Sherry - Roadmap to Owning a Summer Camp
Updated: Aug 12, 2020
What do you do for a living?
Executive Director at Acadia Institute of Oceanography (AIO), a marine science summer camp located in Maine.
What does a day at your job look like?
In the off-season, no 2 days are alike, which is good and bad. I don’t get bored because I get to make my own schedule. Campers have to apply for our programs, so before each summer I spend my days writing acceptance letters to future campers, advertising in camp resources, writing letters of reference for former campers, hiring staff if necessary (the majority of my staff returns every summer), interviewing interns, contracting with a local boating company or other vendor to work with, paying bills for the camp, talking to parents about the program, and sending emails. Lots and lots of emails. I set everything up over the winter so the camp can run smoothly in the summer. Once summer comes I open the camp, welcome my staff, campers and parents, and then step back to let the program run itself. I have Program Directors and staff that I trust. I don't micromanage. I'm there for any logistic issues and to manage any crisis. I also teach the kids at least once daily, because I really enjoy teaching.
What path did you take to get here?
Graduated high school -->
My plan was to work in theatre so I went to Kalamazoo College to major in Theatre Arts -->
Sophomore year I was part of a career development program that had me do a project in Environmental Education in Maine, which got me thinking about changing my career path -->
I had no money to continue in theatre because I had to pay for college on my own, so I got a job teaching environmental education in southern Maine and discovered I loved teaching -->
I went back to Kalamazoo to get my teaching certification, with a Minor in Psychology-->
Every other semester, I'd go back to Maine to work, which was ideal because the position had room and board plus pay -->
I graduated and went back to Maine to be Program Director at The Environmental School (TES) once I had my degree -->
Created an Assistant Director position at TES -->
My first summer out of college, I heard about AIO from friends who had worked there, so I applied and got a job in the recreation staff department -->
I ended up being one of the most consistent summer staff at AIO, working for the previous owner for 8 straight summers when he approached me about buying it -->
I decided I was ready to take a risk and do my own thing, so I bought AIO in 1992 and have been running it ever since.
What are the Challenges of your job?
Juggling time with my family and running this business. I have 3 kids, and if you ask them now they'd say they're proud of me, but when they were little they felt like I was never around enough, especially in the summers. I also run a trip for campers to study marine biology in either Belize or Florida every winter, usually over Thanksgiving break, so I wasn't home for Thanksgiving for almost 2 decades. I missed a lot.
What are the blessings of your job?
I get to meet really interesting kids and great staff. I get lots of hugs and letters from kids telling me about the difference I make in their lives, but I feel like I'm the one who is so lucky and fortunate to meet them. It is my privilege to work with them. And then they go on to do such amazing things! I feel lucky to be there at the beginning of their journey.
What 3 characteristics do you have to possess or develop to do your job well?
1. Diplomacy - at times I have to discipline campers and then tell parents things they don’t want to hear about their child. I try to be as kind about it as possible.
2. Organization – Being organized is the only way to be able to get things done. I organize every detail of the camp so I can let it run itself.
3. A good sense of humor - You gotta have fun! I don’t think anyone should do a job they don’t want to do.
What are 3 concrete things you’d tell someone on their journey to doing your job?
1. Be open to all possibilities. I didn’t think I’d be doing what I’m doing now when I was young. Open a lot of doors and try a lot of different things to see what is interesting to you.
2. Believe in yourself. Be strong and go for what you want. Jump off the cliff and take risks sometimes. Have confidence in yourself. So many people told me I wouldn't be able to pay off the camp loan on the timeline I set for myself while running the business and being a mom, but I knew I could get the kids enrolled to keep the business going. And I did it.
3. Make decisions. Your life is a series of decisions that you make every day, so try not to look at any of them as a mistake. Every decision is a step on the journey. Stick it out until you can make the next decision and move on.