The SAWGG Story

(and what we are trying to create)

“It’s all about being a part of something in the community, socializing with people who share interests and coming together to help improve the world we live in.” – Zach Braff

In May 2019 I had already been involved with the aquarium hobby for over 35 years, with various fishrooms, ponds. 2 books and hundreds of magazine columns and articles. I joined and served at local, regional, and national clubs and social media groups, creating a few along the way, and speaking at many across the USA and Canada. Along the way I got to work with many kool fish and plants. But best of all were the many friends and acquaintances I made around the world from this wonderful hobby.

But there were a few things left in my “water change bucket” list. One of them was a live local club for hobbyists right here in my beautiful but often forgotten northwest corner of the Garden State. Earlier that month I learned of the passing of several hobby friends within days of each other, most too soon from rare diseases. Those tragedies pushed me forward. I decided to finally create SAWGG, an aquarium club for us Skylanders. Three months later in September 2019, after some local crowd sourcing and a full summer of advertising and planning, SAWGG began meeting. So here we are!

How SAWGG Operates

Aquarium clubs have been around since the late 1800’s and are in every State. The majority follow the Traditional Society Model, with a grand mission statement and an elected Board of Directors. They focus on fellowship and educating the public (or entertaining the members), with a guest speaker and raffles, capped off by a monthly auction of fish and plants to fund the programming and meeting space. Monthly meetings run 3-5 hours and are a “production” with theater-style seating. Indeed, the motivation for attending a meeting is often “who is the speaker and program?” Field trips and all-day auction fundraisers are also common. This type of fish club requires logistics and many volunteers to function. Finances become a main issue. They have to navigate volunteer burnout, filling Board positions, high member expectations, and internal politics.

In contrast, the Group Model is often used in specialty clubs like the killifish and planted aquarium hobbies. More “social club” than “society”, members in these clubs have lower expectations. Meetings offer little more than fellowship, roundtable discussions with occasional speakers, and exchanging fish, plants, and live food cultures. They sometimes meet in members’ homes. These less formal Groups essentially self-govern, often with just a perpetual Moderator and Treasurer. Surprisingly, this club format has a dedicated following: some members drive great distances, many crossing State lines, to attend meetings. They are the “low stress fish club.” The risk for clubs like this is they may get too small or too cliquey to survive long-term.

I have observed and talked to many clubs around the U.S. and Canada, both aquatic and in other fields of interest. The clubs I enjoy and admire are those that promote fellowship over finances, socialization over speaker programs, and shun bureaucracy. They are easier to administer and a nice place to gather hobby friends, new ideas, and livestock for your aquarium or pond.

SAWGG follows the Group Model above, while adding the best practices from traditional aquarium societies Our meetings are “in the round” with tables and chairs. Stations for auction items, refreshments, a library, door prizes, and free stuff are around the room. A Moderator sits in the middle and keeps us on schedule with a short program followed by an auction. We shoot for 21st century sensibilities like 30-minute presentations, shorter meetings, and not getting together on traditional work/school nights. We are non-profit to a fault and stay poor by design.

SAWGG has a simple “Rule of 3F” motto that guides everything we do:

Friendly – Fun – Fairly Simple to Execute

Otherwise, we don’t do it.

We invite you to come along on our fish club journey, exchange some livestock, meet fellow hobbyists, and get your feet wet!

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