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. I built three fishrooms over these decades, and set up dozens of ponds. My love of writing lead to two books and hundreds of magazine columns and articles. Much of my socialization has come from the organized hobby, where I joined local, regional, and national clubs, creating a few along the way, and speaking at many across the USA and in Canada. . A volunteer addict, I wound up serving on the Boards of some these organizations in various capacities and ran a national convention. Along the way I got to work with many kool fish and plants. But the best part was all the friends and acquaintances I made around the world from the aquarium hobby. It beat social media groups and YouTube channels hands down.

But still on my aquatic bucket list was a local club for hobbyists right here in my often forgotten, but naturally beautiful, 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. I was saddened, but also motivated. Now an Empty Nester with meeting space available at my Church, I decided to (finally) create SAWGG, an aquarium club for us Skylanders. A Facebook group was formed to brainstorm ideas among old friends and interested parties. Three months later, after a full summer of advertising and planning, we had a successful first meeting later that September. So here we are!

Fish Club Flavors

Aquarium clubs have been in existence since the late 1800’s and can be found in every State. They generally follow 2 models. The majority use a traditional Society Model, with a mission statement and an elected Board of Directors. Monthly meetings run several hours and are a “production” with theatre-style seating. The focus is the guest speaker (often flown in), followed by an auction, door prizes, raffles, etc. These clubs require logistics, committees, and many volunteers which are hard to come by. Doing fundraisers (all-day auctions, 50-50 raffles) and securing donations naturally becomes a primary activity. Traditional fish clubs like this have to navigate volunteer burnout, member expectations, and internal politics. They are a lot of work for what should be a leisure activity.

In contrast, the Group Model is often used in specialty clubs like the killifish and planted aquarium hobbies. Members in these clubs have lower expectations. They offer little more than shop talk, roundtable discussions with an occasional speaker, and the chance to exchange fish, plants, and live food cultures. They usually meet in members’ homes. These “social clubs” essentially self-govern, often with just a perpetual Moderator and Treasurer. Surprisingly, the Group Model has a dedicated following: some members drive great distances, many crossing State lines, to attend meetings for this kind of fishy fellowship. 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.

The SAWGG Model

I have observed and interacted with many clubs around the U.S. and Canada, both aquatic and in other fields of interest. The clubs I’ve enjoyed most are those that promote fellowship and shun bureaucracy. They are easier to administer and a nice place to make new hobby friends and gather new ideas and things for your aquarium and pond.

SAWGG is following the Group Model, while adding the best practices from traditional Society Model clubs. Our meetings feature tables to sit around, and stations with items, fish, and books to break the ice when you arrive. A Moderator keeps us on schedule with a short program followed by an auction. We are non-profit to a fault. We then add in some 21st century sensibilities like shorter meetings, and not meeting on traditional work/school nights.

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

  1. Friendly
  2. Fun
  3. Fairly Simple to Execute

Otherwise, we don’t do it.

We invite you to come along on our fish club journey and get your feet wet!

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