Appreciate the people you work with and let them know how much you appreciate and respect them
Lee Pinstein grew up in Brockton, MA with his parents and two sisters. During the summer months however, he spent most days at Maplewood, their family owned summer camp in South Easton, MA. Upon graduating from Boston University at age 21, Lee took the CPA exam and subsequently spent three and half years working at a large accounting firm in Boston. By his mid-twenties, when his parents Sandy and Hal Pinstein decided to transition into retirement, he felt ready to make a career change that would translate to more time outdoors and a shot at entrepreneurship.
Today, almost three decades later, Lee owns the camp with his sister Susan, and serves as the year-round Director of Maplewood Country Day Camp and Enrichment Center. In his spare time, Lee likes to swim, meditate, and spend time with his wife and two children.
Where did the idea for your company come from?
The idea came from my parents who started the business in the mid-sixties. They met at a summer camp, got married, and pursued teaching careers. Their combined love of camp and joint passion for teaching led to the idea of starting a summer day camp. They settled in Brockton, MA to raise a family in 1960. A neighbor invited my mom and my sister Sue, who was a toddler at the time, to a swimming hole called Maplewood Shores in the neighboring town of Easton. When my parents realized it was for sale, they borrowed money from their parents, purchased the 30-acre plot, and the rest is history. The first year they opened the camp they had 83 campers.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
The best part about my job is that no two days are ever the same. During the summer months, I have more of a routine and it breaks down like this; I start my day making phone calls. Then I make sure the pools, air-conditioning, and camp equipment are all up and running. Once the buses start rolling in at 9am, my job is primarily outdoors where I oversee counselors and staff, lead camp activities, and teach swimming.
Once we wave good-bye to the buses at 4pm, I meet with my sister Sue, talk about the day, what worked, what needs attention, etc. In the evening hours my job is to call parents. I call every family at least once during the summer because I like to check in and provide some feedback on how their kids are doing. After I finish my calls I head home.
How do you bring ideas to life?
A lot of ideas come from just seeing what children enjoy. I’ve learned a lot from simply watching what my own children are entertained by. I guess I have a natural curiosity about what makes people tick and this serves me well. I also love listening to NPR shows like Moth Radio Hour and This American Life. I have been stuck in my car many times, enthralled by stories of ordinary people turning their ideas into something bigger.
What’s one trend that excites you?
I am very excited by trends in physical activity and the importance of spending time in nature. Researchers now believe that being in nature is not a luxury but rather a crucial component for the emotional and physical health of children. Some parents and children are putting their focus on academic advancement during summer months, which translates to more indoor classes and less outdoor time. There are real benefits to getting back into outdoor education.
My excitement about this topic extends to the school year. There are a lot of nature based early childhood and even Kindergarten classrooms popping up. Schools too often focus on a child’s grades and scores at a time when learning should be play-based. In contrast, experts are now highlighting the importance of collaboration and creativity for future job success. I’m imagining a classroom, not to be confused with recess, where kids are outside for hours, breathing in the fresh air, and developing those crucial skills.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
A few years ago, a wonderful mentor introduced me to the practice of meditation. Running a camp can feel all-consuming. It’s a lot of hard work and the reality is; we’re responsible for the lives of many children and staff members. Meditating every morning and evening has greatly enhanced my life and keeps the stress and anxiety down. The truth is, stress and anxiety seem to permeate so many people’s lives these days. I recommend it for everyone.
What advice would you give your younger self?
I would tell a younger version of myself to slow down and enjoy life. I have always worked hard for my success. On the other hand, I spent way too many years feeling like I was stuck on a hamster wheel. There was always something else on my “to do” list to tackle. I should have followed the lead of our many campers by laughing more and not taking life too seriously. Thankfully, since having children of my own, I have been able to enjoy life in a more balanced way.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
We’ve worked really hard to reduce electronics at camp for everyone, including campers and counselors. We accept that technology is here to stay and let’s face it; most kids now log onto computers and video games on a daily basis. It’s because of this increasing screen dependency, not in spite of it, that we have a core mission to keep smartphones and computers absent from camp activities. Anyone who spends even a short amount of time at Maplewood can see that nothing compares to face-to-face conversations and human connection. We want parents to know that their children’s counselors are free from electronic distractions. I’m sure many of our counselors and even older campers would prefer having their phones with them throughout the day. But with this policy, we can be sure they are present, focused, and aware while at Maplewood.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
One of the things that I would recommend others do is to lead by example and help whenever and wherever there is a need. I can’t expect my staff to be flexible and take initiative if I act stiff and superior to them. One example is how I teach swimming each and every day of the summer alongside the rest of the Waterfront staff. Another example is that I’ll direct traffic in the parking lot if we’re short a person. It’s a win-win approach to lead a business this way because I earn the respect of my staff while also seeing how the camp functions through various vantage points.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
In the early 2000’s, I decided to take a leap of faith and grow our business from a seasonal one to a year-round endeavor. I knew there was a need in the town of Easton for afterschool care for children in Elementary and Middle School. With my sister’s blessing, we broke ground on a 14,000 square foot building with a huge gymnasium, and many classrooms. It proved to be a smart move as many of our afterschool families enrolled their children in the summer camp. Likewise, the summer camp benefited from the addition of an air-conditioned building for many of our specialty activities, along with the ability to keep campers dry and completely engaged in camp activities during rainy days.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
When my sister Susan and I first took over as Co-Directors of the camp, we planned overnight campouts for the older groups. I wouldn’t go so far as to call them failures, but we learned quickly that sending campers home on Saturday morning after getting little or no sleep was not scoring us positive points with parents. On top of that, it took our counselors away from their own families for an entire night. Thankfully we ended the tradition of “overnight” campouts. Now we host “stay-overs” a couple times every summer for our older groups. We offer lots of fun activities, serve pizza, and end the night with a Dance in the gym. The festivities end by 9pm so the all the campers and counselors get a normal night sleep. It’s a win-win.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
I would love for someone to start a business inventing and manufacturing fold-up paddleboards. My family recently discovered stand-up paddle boarding and it’s our new favorite outdoor activity. The problem is that securing 4 paddleboards to the top of our car is not an easy task. If only someone could invent a fold up paddleboard. It would be the answer to my dreams and a business that I would happily support.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
The best $100 I recently spent was buying my son a basketball and other sports equipment. The purchase has led to lots of good old-fashioned outdoor play with my son and some of his friends at a local park.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
I would say my favorite computer related product at the moment is GoToMyPC. It allows me to remotely access my work computer from home. As a result, I have the ability to leave work earlier and enjoy more family time since I know I can tie up loose ends from my home computer after hours.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
I recommend the book Homesick and Happy by Michael Thompson, PhD. Not surprisingly, it’s a book about what I’m passionate about; summer camp. In the beginning of the book, Thompson asks the reader to recall his/her sweetest childhood memory. He then shares with the reader that roughly 80% of adults share a memory that does not involve their parents or any adult for that matter. He goes on to share how these precious memories of childhood often involve time in nature, taking risks, and being with peers. With so many fewer children playing outside afterschool, he makes a great case for summer camp. So when I talk about the benefits of summer camp for children, you don’t have to take my word for it. Every chapter in Homesick and Happy invites the reader to experience all sorts of summer programs vicariously through Thompson’s observations visiting a wide range of camps. The takeaway from the book is that even though our deepest wish as parents is to keep our kids safe and under our supervision, their childhoods can be greatly enhanced when we choose to enroll them in either day or overnight camp. My wife read Homesick and Happy to overcome her fear of sending our daughter to overnight camp for the first time. By the end of the book, she had convinced me to send our 11-year-old daughter to overnight camp for 6 weeks rather than the 3 weeks we initially agreed upon.
What is your favorite quote?
“We did not inherit the Earth from our ancestors, we’re borrowing it from our children.”
● Appreciate the people you work with and let them know how much you appreciate and respect them.
● Life doesn’t always turn out how you had planned it, but sometimes that leads you to bigger and better things.
● Children are our future and we should do everything we can to teach them, nurture them, and let them discover who they are.
● Taking a break from technology, even just for a few hours, and enjoying the outdoors can be miraculous for a person’s physical and mental health.