was integral in every aspect of Banner. Helen and I met when we were just 15 (her) and 17 (me) years old – it was love at first site for me! We were married four years later at 19 and 21. To create and share camp with her was one of life’s great blessings. She understood and managed the business side of running camp and also took care of challenges that popped up over the years. We shared the vision that we wanted to create an excellent experience for each and every child and she made sure that happened in every way. She took care of the bus routing, lunch, the snacks, camp supplies and wrote every single payroll check (among countless other things she did to keep camp growing year after year). To have a partner, at camp and in life, like Helen has been the greatest gift.
My son and daughter, Bradley and Stacy, grew up at camp as campers, staff and then directors (Helen was pregnant with Stacy that first summer.) Brad met his wife, Tanya, working at camp and Stacy’s husband, Paul, worked as a director for many years. All of my grandchildren – Ari, Eli, Noah, Grace and Josh – grew up at Banner. To be able to share such an important part of our lives as a family at camp is priceless. Our entire family has been blessed by camp.
It’s also been special to be able to pass the torch to my daughter, Stacy. I love watching her continue the work that we began and she is doing it with love, excellence and hard work. I am so proud. And, I am grateful that I can still hear about and enjoy the Banner community.
Banner, for me, has always been about the people, our special camp community. Camp has, for almost 60 years, come to shape the lives of campers, staff, our leadership team and all of our camp families in many ways. We have been fortunate to attract the most amazing people; I treasure the memories of such unique human beings. My heart is full knowing that I’ve been able to be a part of such a beautiful experience for so many people and how camp has impacted their lives – friendships that still flourish, marriages that were created from Banner relationships – Banner has been a blessing.
What do you hope people remember from being a part of the Banner community?
I hope that people remember to never underestimate the impact that love, kindness and compassion can have in a person’s life. George La Beau and my mom gave me the love and encouragement that I needed to become a happy, healthy adult and to create Banner Day Camp. I hope that every child and staff member that comes to camp becomes inspired to share their unique gifts with the world and knows that they can make a difference (just ask them about our STARFISH Goal of the Week program!). And, I hope, that we all remember, and hold deep in our hearts, our Banner Motto:
It may be hard,
It may take time,
But stick with it,
And you’ll be fine.
YOU CAN DO IT!
Life will throw its challenges, but can you do it? YES, YOU CAN!
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