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It’s 6:30 am and I am standing at the door of Sam’s Club awaiting entry as if it were Black Friday.

In fact, it’s Tuesday – just regular, old, boring Tuesday – nowhere near a shopping holiday in the slightest stretch of exaggerated shopping holidays. The sun hasn’t even risen yet, but Director Mike Meighan and I are reviewing the list of groceries we’re about to purchase for an entire summer’s worth of eating:

– 4,510 ounces of cereal;
– 50 bottles of parmesan cheese;
– 1,484 ounces of Nutella;
– 546 tubes of Pringles chips

The list is 6 pages long and does not include the fresh fruits, vegetables, and meats we will pick up once we arrive in the Caribbean. We have a lot of work ahead of us in preparation for our summer teen travel programs.

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It’s no closely guarded secret in small business that day-to-day operations require the worker bees to wear a variety of hats to keep the hive buzzing. In any given day we are on the phone with dive operations in Australia trying to organize travel for 12 people 6 months from now, explaining to parents how we can accommodate a variety of food allergies while on-program, organizing bins of fins and diving regulators in our warehouse, or actually packing the aforementioned mountain of food into a Caribbean-bound shipping container. The amount of work done here by lunchtime would be considered more than a full day’s work by any other standard.

Yet, as summer rolls around, the flurry of activity only increases and the workload doubles as we switch to operational mode for our teen travel programs. I recall vividly my first summer as a staff member in the British Virgin Islands – the feeling of standing on the end of our dock completely exhausted from a full day of preparing boats for the next day’s arrival of hundreds of students. I recall feeling overwhelmingly impressed by the herculean effort of 65 people to scrub boat hulls, prepare dive equipment, and to make our floating hulls feel like floating homes for the timid, wide-eyed students who would soon step aboard and find out what it is like to live on a boat with a group of strangers for three weeks during our sailing camp.

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In reflecting on just exactly what it is that makes our teen travel programs work year after year, I came to one conclusion: From every level of the organization, “hustle” is the wind that fills these sails. Hard work is what keeps this ship afloat.

From our first-time staff members who are literally learning the ropes as they practice tying bowlines and cleat knots, to the Program Director standing outside the doors of Sam’s Club at 6:30 am to buy 47 boxes of Goldfish, we hustle.

This hustle is undoubtedly what makes our tribe so special. For through these long hours and through these struggles and through these joys we find like-minded individuals with one shared common goal: creating unforgettable summer experiences for our students on our teen travel programs. The camaraderie built over three weeks at AQ permeates all levels of the organization, from the student who is experiencing life away from home for the first time to the staff member returning to our dock for the 15th summer in a row.

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We hustle because beyond the wakeboarding and the beach barbecues and the backflips from anchored dinghies, something larger is in play. The moments we experience on our teen summer travel programs each season are unique and cannot be replicated. There are no do-overs with first impressions. We get one chance for our students to experience the joy of being part of this family – the same single chance many of our staff had when they were students.

So whether this is your first experience putting your hands on the helm or you could sail this vessel with your eyes closed – Welcome Aboard.