The SAWGG Story

(and what we are trying to create)

by Ted Coletti

“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

By May 2019 I had been involved with the aquarium hobby for over 35 years, with various aquariums, fishrooms, and ponds. Along the way I wrote two books and hundreds of magazine columns/articles, served on local, regional, and national clubs, created a few organizations of my own, and spoke at many across the USA and Canada. I got to work with many cool fish and plants, but the real payback were the friendships and fellowship with hobbyists around the world.

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. Four months later, after some local crowd sourcing and advertising, 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 Society Model, with an external-guided mission statement (at least on paper) and an elected Board of Directors. They focus on fellowship and educating the public (often evolving into 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 may occur throughout the year. Society Model clubs require logistics and many volunteers to function. Finances become a main issue (in some the clubs, THE issue). They have to navigate volunteer burnout, filling Board positions, member expectations, and internal politics (in-fighting and poor leadership choices is not uncommon). The payoff of the Society Model is the ability to fly in top speakers, and offer large and diverse auctions.

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 local speakers, and exchanging fish, plants, and live food cultures. They sometimes meet in members’ homes. These less formal Groups essentially self-govern, often with 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 too cliquey, too large, or be resistant to change.

I have been involved in and observed hobby clubs around the U.S. and Canada, both aquarium and other areas 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, while adding the best practices from traditional aquarium societies. The focus is on our Members. 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 group sharing and a short program followed by an auction. We add 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 (501c7) and stay poor by design.

SAWGG has a simple “Rule of 3F” 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!

– Dr. Ted Coletti, Founder

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