Spoiler alert! A company founded by a big-time movie star has now given over $550,000,000 to charity. 100% of their profits over about 35 years. To help you out if you’re like me…that’s over Five-Hundred and Fifty million dollars. Personally, I’m not used to seeing that many zeros, so spelling it out helps. The book is a wild story about how Paul Newman ended up founding a food company; Newman’s Own. In the process, empowering others (like me…) to help change the lives of millions of kids with serious and life-threatening illnesses.
Yep, I’m writing about a book that’s over 15 years old, about a man who left earth over 10 years ago. Turns out that character and good ideas never go out of style. But the reality is that Paul Newman and Newman’s Own ended up changing my life along the way as well.
I was born a bit past Newman’s theatrical heyday, so I first heard his name when I stepped foot on my college campus. Over 25 years later, I happily associate a huge part of the person I am today to having been “introduced” to Newman back then. More importantly, to his philanthropic exploits.
“What could be better than to hold your hand out to people who are less fortunate than you are?”
– Paul Newman
So while this is a little bit about a book, it’s really about an idea very close to my heart: Figuring out how to be a little better today than we were yesterday, and how to spread that idea.
Paul Newman: Actor, Philanthropist, Pro Race Car Driver…and Fraternity Man?
I’ll start with something of a hot-button topic. But in my opinion only a hot-button because of the media’s constant choice to emphasize more negative stories than positive. Here goes: I’m a fraternity man…and darn proud of the impact that choice had on my life. As a Phi Kappa Tau at the University of Akron, I spent 6 years learning a heck of a lot about adulting. Yes. Six years. Hey…I got my money’s worth!
Holding every office under the sun and working with my brothers and organized campus/national groups instilled mad skills I never quite quantified until later in life. Yes, we partied, but most college kids do. But choosing to be a part of any responsible student organization seems to nearly always level-up a young mind.
Most Fraternities and Sororities are founded on strong ideals. For instance promoting philanthropy, government, and community involvement, while cultivating strong adulting & life skills. I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to be a part of that.
I found out early that Paul Newman was also a Phi Tau and that he founded a camp that our fraternity supported through our fundraising.
And when I say we, I mean every Phi Kappa Tau Chapter, ongoing over the past 25 years. Those college men have raised millions of dollars to donate towards sending kids to Serious Fun Camps.
A Hole in the Wall & Serious Fun…For Kids with Serious Illnesses
See, Newman’s Own, the company, haphazardly started with Paul and “Hotch” his business partner…in a basement with a dirt floor. They were making and trying to figure out a way to get his salad dressings in stores. But what started as a fun project took off. When it did, the two decided to famously “…give it all away”. And by all, I mean 100% of profits to charity. (Again, over Five-Hundred and Fifty million dollars to date…)
Paul soon founded the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp. It was possibly the first of its kind: a camp where kids are not defined by their illness. It was the first in what is now a worldwide network of camps for children with serious and life-threatening illnesses—the Serious Fun Children’s Network.
The camps serve kids with illnesses that don’t allow them to let loose and be free in a “traditional” camp environment. Most of these kids need fairly constant access to different kinds of medical attention, devices, etc., which no typical camp could provide.
“I wanted, I think, to acknowledge Luck: the chance of it, the benevolence of it in my life, and the brutality of it in the lives of others: made especially savage for children because they may not be allowed the good fortune of a lifetime to correct it.”
– Paul Newman on the creation of the first camp
The first camp opened in June 1988, but now there are over 30 camps worldwide serving kids and their families pretty much year-round. Oh. Did I mention that these camps are completely free of charge for the kids and their families? Yeah.
Lesson #1 from the Kids: Adulting is overrated!
So fast forward about 5 years out of college and the constant judgmental tapping on my right shoulder. “When are you going to finally volunteer at camp?” See, at that point, I had always planned on volunteering at camp.
My (terrible) excuse for having not yet done so was that I was getting my new adult life straight first. I would do it later. But that constant voice won out and I finally started volunteering for family weekends at the Victory Junction Camp in North Carolina.
I entered my first volunteer camp experiences confined by my daily adulting rules of engagement. The kids, on the other hand, surreptitiously educated me on why camp is so important. What I quickly learned from the kids, I presume, is likely at the heart of why Paul Newman created these places: Adulting is overrated. Oh. And we adults complain way too much about little things, in the grand scheme of things.
What is given to me by these campers—momentary liberation from the pressures of my daily mindset—seems so much more of a gift than anything I could ever give them.
See, maybe you’ve forgotten as I had. Camp is supposed to be a place of freedom, regardless of your age. These kids quickly made me realize that standing off to the side while everyone else danced made me the odd man out. Now I love dancing at camp. Catch, kiss, and releasing a fish at the dock isn’t up for discussion; someone’s kissing that fish! This kisser has happily been on the receiving end of fish lips too many times to count.
And maybe most importantly:
Camp is a judgment-free zone. Which is likely what we all wish our daily lives could be like.
Paul Newman: A Grown-Up Who Refused to Grow Up
That brings me back to the book. See, it’s about many things, but coursing through the veins of it is a lovely notion:
Paul Newman seemed to figure out a way to never really grow up. He seemed to find a way to remain a kid at heart.
The book is titled “Shameless Exploitation in Pursuit of the Common Good—The Madcap Business Adventure by the Truly Oddest Couple.” It definitely is that. It’s a wild, unconventional story of the way two already successful people did just about everything “wrong.” Yet when they still found success, they chose to use that good fortune to help others. They stuck to their guns and went way against what was expected, whether within the industry or just daily life.
As a graphic & brand designer, I think the refreshingly goofball angle that Lunkhead (that’s what his friends called Paul…) insisted on for copy, design, and packaging for the products is just awesome. If you haven’t had the pleasure, do yourself a favor and at least read the labels on any Newman’s Own product.
Sheer goofy genius, and more proof Paul just wanted to create real, good products and have an honest good time doing it.
It started with PL and Hotch creating salad dressing recipes in a dirt-floored basement. Next they moved into a modest office…complete with Paul’s previously-stored pool furniture. That included a beach umbrella over their first desks, of course. Zero marketing. Only good, fun design and an unapologetic sense of humor—and humility—and a vicious appetite for quality and real ingredients.
There are three rules for running a business: Fortunately, we don’t know any of them.
– Sign on the door of the first Newman’s Own office
The book is simply a fun read about all of these things. It’s also something of a provocation to stop taking life so darned seriously all the time. Oh, and about redefining a food industry while creating a humanitarian legacy that would be fueled by honest efforts.
A Few Last Important Things: Newman’s Own Serious Fun Camps and Us
I would be remiss if I didn’t tie this back to that initial idea: Figuring out how to be a little better today than we were yesterday, and how to spread that idea. With regards to everything here, this is an easy one, yet in multiple parts.
#1. If you haven’t yet, try something from Newman’s Own
Last time: 100% of profits (after operating expenses) from any Newman’s Own product go towards funding Serious Fun camps and other charities and grants. And the dedication to so many organic ingredients within the products set the stage for other producers to follow suit.
But I can’t find any good reason why, if you’re not already sold, you shouldn’t go ahead and grab some products and give them a try. I mean, it’s really for the kids. 😉
#2. Serious Fun Camps Need Volunteers…Especially Male Volunteers
Yes, there are many camps and charities to give your time to. But if you happen to be looking for a new opportunity, please take the time to look at volunteering with a camp.
On a heavy note, as a male, it’s also very clear that they need more male volunteers. The disparity between female/male volunteer numbers is a bit unsettling.
I can tell you from experience that it is so important for these young men, especially when they may not have a male figure at home, to have a male volunteer. It’s just huge. Sorry I can’t more eloquently explain that at the moment—it’s tough to put into words until you see it in their eyes and actions after 48 hours when you say your “see you laters.”
#3. Donations are Always Helpful
If nothing else, if you have it, the Serious Fun Camps can always use donations. Again, attending camp is 100% free for these kids and their families. That’s extremely expensive given the resources that the camps must maintain for these special campers.
They truly do have everything at camp to allow the kids to be kids. But also everything to make their parents feel completely comfortable that their child will be safe while they’re apart. Even beyond monetary, there’s usually a list of physical needs on the individual camp web sites.
If you need any more proof that these camps are truly life-changing, there are dozens of letters from campers, parents, and all whose lives have been changed by the camps in the book. By the way, who’s cutting onions?
Until next time…Cheers!
Travel Planning Tips
Figure out where you are going & how are you getting there…
I suggest using at least 2 to 3 different travel search sites. Start with Skyscanner or Orbitz or Booking …or whatever aggregator site you prefer. Then when you see what airlines to use, check their respective sites for better deals or rewards flights.
Figure out where you’re going to stay…
If you’re interested in hostels, search Hostelworld or Hostelling International. For longer-term or more private digs, look at Airbnb, VRBO, or you can look for hotel rooms in the links from the search engines listed above.
Get comprehensive travel insurance, or in the least, travel medical insurance if internationally…
Especially with Covid not going anywhere, get covered. Start with an insurance aggregator like Insure My Trip, or with SafetyWing, World Nomads, or another. Then decide what is important to you; trip cancellation, baggage coverage, medical, or all of the above. And get a yearly evacuation plan, since you’ll have to get home after your emergency!
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