• Entrepreneur of the Month

The Fun of Playing It Forward

ENTREPRENEUR OF THE MONTH: MAY 2014

Clea Newman: Senior Director of External Affairs
SeriousFun

Founded in 1988 by her dad, actor Paul Newman, Clea Newman has been heading up the SeriousFun Children’s Network since 2013. The growing global community of independently managed and financed camps and partnership programs has served 440,000 children and families from over 50 countries, free of charge.

We traveled to SeriousFun’s HQ in Westport, CT, to talk to Newman and her team of directors about the organization’s 30 worldwide initiatives, including 14 full-member camps, 13 Global Partnership Programs, and three new camps in development.

Be Inkandescent: You came aboard SeriousFun in January 2013 to work as part of the team to raise money to support SeriousFun camps and programs around the world. You also serve as a spokesperson for the organization, helping to elevate awareness of the brand and advance your father’s legacy. It’s an amazing program. Do you think this is what your dad envisioned when he founded the organization?

Clea Newman: I think he dreamed we would get this big. His initial brainstorm came after he started the Newman’s Own Foundation and received scores of letters asking for help from parents of children with serious illnesses. Tax rules prohibited him from making donations directly to individuals, so he pondered other ways to help these families. True to his famous portrayal of outlaw Butch Cassidy, he decided to establish a camp where kids could retrieve some of their lost childhood and “raise a little hell.”

Be Inkandescent: What better place to fire up the imaginations of youngsters than a village scene right out of the Wild West?

Clea Newman: Absolutely! He built the first camp in record time and dubbed it The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp, envisioning it would be a place where the bandits from his film Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid would find a refuge from the outside world. We welcomed 288 kids the first summer we were open. As of this year, we’ll have served nearly half a million.

Be Inkandescent: The organization has also gone global. We learned about that initiative during our interview with Global Partnership Program Director Alyson Fox. What is your perspective on the camps abroad, and how they are similar and different from the US camps?

Clea Newman: What is extraordinary about each camp is that it takes on the culture and essence of the community. So the camp in Hungary looks different from the one in Connecticut, and that looks different from the one in Israel. And the camp in Connecticut is different than the camp in California.

What’s the same about them all is that when you drive up, you are enveloped in the love, passion, and nurturing that oozes from the staff. Everybody who works with SeriousFun is incredibly dedicated to the kids—and determined to make sure they have a wonderful experience. It makes me feel weepy when I think about it, because every time I step inside a SeriousFun camp, I know I’m a part of something bigger, and significantly better, than myself.

Be Inkandescent: What is also extraordinary about the SeriousFun camps is that they are free of charge to all the campers. How is that model sustainable?

Clea Newman: We have annual fundraisers, including the one we hosted on April 2 that raised $1.8 million. My dad set it up as a free service because he felt so privileged in his life, and he wanted to share his luck, and his love. He also knew that families with ill children were struggling with all types of issues that make life hard, so he wanted to give them a reprieve from some of their worries. Camp is an ideal place to let the stress of life fall away because there is no stigma of illness, no concern that a child isn’t fitting in because they are sick, and no worry about money. They are simply allowed to be kids.

Be Inkandescent: In this month’s Research column we share the study you did with the Yale Child Study Center that found “when kids attend a SeriousFun camp, they showed improved confidence, higher self-esteem, a greater sense of independence, and increased interest in social activities.”

Clea Newman: It was great to see the data confirm what we’ve seen since 1988. What the kids tell us is the camp is life changing for them, because they play, climb, swim, paint their faces—and sometimes their bald heads—and they laugh! Most importantly, camp gives them the energy to keep fighting.

Don’t stop now! Read more about Clea Newman’s organization, and what she learned growing up with actors and activists Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward in May’s Tips for Entrepreneurs.

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