Stick With It - An Interview with Brian Frawley
The Summer Camp Society Interviews. This interview is the fourth of a series from Sarah and Jack interviewing change making camp professionals and sharing their advice because great leaders make great camps.
Brian Frawley was raised in a small town in Western New York by his parents (Pat and Jack) who were both school teachers. Pat will share this article with all of her friends (Hi, Pat!!). Anyway, Brian got his start at YMCA Camp Northpoint in Greece, New York. After his second summer at camp he was offered a full time job there, and, like all smart 22-year-old college graduates, he promptly quit it after three weeks. "In all honesty I knew it wasn’t a good fit for me, and I wanted to get out before they committed too much to me," he claims.
He then became a professional poker player for about a year, but once summer came along he yearned to get back into camping. He headed to YMCA Camp Edwards in Wisconsin and then was hired at YMCA Camp Copneconic in Michigan. After four great years at Copneconic (where he met his beautiful wife, Amber), he took a job as a program director for the YMCA of Metro Detroit. Four years later he found himself at YMCA Storer Camps as the current Associate Executive and father to everyone’s favorite volunteer Quinn. Here’s our interview with this interesting and fun Y guy:
How did you get started in camping?
I got my start in camping by accident. I went to school to be a high school history teacher--my whole entire family are teachers--and one year I was going to be student tour guide during the summer to the incoming freshmen at my college. I was like Mr. Campus, and I applied for the job, and I didn’t get it! I was really, really bummed! So I was home on spring break and I saw an ad for a local Y day camp. I thought it would look good on my resume for teaching. But four weeks into working for the YMCA I knew I’d never be a classroom teacher--because even as a counselor I could see the effect on children’s lives I was having and I knew how powerful this industry could be.
What is something about you that makes you good at your job?
Tell me more…?
I’m just blessed with the fact that I like to work on multiple projects at the same time. I also consider myself as someone who’s very observant. Even during meals, at the dining hall, I could notice a guest’s need or a staff member’s need while working on something else. Trying to get all those things accomplished at the same time is something I can do.
What is something that was really tough for you at the beginning?
I think that learning the pace of how other people work--I am naturally a fast worker and maybe I don’t pay attention to detail as well as others. Having the expectation that everyone would grasp a concept or understand a schedule at the pace I was articulating it--that was a big learning curve for me.
I remember trying to dismiss classes at Camp Copneconic always two or three minutes early because I thought it was so important customer service-wise, but I then realized I was really upsetting the staff because they weren’t getting the full time to set up activities or use the restroom. Fortunately I had really great mentors that taught me the hidden tricks to balance customer service and staff service.
What is something you are working on getting better at right now?
Personally I’m blessed to have worked with the YMCA my whole career because I’m pushed and challenged to take new classes and go for our internal certifications that the Y-USA has. Currently I’m working on next level executive education stuff--higher-end budgeting and philanthropy classes through Y of the USA. We’re really blessed in Y camping to have guidelines that show us where we want to be in our career and mentors we want to learn from in these projects. And I’m trying to learn Spanish.
It’s not as popular up here for Latinos to participate in camping or to be as involved in YMCAs, period. I’m hoping to be able to be more inclusive here in camp, even if it’s for a small percentage of guests. I’m challenging myself to get my conversational Spanish a little better just to be able to welcome people and ask them if they have individual needs. We have so many school groups where English is a second language, and I want to help them feel more comfortable at camp.
Can you talk about a mentor that you’ve had in camping?
Yeah---I might have to talk about too many--just a heads up! Mentorship in camp is so important. It starts on day one when you walk on property. I remember entering Camp Copneconic and being blown away by the size and scope of a camp like that. That first summer, we all had mentees, but I also had a mentor assigned to me. I was lucky enough to have Shelly Hilton. She modeled the way of professionalism in the industry. Shelly is not the person who has to sit around the campfire and sign Kumbaya, and neither am I. It was nice to see someone in my industry who has a business background but still wants to fight for the mission and serve every individual. You don’t have to be the loudest one--it was really nice to see where I could progress to.
Once I got into the branch in Detroit, I really grew in my ability to focus on the community. My role model there, Josh Landefeld (who currently works for Ann Arbor Parks & Recreation) was almost constantly raising money for our scholarship fund--every decision we made was not about budget but was about impact. I think that’s a huge lesson--we still worked on the budget but it really was about lives impacted.
Also, so many more...John Carlson, Brandon Dreffs, Becky Spencer, Reuben Smith--I still call Reuben with my questions or concerns today!
What is your advice for someone who is a new camp pro?
I think the best advice I could give someone in the early parts of their career is just to commit to the career and commit to the lifestyle, and understand that the extra hours and the weekends and sometimes poor hygiene and uncomfortable beds all lead to the world being a better place. That sounds corny, but camp is one of the places that brings people together from all backgrounds. Over my career, I think at every stop I’ve made, I think I have had the chance to bring people together.
Stick with it, don’t give up--I was probably turned down a dozen times before I got my first program director job and probably 25 times before I got this job. If you know you want this, there are going to be people who tell you you can’t--but they’re wrong because you can.
TAKE YOUR CAREER TO THE NEXT LEVEL