Monday, May 31, 2021

2001 - Leadership and Significance


Amy Larson (Circa 2000s)

                   (Fifty Nifty Years in the United States Series)

People at camp do things that perhaps they do not do anywhere else in the world. Amy Larson is one of those people. There is not a task at camp that was beneath her. She would do or say anything that needed to be done in order to advance the cause of children having a great time at camp.

She also had a collection in a plastic box of foot skin – her own. (dried skin from her heal that would peel and she kept in a plastic box in her desk)

Again, people at camp do things that perhaps they would not do anywhere else in the world. Amy was another one of those fixtures who had been at one of the camp's I directed in California. 

Amy's family had also been Y folks and her grandfather was a legend at the Y in their community. Her enthusiasm was marked by a long labored want to share about her ideas and philosophy of camp. After an extremely lengthy amount of coaxing and intense relationship building (17 minutes) she exploded with what I found to be a leader waiting to happen. I joke about this because those who know Amy, know that it does not take a great deal to illicit her reactions, opinions or exuberance. It was absolutely what I was looking for in helping me shape camp.

Our couple of summers together and her help and support during the off seasons and winter programs where a truly special time. Amy’s gift to me was that she allowed me to help her through decisions and growth and great life choices.

I felt like what I thought it might be like for some of my mentors might have felt. A satisfaction of seeing someone discover their life’s potential. In service to youth. It was what I can only describe at the time as feeling significant in another person’s life. I am not sure I had shared that with Amy and it wasn’t until my role changed in 2001 that I missed her gift.

John Maxwell says, “Once you taste significance, success will never satisfy you.” 

Amy will never know (unless she reads this) how much she enabled my desire to make significant changes that allowed us to serve an entire population of children that we had never served before. 

A the beginning of our time, that YMCA had three week long sessions of camp each summer. Inside of three years, we went to six weeks; and then to 9 weeks; and then adding on bed/bunk space, program areas, building a cabin, and even engaging another nearby camp for bunk space. We also added travel programs and surfing (beach) camp sessions.

At the time a significant leap in how and who we served. From a YMCA that primarily served youth from predominantly affluent neighborhoods; to the expansion county wide and serving a greater number of disadvantaged youth as well as youth in the foster care system.

I am so grateful for my time in these United States and for Amy who allowed me to help her find in herself what I knew was a great leader. 

Today, Amy is a teacher and a mother, and I am still inspired by her exuberance to share the world with her own children and the hundreds and hundreds that we served together.


Tuesday, May 25, 2021

2000 - Leadership on the Road to "Just Serving"


PattyHart - (L & R)

(Fifty Nifty Years in the United States Series)

973 different things happen at camp each day. Count them – Patty Hart did. She is called PattyHart for a reason. The two words have to be said together. No space.

When I met her, there were several different folks named Patty who worked at that camp including one who had a self-proclaimed “Grizzly Patty” nick name. Mind you that camp was near Big Bear Lake California, so bears were a frequent thing.

Anyway, Patty Hart was there and always offered to help. I don’t think there was a day that went by, that even as she was walking out the door – she would want to know how else she could be of service. I have a scrap of paper that she left once, that says, “just here to serve.” 

Multiple times, she would be available to help sheppard my own children (who called her Patty Hart) to school or watch them during a Y event. Around this time in my life and career, I began noting who shows up and what skills and talents do they have. PattyHart (while notably was banned from ever telling a joke) would show up to volunteer.

Volunteers have been a staple in all that I have worked toward and this was no exception. We talked about things that she could or wanted to do. She began a list of the things that no one did in camp and the things that others were assigned. (This, by the way is how we got to the 973 number). By the time I was working in New York, Patty Hart, had become known as the “Catch-All” Support Staff because that is exactly the capacity that she served best.

I picture PattyHart always on the road somewhere. When we were in California at that camp, she lived "down the hill" and was always driving up to or down the mountain. (Please note that the term "down the hill" was used by locals who lived in the mountains near Big Bear Lake, California. The average elevation is about 6700 feet above sea level. Locals also refer to those below that level as "flat landers.")

These road trips are part and parcel to the 973 things that happen in camp every day including some items such as: Store Run List Updates, Code Yellow Alerts to Cabins, Airport, train station, bus station, and social security office runs. So many things that fall through the cracks and PattyHart helped me identify and assign to avoid those falls.

One of my favorite memories of PattyHart "on the road" was her cross country trip from California to New York for a summer. There were daily and sometimes hourly updates as to her destination being altered slightly and time of arrival. Her most recent trip is from California to Texas for the birth of a grand child.

On the Road to Camp

Our communication has even become short had in that work. A simple word such as “claw” or “kang” would be all we needed to communicate an idea or concept. Anyone who works in an industry or organization long enough knows the short hand and all the acronyms. Patty Hart and I have it down to looks, signs and single words.

John Maxwell talks about the "Law of the Inner Circle." The concept is that a leader finds greatness in a group and helps the members find it in themselves. 

I am honored to have had Patty Hart be a part of the inner circle at two different times in my camp career and her greatness was in demonstrating how best to serve. She did this at one level at a camp that she had been a part of for a long time and then again at a camp where the only ones she knew, were members of my family. 

Without knowing it, I learned John’s law by becoming a part of that inner circle and then modeling that for others. She helped others as well as myself find the greatness in what we do, simply by being a role model of service.

A year or two ago when I got to be the guest director at another camp; I actually went in with the concept of how best to model my service. I thought of two people who had an impact on me in how they served.

One was Steve Waterman and the other, PattyHart. As I embarked on the best way to approach that camp that I had never been on staff; I started each day with their examples in mind. I even took the note that Patty Hart had etched so many years ago. “I am just here to serve.”

I consider it an honor to be part of her inner circle and I am grateful for her kindness and service to my own children as well. As I have learned from so many over the 50 plus years I have spent in these United States, I am especially grateful for PattyHart.  

Item 674 - Pick up Spaniards from the airport.

Say it with me outloud. "PattyHart." “PattyHart.” I really want you to say it out loud while you are reading this. “PattyHart.” Say it with no space between the names at all, “PattyHart.”

See how it sounds, that’s how my kids would say it when they were little.



Monday, May 10, 2021

1999 - Leadership and the Law of the Lid


Brian (L) Megan (R)

(Fifty Nifty Years in United States Series)

There is always room for forgiveness and redemption. I learned that lesson with Brian. My first impressions of Brian were that he had a big heart and needed to share that with others.

I recall having him meet Alec at the YMCA in late 1998. Alec was 4 or 5 years old and Brian was towering behind the stomach height front desk counter at the Y. He did something that I did not expect. He came around and got down to Alec’s height and introduced himself. I found it astounding. I knew that we would work together at camp.

Brian brought along several of his friends, Katie, Trey and Phil. (All amazing young people that brought leadership in their own rights) Together he helped usher in more children who otherwise would not have been able to come to camp.

We spent many hours’ playing cards (Palace) and late night talks and games of HORSE. At the end of our 2nd year together at camp, I fell to pressure and Brian and I parted ways. It was one of those situations where I allowed many outside voices to enact what I felt I should absolutely NOT do.

It has been one of those recurring lessons for me. I have always said, “Camp is about beginnings and endings.” (Thanks Brian Crater) and this was one of those endings that I applied my three questions of “What went right, what went wrong, and how do I do it better next time?”

As it were, my tie with that Y ended as well and Lee Anne and I relocated to a Camp in Florida. By the third spring we were there, I needed a strong leader to help drive program culture and Brian showed up having the summer off between his graduate programs. He came in like a whirlwind and help shove the entire camp forward to focus on camper interactions and relationship building. 

We were even featured in the Outdoor Network cable series about YMCA camps as a unique program – you can still find it in three parts on YouTube. Brian was eloquent, and I stuttered my way through. (Watch those videos here)

During our time that summer, Brian brought to my attention a simple concept that I would later learn John Maxwell called “the Law of the Lid.” I had given a staff member the opportunity to lower the bar, so to speak, on his performance. One of our cabin leaders needed some time and space to re-evaluate their circumstances (some life issues happening during work). Being that staff lived and worked at the site, I made accommodations for them. Other staff were upset by my actions and Brian brought it to my attention.

Brian pointed out to me that every time I lowered the bar, this individual would drop the same amount in their performance. He even coined the phrase of “Al Ferreira’s camp for wayward leaders.” 

I have often told individuals that I am their biggest fan. It is a blind spot that as a leader, I now have named (and had a reputation) thanks to Brian. I am grateful for that lesson. I am even more grateful to Brian his ability to forgive and provide redemption. 

Our previous camp interaction had not ended well at all. He found room in his world to want to give me another opportunity to step up my leadership game. Like that moment where he came around the counter to greet Alec, he came around again to give me a chance to work with him.

In my 50 plus years in these United States, I have come across some amazing young people and Brian has lead the way in his work and how he treats people. Thank you for your continued example.

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

1997 - Leadership and Druckeresque Lessons


Robin and Ken Stein - YMCA Mentors

(Fifty Nifty Years in United States Series)

Ken Stein – I wrote most of this upon Ken’s retirement in 2012 (I've made several edits and updates as well)

I had the pleasure of working for Ken Stein from February 1998 to end of 2003 - primarily as the Camp Director for YMCA Camp Edwards. I also served for nearly two years as an operations person for an aquatics branch, three day camps, 63 after school sites, and a rural Y center that operated in schools and fields as well as and helping open a large community center (built in collaboration with a local municipality). It was one of the most complex times of learning as a leader and set me up for future success on the lessons learned (cue Sabre Dance music as a theme).

At the time I obtained the position in 1998, I had just left another YMCA Camp and I recall my conversation with Ken. He indicated this may not be where I wanted to be ultimately, but he had a need for a camp director right now and I was available. I felt wanted and needed and agreed to come and work for Ken Stein. 

As a younger version of my current self, I thought I knew a great deal about camp (the older I get, the less I know). But the lessons and opportunities that emerged over that almost 6 year period were tremendous.

I had the opportunity to watch Ken (and Robin Stein) transform the YMCA. I had the opportunity during most of each school year (summers being what they were) to have lunch with Ken almost every week.

With well over 150 hours of mini-Druckeresque (Peter Drucker link) lunch meetings; this was his way to coach and direct as I worked to learn more about being a leader and transforming a culture. I am so grateful for the amount of time and investment that Ken provided. It was like a mini course of non-profit management right down to the values and culture an organization must have to move forward. 

Ken let me stretch and grow and even fail. He provided leadership and knowledge and a kick in the right direction when needed. I learned about the Y, our mission, camping and the financial and budget considerations of “innies and outies” (a term Ken used as well as Howard Pease at a previous YMCA) as well as a hundred other things. I recall that while serving as a branch director one of the things he asked me to do was always go throw the front doors as if I was a member. I had been using a side door entrance close to where I was parking and he wanted me to have the same view that participants would have and an appreciation for what they would see. It was also a way to have access to members who might be walking through at the same time. Creating opportunities to interact with customers. Simple, profound, and essential.

In my years of work at the Y, I had worked for at least 13 different CEOs and I have to say that I learned the greatest amount of what it is to be a true leader in my time with Ken Stein. 

To this day, when faced with a choice or difficult situation - I often think about what would Ken Stein do? Peter Drucker stated, “Success in the knowledge economy comes to those who know themselves - their strengths, their values, and how they best perform.” Ken Stein clearly taught me this concept. He was clear about what he knew and he wanted to help me be clear as well.

For this I am extremely grateful as I have spent these last 50 plus years in these United States.

Summer Staff Questions - Good Leaders Ask Great Questions Series (5 of 10)

   Good Leaders Ask Great Questions Inspired by E.J. Lugo This is our 5th week this summer, I'll be posting several questions that you s...