Paul “Bear” Bryant Interview:
This is file #70, cycle 2. This is Jean McMillen. Today’s date is Sept. 27, 2017. I am interviewing Paul Bryant at his office at Camp Sloane, a YMCA camp on 124 Indian Mountain Road. Lakeville, Ct. he is going to talk about Camp Sloane and he is also going to talk about the Housatonic child Care Center at 30 Salmon Kill Road, Salisbury. First we will start with the genealogical information.
JM:What is your name?
PB:Paul “Bear” Bryant
JM:I am going to have to ask where did you get the nickname “Bear”.
PB:I have the same name as a famous football coach in Alabama. My high school track coach started calling me “Bear”.
JM:When were you born?
PB:July 13, 1968
JM:Your parents’ names?
PB: Paul and Rosemary Stingback Bryant.
JM:Do you have siblings?
PB:Yes, one brother William.
JM: How did you come to this area?
PB: I answered a call for people who were interested in this job with a y vacancy.
JM:Did you grow up in the YMCA tradition?
PB:No, but I started as a college student working at a camp. I enjoyed it. I went back to school and switched my major. That is where it started.
JM:What has been your career path from college to here?
PB:I started as an environmental educator in New Milford, Ct. Then I moved on to a bricks and mortar YMCA where I was a youth and camp director. I met my wife there. She worked at the camp with me. Then I moved on to being a camp director at a place like Camp Sloane called Camp Hazen in Chester, Ct. Next I moved to Detroit where I was in charge of the camping services portion of the Detroit YMCA. There were 2 small camps out there. Then I came here in 2006.
JM:Did you take over from John Hebavny? (See file #44, John Hedbavny on Camp Sloane)2.
JM:You made some changes when you came. What were they?
PB:We started to become easy to do business with by updating our website and having people able to register on line. We also got rid of our year round program which was sinking the camp. The moment we did that, the bottom line instantly went up hundreds of thousands. Those were the two things that we did to improve the camp infrastructure. One of the things that we looked at was what do we do better than anybody else and what drives our economic engine. The only place that the Venn diagram intersected was summer camp so we stopped doing anything else.
JM:Do you still partner with Berkshire School for crew?
JM:They store their equipment here?
PB:Yes, there is a boat house on the property that was built for the purpose of storing their stuff and continuing their crew program here.
JM:You still do the International program with the counselors and the kids.
PB:We have kids from all over the world.
JM:Tell me about the benefits of “Got Tents?”
PB: The nice thing about tents is that real tents means real camping, but like cabins which is a small version of a house. A tent is truly camping and that is what we had started long ago almost 90 years now. We stuck with it. I think that is what makes us unique and different. Not a lot of camps are tent camps anymore. We also feel that a tent puts us at a different niche than a cabin. There are parents that want a more rustic experience which we offer. I have a gentleman on my board that sent his kids here before he was on the board because of the tents. That is why he chose Camp Sloane for the more rustic setting. There are some healthy aspects of tents. There is not as much chance for people to get sick because the air is constantly being circulated which does not occur in a cabin. Colds and flu do not spread as easily in tents as it does in cabins. When I left my last job, a couple of days before my last day my board chair called me and he asked if I was all set to move to Connecticut. “Yes, I am but I am cleaning my last cabin ever!” He thought that was good. I was very happy to say that. When I talk to parents about cabins versus tents, we really talk about it as a plus.
JM:You have both a day camp and a sleep over camp?
JM:How do your sessions run, how many weeks?
PB: The day camp is 8 one week sessions. The resident camp is a hybrid. We have one week at the beginning and the end of the summer and 3 2 week sessions in between. 1-2-2-2-1
JM:How many staff do you have in the summertime?
PB:We have about 100 seasonal staff.
JM;Do you have a half time staff?
PB:There are 6 of us year round. I have an office manager, a camp director, an assistant camp director, a caretaker, and director of facilities who is in charge of all the maintenance of the place. The caretaker helps him and lives directly on the property as a caretaker should. As do myself and the camp and assistant camp director. We all live here which is part of our job.
JM:You have a focus on the campers. You gave me the initials ARB.
PB:A is for accomplishment. When the kids come to camp, we want them to accomplish things that they have never done before. R is for relationships we want them to form good relationships and make new and better friends. B is belonging. That is so that they feel as if they were a part of a community, outside your own community at home. These are three aspects that the YMCA recently has measured of all youth programs. These were impacts of how these programs are impacting kids. These are three things that really stood out. The program that stood out the most and did the most for children in the ARB category was resident camp. It was head and shoulders above all other youth programs that the Y was operating. Even the u had come to all of us and said that they wanted to figure out what ever secrets you have, put it in a can and sprinkle it all over the other programs. Some of it is dosage. We have the kids here 24-7 for 2 weeks. There are other things that we do very well that other programs could be using. Right now we are working with the National YMCA to figure out how they can do what we do best in their other programs. All these programs when you look at them of the YMCA, these are three things that are very high and that is where they want to be. To achieve this they are calling on us to help and we are very happy to do that.
JM:it is nice to be top of the heap, isn’t it?
PB:Well, we are not top of the heap, but we are definitely going to be helping the y to make sure the programs that they offer, other than resident camp, are also more compatible.
JM:Do you have a fee schedule and scholarships?
PB:Yes, there are two ways. We have 2 parts to the tiered system. Tiers 1, 2, 3. One is the full price of camp for a child which included everything. Two is a subsidized rate. We go out and raise money to help with that rate. Three is the lowest rate and is even more subsidized by funding. If people can’t afford tier one, they can choose tier 2 or 3. That is all on the honor system. Tier 4 is the true financial
assistance where you have to send in financial data and the family situation. Then we make a determination on a sliding scale very similar to the first three tiers.
JM:How many scholarships do you give?
PB:We give away about $180,000 a year. About 300 children, no almost 400 kids of the 800 are here on some form of scholarship, either tier 2, 3, or 4. What we tell our parents is that we ask for donations. Half the kids in your son/daughter’s tent are there because of somebody donating money. About 50% of the kids are here on scholarship and that figure has gone up. Times are tough and at the Y we do not turn anybody away due to their inability to pay. We figure out what will work. We give away more than we bring in.
JM:It can be a life changing experience.
PB:My board is focusing a lot more on fund raising in the coming years. We are putting more effort there. We are hoping to raise half this year of what we give out. Evenut5ally we would like to raise all of it. We are a 1.8 million dollar Y, a camp of our size; we feel we should be able to raise $180,000.
JM:When you came here you did something that the board was not too thrilled about when you sold a piece of property. Why did you sell it?
PB:We were not using it. The property was 5 or 10 miles away so getting to it was a van or bus ride. Then you had to hike up the trail. Kids today are just not into that as they used to be. They haven’t been for a decade or two. In my old camp that I got started in, a lot of the trails are gone. They don’t do that anymore. When I worked at Hazen, some of the trails are also gone. If they are, they go elsewhere. It was a $940,000 piece of property what was unused. The neighbors and the developer on each side of us were fighting. We were getting in the middle of that argument. The other part too was if somebody gets hurt up there; there is no way to get an ambulance up there. It was basically an un-performing asset. People had memories of it. Some of the people on my board remember it from when they were kids, hiking from camp to the outpost. They would stay up there and would use a flashlight to signal camp here. That was really a cool thing. We did not want kids walking on Route 44 so you would have to drive them up. We ended up selling it for more than what it was worth. We sold it at a time when the market was not very good and we still got more than what we should have, I think.
I do not know what they decided to do with the property. It was a way for us to get out of a lot of debt. At first the board was not crazy about it when I first mentioned it in my interview, which is probably why I was their second choice. They came around to it later when they found that we were paying $30,000 in interest on our credit line. That is a whole position. When they came around to it, we were able to sell it and we pretty much made most of it back. We paid off some debt. In addition to getting ourselves out of hock, we put ourselves in a position where we did not have to have a credit line anymore. Since then our little pocket of gold there had gotten bigger. We paid off all our debts. We have almost got enough more money in the bank to equal what the property was sold for. The money we immediately
had to give to the bank and the realtor is almost back in the bank again. Since 2009 we have fully funded depreciation and we have made a surplus which is something that a lot of camp cannot say they do. A lot of my colleagues say we do not fully fund depreciation, but we do. That is a big deal to be able to do that. Essentially you are saving money: you are putting money in the bank account. You are paying yourself and you are keeping it. The next year you are fixing things around the camp.
When I first got here, the board asked, I still have members of the board, what do we NEED to do to get the doors open? Not what do we want to do or what needs to be done, but what do we HAVE to do to get the doors open just to run the camp. We don’t have that question any more. We now ask, “What would we LIKE to do this year? What needs to be built? What needs to be added? What needs to be renovated? We spend $100-120,000 a year back on the property, everything from roofs to the climbing tower. Something new had been done every year. As a matter of fact, we have to get a jump on next year’s capital stuff. Before we even ok our capital budget, the board has oked a project that will start before the year ends, for next year. We will be renovating the basement of the building next door Wallace which is sorely needed. We do have a few shoulder season groups that come in right before camp and come in right after camp that use that space as a place to stay. The basement needs work. We do not want people to stay there anymore. So we will make it nice.
JM:You had a young lady who became an Olympic champion.
PB:Yes, Tracy Eiser. She was in the Olympics last year in rowing. She learned to row right here at Camp Sloane.
JM:What about Denzel Washington?
PB:Oh yes, he got started here on our stage. The way he tells the story, and I have a book over here with the story in it. He was flunking out of college; it was spring and he went into his mom’s hair salon and a lady there kept looking at him and then she said that she had a dream that he was going to go all over the world and see millions of people. So he came here to camp that summer. He worked on the creative arts staff. They used to put on shows for the kid s right here in the building with the stage. They put on a show and after the show, one of the staff said to him, “Man, you are awesome at this. You ought to do this for a living.” So he went back to Fordham and changed his major to drama and the rest is history. He got his first serious start right here. We are proud of that. I think he points to that as a good start for him. We all have stories like that in our lives where it was not for someone pointing out a different direction.
Tracy was a camper when I got here. Then she became a staff member. She went off to college to Cornell. She was on varsity crew. After she graduated from Cornell, she went right to the women’s US rowing team. She wasn’t on the Olympic team yet, but she worked very hard for many years. Somebody h said that she was very close to getting on the team. Other women on the Olympic team were going to be moving on. She is still fairly young. She was on the World Champion shell in 2015. They won at the World Championship in France. They won the first ever gold for the women. In her event which was the
our person shell. They call it four person cox-less. They do not have a coxswain. In the Olympics they came in fourth place. We are really very proud of Tracy. We are dying to get her back here so she can speak to the kids. She did not have rowing in high school; she rowed here. This is where she learned to row. She walked on in college. We want to encourage people. We are one of the few camps that have crew. I know we are the only Y camp with crew.
JM:You had a good story about used sports equipment going to Georgia.
PB:Yes. We are partnering with the Y in the Republic of Georgia. They are on the black Sea and south of Russia. It is a small country about the size of South Carolina with 4.5 million people. They have 4 YMCAs if you include their Camp Orange. That is whom we are partnering with. The gentleman who is the CEO or Minister is a former Soviet Baseball coach. He is trying to bring baseball to Georgia which is where he is from. He grew up in the Soviet Union when the Soviet Union existed. They have tough time getting equipment. They can’t go down to the nearest sporting goods store. They don’t have that. Any time somebody comes to “civilization”, they are asked to bring back equipment. I said to my colleague who is the #2 person over there, “What do you need?” He really wanted baseballs for a pitching machine. We got them 3 or 4 dozen. The reason is because they last longer than regular baseballs because they are rubber but the same size and weight. They use them for practice. We asked around. Hotchkiss sent an entire catcher’s outfit, batts and other stuff that they could use. So I went over with all that equipment in a giant bag to Georgia. They were very happy to get all that equipment.
I sent my camp director over there in the middle of the summer for Roots for Reconciliation Program which is run out of Camp Orange. It is a program which brings people together for the point of having more peace in the world. Russians and Georgians are a good example as they are not very happy with each other. I sent her over with a full bag of equipment, slightly used and new baseball gloves. That is another thing that is really hard to come by. Any time we can, we ship stuff over. I have a big bag of helmets.
My CVO, my boss, the President of our board is a former school principal. He works in schools. He keeps saying he is retired, but he keeps working. He will get into a school and asks the gym teacher to see if they have any equipment they don’t need or aren’t using. He has been really big on that. It is really cool to be working with that exchange.
We are very excited about our relationships that we are building. Next year we are sending a couple of staff over there and two of their staff a male and female are going to go to staff training here and be here for three weeks to see how our camp is run. They are going to go back with two of our staff who will stay there for two weeks for a couple of programs that they have. They will share what they know from working here all the year. Then they will come back. This is our first exchange. From there we are hoping to do some service trips for teenagers. We are very excited about this.
This is a part of the world that people don’t visit or know about. I ask people to find Georgia on a map and they are likely to point to where I was born. The Georgians are the friendliest people you would
ever want to meet. It is a great country to visit; soon it will be overrun with tourist. One day people are going to figure out how wonderful the place is. It is a beautiful country with lots of churches and a UNESCO Heritage site. We are projecting Camp Sloane across the world and have the world come to our door as well. We have kids see what that is like. Travel kills things like hatred and prejudice.
JM:It is a way of building peace.
PB:When you go to another country you get another perspective. It is hard to say back when you get home, “Those people” because you have met them.
JM:They are not “those people’; they are friends.
PB:We believe that International programs like this are key to what we are trying to do. It is definitely part of our mission. We have campers and staff from all over the world. With this extension of Camp Sloane and working with another country, we are doing the world some good by bringing people together so they can learn abo9uyt another culture. We are also working with the YMCA is Bombay. We have a staff member from there and a program group from there came over this year. A staff member from our staff was there this summer. We are hoping for more next year. We are working with India, the YMCA in Mumbai, the Bombay YMCA. We tentively started to work with the YMCA is Lebanon, but the kybosh has been put on that now because nobody can travel from there to here. That will be on hold for three more years. I am not the only one. We have other YMCAs that are partnering. My friend up in Keene, New Hampshire, at Camp Takodah is partnering with the YMCA in Uruguay. He and his CEO have already been to visit down there. Of course they did it in the wintertime because it is summer down there. Camp Hazen has been doing some work with Belarus; Frost Valley has been doing work with the YMCA in Kosovo and a YMCA in France. Kosovo is just opening its first camp this year.
JM:Is there anything you would like to add to this portion before we move on to the child care center?
PB:No, we have covered it. Just that we have our 90th anniversary next year of being on this spot. The camp started in 1910 but it was located in another spot. And it was not called Camp Sloane then. It has been here since 1928.
JM:How did you get involved with the Housatonic Child Care Center?
PB:Though my son Kieran first, my older son and then Quinn. My oldest started there and I was very impressed with the stuff he would come home with. He was learning things there that we weren’t teaching him yet. It was just great to see that. Both boys love the place. Kieran is now in Kindergarten at Salisbury Central School so he is not going there anymore. Quinn is still there and will be for a couple more years. I got involved because I thought it was a great organization and I wanted to be involved locally in some volunteer way. The YMCA encourages us to get continuing learning credits and one of the ways to do that is to be on a board. I love being on a board because it helps me to see the other side of the coin. I work for a board. Now that I am on a board, I know what the person across the table form
me feels like. I can know what my board feels like when they are dealing with me. I think it is a very nice relationship. I am glad to do it. Probably if there were not credit involved, I would have asked to join anyway.
JM:You are President of this board?
PB:Yes I became President this past year.
JM:How many are on the board?
PB:We have 5 right now. We hope to expand.
JM:What are your term limits?
PB:We don’t have term limits. There are terms, but there is no limit. You can stay on the board for many years. (See File # 57 Kim Cannon, and #59 Janet Manko) That is something as a board we look at. Do we want to continue that process? A lot of boards do that because they don’t feel they can get people to sit on their board. A lot of other boards look at it this way with term limits and everybody has to work hard to get others on the board. There are two sides to that coin. They both might work. The board here at Camp Sloane is going to be looking at that in the coming years. It is perfect timing for me to see it from both sides.
JM:It is a time commitment that a lot of people don’t have.
PB:Yeah you have to make time for it.
JM:What is the purpose of the HCCC board?
PB:The purpose of any board of a non-profit sharing organization is to fund the mission, but it is also to help develop the strategic direction of the organization and make sure that that strategy is carried out and adjusted as time and the situation changes. 1. We need to make sure the organization has the resources to do what it needs to do to fulfill its mission. 2. The strategic direction of the organization is carried out.
JM:What is the strategic direction of HCCC?
PB:For the child care center right now we are busy doing board development. We are trying to expand our board. WE are looking at our fund raising.
JM:You gave me 4 excellent benefits of having the child care center.
PB:I don’t know about 4 but it is an in=important part of this area. If we don’t have affordable child care in our town then we won’t have young people that are of child baring age that are going to want to live here. If we don’t have them we won’t have the services like landscaping companies. We won’t have volunteers for programs like fire and ambulance. Therefore our taxes will go up because we will have to
pay people to serve on the fire and ambulance squads. I know that that seems like a stretch, but I don’t believe it is. If you don’t have quality child care in the region, you won’t have the people that are able to do those things like services and volunteer services. It behooves the town to make sure we have quality child care. The town of Salisbury does help us with our mission. The land was donated and the town supplies the building.
JM;Then the money that you raise goes directly teacher salaries and supplies. What do you see as areas of need?
PB:At the child care center I would say that I wish we could pay higher salaries. I think all the teachers all the way from child care to high school should be paid a lot more than they do. If we are funded from other sources, we can probably do more of that. If it is all from what we get from the program fees then it is harder to pay the higher salaries. Higher salaries beget longer serving employees and of better quality. The quality comes from the fact that they are there for a long time. They grow into the position. They are happy with the money and the benefits so they do not think about leaving. We want them to believe that their life is great here. That is one area that I would like to look at. I want the board to develop so they can help further that idea. We want to help people who can’t afford our program. We have a ton of people, who come in the door for that, but there are times when we say but this is all we can do. At the moment we can’t even do that. The finances of the child care center are very different from those of Camp Sloane. Here we can handle scholarships but the finances at the child care center are much closer to the bone. We want to be able to have everybody that wants or needs quality child care to have it. I think those are important issues that we should look at.
JM:What future plans do you have for the board?
PB:We should expand a bit, create better practices with fund raising and strategic planning.
JM:Is there anything you would like to add to this section before we close?
JM:Thank you so much.