Island Updates

Was I Born to be a Salesman? The Thrills and Chills of Summer Opportunities Fairs for One Program Manager

Blog post written by Program Manager, Teddy Simpson

I am having a lot of spiritual brainstorms recently about how to talk to people about Hurricane Island. This is coming off a few days down in greater Boston recruiting students to register for our summer programs. Actually the term that we in the biz use is “tabling,” (i.e. I tabled for Hurricane this afternoon). My sister was befuddled by my use of this term. “Tabling? What is tabling? Is that like a subgenre of planking or something?” She didn’t say that, but tossing in a quote shakes up the rhythm of the writing, I’m told. I’m here to keep you on your toes (to that end, I have a goal of including a few links in this article, so check up on your cultural competency of a term I dropped 2 sentences ago). I severely digress.

I spent Sunday at Phillips Academy in Andover, Monday at Newton South High School and Tuesday at Lexington High School, all in the great state of Massachusetts. The scene at each of these fairs is something to behold. Or at least it was for me, so you better believe I will relay it as such! I’ve definitely been to one before, but for whatever reason, it washed over me in a new way this time. Representatives from, let’s say, one hundred organizations trickle in to the cafeteria (or gymnasium or wherever the event is being held) about an hour and a half prior to the event’s official start time. They wheel their suitcases of materials over to the check-in table, where you are given your table number and the wifi password (educ@tion) and a map to the snack area. The organizers of these events really are crushing it. Laura Marks runs Teen Summer Expos, which hosted the latter two events. I love how singular her mission is - simply to put on these fairs that promote an array of summer opportunities for students - and how dedicated she is to it.

I know it’s pretty low quality, but this selfie is all I have. This was a SOLO trip, y’all!!

Soon enough, a previously bland and bare space begins to come alive. Table coverings are unfurled, banners erected, pamphlets stacked or fanned (depending on your style). Each organization curates their own little world, which, ideally, exactly embodies the spirit of the program you are promoting. Actually an interesting challenge. Each group’s table and its accoutrements are, at once, altar and portal and life-size diorama. Bear with me as I scrape the rust off my metaphor game.

The result of all these carefully set up tables is somewhat overwhelming. The room is now plastered with words meant to catch your eye, images designed to entice, and people all around who have good posture and smiling faces and who really, truly, want to talk to you in a cool and chill way (really). And everyone is right next to each other, so it’s innately comparative; there’s this underpinning of competition below the congeniality. Everyone’s trying to boost themselves above the rest. So very early on, I’m like, Maybe I shouldn’t smile? And that could set me apart? This unfortunately does not come easily to me and also I decided would end up being a worse tactic, but I seriously found myself inclined to “out-chill” everyone, to somehow draw folks in by being calm and reserved. “How’s it going? I’ll tell you as much or as little as you want,” I try saying. Some people march through with an apparent grocery list, scanning for what matches their criteria. So parents they see the word “Science” they could breeze right past, or come to a grinding halt. Marine biology, check. Some approach the table and cut right to the chase, and will knowingly prompt, “go for it, what’s your spiel?” Permission to dive in! Yes!

And the reality is, despite this strange feeling (which I am hyperbolizing) that I am trying to out-bid the people nearest me, there are so many options for these students that the process ends up being self-selecting. The only common denominator is that all of the programs happen during the summer. That’s it. Conversations at the Hurricane table do happen, genuine ones. Nobody who looks at the words “Sustainability” or “Field Experience” and thinks to themselves, yuck, is going to talk to me. And that’s great! They’re going to do some other wild thing with their summer. But then, the folks who think yum, or more likely, ok! end up stopping by. I had lovely conversations with folks who were psyched on marine biology, others who will be a part of a Hurricane school program this spring, and others still who just thought coastal Maine seemed cool. With these people, I ended up gushing about life on Hurricane Island. I tried to communicate what I know - which is that we offer really special, impactful programs. It's hard to do this in brief, but it is such a joy to remember the details of it all. A conversation that forces the specifics out of you - “there's a boat we all take together, your educator will meet you on the mainland” - really jolts you back: oh yeah, there’s the island! Remember the island? Remember walking toward the north end, after dinner, the setting sun painting the grass and spruce golden? This nostalgia has a vice grip on me now, but only after having had wonderful conversations about these programs with bright-eyed young people. How lucky we are to get to bring others to this place full of magic.

So if you’re still reading, thank you, you must be a diehard. In which case, I bet you have a lot of love for this place, too. Spread it far, spread it thick! Talk to people about what we do. Then send them back to our website, where you can register for programs, today! Sustainability is 2 weeks long this summer, people. How cool! (At the end of the day, I am a natural and prodigious salesman. I’m considering going whole hog and buying a briefcase.)

Thank you for letting me process via blog post, honestly. This has genuinely been healing.

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