It’s Time We Start

The following post is taken from the Keynote Address to Kidventure employees at 2014 Orientation



Time is this crazy abstract thing.

It organizes our day and it defines our physical perimeters. It tells us when to wake up, go to work, take a pill and watch our favorite TV show.  Time is evenly divided and partitioned into 24 hourly segments in a given day, seven of which in one week, 365 in a given earth year.

Yet, while we can track time to pinpoint accuracy, what we do in that allotted time is as variable and unpredictable as we allow for it.  Quite the paradox.

Recently, time has been on my mind quite a bit.  Perhaps that is because of the 20 year watermark in both my marriage and company.  Perhaps that is because the jet lag associated with flying back and fourth to China and the effects it has had on my body. Or, perhaps it’s just because I am getting older in time and it’s on my mind.

Nevertheless, each year, I deliver a keynote address to 300 or so employees of Kidventure to mark the beginning (in time) of a new camp season.  Highly motivated teachers, education students, coaches and genuinely great people come together as we kick off the new camp season.  About a week after that address, each of those team members will welcome campers at one of our 20 or so camps as counselors, directors or support staff.  My purpose at this important event is to bring everyone together, to provide a collective purpose and directive for the new camp season and to inspire them to join as one to make a profound difference in the lives of the many children they will encounter this summer.  

Why should this matter?  It matters because time presents us with an opportunity.  I have no control over when the moon rises or when the sun sets, but I do have control over what I make of that time. We can choose to waste time or make the most of time. I can be time strapped, time tested or even timeless. I can be out of time or on time. In other words, there is a lot we are because of time, but your life and mine will not be defined by time. Rather, your life, and you in fact, will be remembered by what we did with time.

Between that moon and sun, I can shape my world and those around me.

EstradaTwo weeks ago, Kidventure lost one of its own to the hands of time. In years, Evie Estrada was 25. He left us at a certain hour of a day at a specific time. Evie served as a counselor and director at Kidventure, a US Marine, a teacher working towards his master’s and a position as Vice Principal. Most importantly, he was a father and a husband. Along with every other director and camps manager this Spring, Evie was training and preparing to lead his camp.  In this case, that camp was Camp St. Theresa.  Anyone who knew him always found him smiling, energetic and ready to play.

In his service to America, Evie fought for our freedom on distant shores.  At home, he fought for children.  Evie’s time was filled with so many endeavors and the kind of endeavors that made those around him great. I choose not to think of the short amount of time that Evie had on Earth, but rather to focus on what he did with that amount of given time. No doubt Evie will be missed, but more importantly, he will be remembered.

Each of our employees at Kidventure is presented with a signed  document outlining an agreement between Kidventure Incorporated and said employee.  Some employees might read that agreement and ascertain that they will be performing a job, for a monetary rate during a specific time.  But, our employees understand that what they are really being given is not an employee agreement , but a unique opportunity.  And not just any opportunity.  I would contend that this opportunity has the potential to alter the lives of people around them, to provide confidence to a kid who fears the world, to give hope to those that are being abused at home, to provide courage to those that are timid and happiness to those who are depressed and sad.  I would also contend that in doing so, they have the opportunity to change themselves just as powerfully.

Time is a crazy, abstract thing.

It marches on without failure and interruption. Somewhere along this vast line of time, each of us have been given a chance to experience life and ‘make our mark’.  We can choose to focus on the time, however little or too much we have.  Or, we can choose to focus on taking whatever time we are given and making the most of it for those around us and ourselves.  We can stop worrying so much about what we can’t control and start doing what we can.  To understand this is to truly understand our purpose and to live it is truly what life is all about.

Parenting’s Familiar Face: Update From China

Old Town Macau

Old Town Macau

It’s midday on a Thursday in Mainland China.  This morning, I took a break from presentations and Chinese style buffets to visit nearby Macau.  Macau is an incredibly fascinating city on the coast that was settled by the Portuguese and released back to China in 1999.  On its cobblestone streets, colonial Portugal architecture dominates the city squares, tight alleyways and roundabouts. Colorful catholic churches lay tucked into nooks and roads with names like Avenida de San Franciso show the way.  It would be easy to forget you are in Asia in the old town of Macau if it weren’t for the smell of fried rice and the constant hum of Cantonese in the air.

Educators in Xhuhai, China

Educators in Xhuhai, China

Last evening, we were guests at a large school in Xhuhai.  There, we were warmly greeted by school officials and Mr. Chen, the principal.  He had earlier requested that we speak to parents about ‘parenting’.   In a large school auditorium we were introduced to about 100 parents and teachers.  With translators at our sides, we spoke with and to parents about the challenges of parenting and about techniques we utilize in our own homes and at Kidventure.  We shared stories, presented ideas and met many wonderful parents.  After several rounds of pictures and a presentation of flowers, we were driven back to our hotel at the end of a long and educational day.  As is the case here in China, our hosts were extremely gracious and very kind.

Tonight we will journey to Jinman University, the site of Kidventure’s upcoming camp in China.  We will present to another audience.  This time we will focus on camp and the opportunities we will bring there.  And while each day here brings totally new and unique adventures for me, I am also reminded just how similar all parents and families are, no matter where they live.  Each struggle to do better for their children and each faces similar challenges and joys.



The Beginning of a New Adventure: China

Jinman University is the site of Kidventure China

Jinman University is the site of Kidventure China

This Sunday, I will be flying to Hong Kong.  At my side will be my friend, Tommy Broyles, Professor of Law at the University of Texas.  Together, we will be traveling to speak to officials and parents, market and set the stage for bringing Kidventure to China this summer.  To say this is an adventure would be an understatement as vast as China itself.

Kidventure has been invited to bring its unique summer camp program to Jinman University located in the city of Zhuhai in Guandong Province, The Peoples Republic of China.  With an entire American team of counselors, teachers and specialists, we will provide two eight-day sessions of camp to students between the ages of 7-18.

China-Map-zhuhaiFor me personally,  the chance to bring our mission and purpose to the many children in China is absolutely exciting.  For our partners in China, Kidventure provides a new way to approach a very traditional educational system, one that is much more hands-on and experiential.   Together, our aim is to take students out of the classroom and give them opportunities to learn more collaboratively, exploring the world around them and learning in new and different ways.  Secondly, we are trying to raise the idea that instilling  ’soft skills’ such as strong character traits, confident public speaking prowess and the ability to foster and work in  teams will catapult a sound academic foundation.   We will accomplish both of these goals through our active curriculum.  For example, we’ll teach English through theatre and public speaking through its delivery to an audience.  We will share Western culture through painting classes that study Dali, Warhol and Kahlo.  We will foster problem solving, compromise and cooperation through low ropes courses and we will run through the evening light in American-style Capture the Flag for no other reason than just to have fun.

So, over the course of the week and into the summer, I will do my best to blog about my experiences.  I will try to communicate the uniqueness of China, the personalities of the people, our success and our missteps along the way.  My hope is that the adventure will result in a better understanding of each other and the opportunity for camp to bring the world a little closer.

We’ll talk soon…


More Than Just a Camp







Dear Family,

In a month, school will be out and the time honored American tradition of summer will warmly be upon us.  This is a particularly special year for Kidventure as we celebrate our 20th season of summer camp.  As I look back on the past two decades what is most evident to me is that camp has the opportunity to change lives.  Yes, camp is fun, it’s full of laughter and games and spirit, but the real power in summer camp comes when we are able to cultivate a positive change in the lives of kids.

Camp is real. It’s about people and not products.  It’s about giving people the attention they deserve. It’s about being part of an adventure that doesn’t happen on a screen but happens in an active environment that teaches responsibility, character and kindness.  This is what makes Kidventure more than just ‘camp’.

We want to invite you to share that experience with us once again.  We promise to use everything our 20 years has taught us to make a positive difference in the life of your child.  Why, because they deserve every opportunity to be great and they deserve the very best we can give them.

In the Spirit of Children,

Mike McDonell, President

Mom, A Rock-n-Roll Drummer and a Washer and Dryer

If you had to list out the most tireless and thankless jobs,  Mom would have to be towards the top.  From the day they start ‘on the job’ a mom’s duties are pretty much 24/7.  There is little time for lunch breaks, sick days or vacation, there is no pension, 401K or retirement plan.  Simply put, the job of a mom is one of the toughest.

It got me thinking about my own wife and the mom of my three (or four because she likes to include me) children.  Not only is she the CEO of the house, she provides countess hours volunteering with a variety of charities, is the room mom at the school, serves as the manager of a rock band Audioroad in Austin, Texas, and is skilled with a shovel in the yard.  Tonight after a particularly busy day with sporting events, meetings, school functions and a tick list at the house, she was spent.  Yet at 9:30 in the evening, she borrowed a neighbors truck and took a washer and dryer that was donated clear across town to help out the drummer of the aforementioned rock band who just moved into his first house.  She did not get time and a half, she wasn’t given the following day off and she did it all with a smile on her face.  So I would like to nominate my wife as the employee of the month and raise the level of respect and due justice for moms everywhere with this little video that really drives home the point.  It comes compliments of Mullen, an ad firm out of Boston. It is brilliant.  Thank you for all you do mom(s)!




Run with a Lion this Saturday

Run With a Lion This Saturday


Run with a Lion this Saturday

Help Rex beat Neuroblastoma Cancer by Running








This Saturday in Austin, Texas a lot of the community is coming out to run with a lion.  In this case the ‘lion’ is a little boy named Rex and he’s every bit as courageous.

I blogged about Rex and his family back in January (read here). Rex has Stage 4 Neuroblastoma and has inspired an entire community with his fight and resolve during this challenging time of his life.  He’s only one year old.  And on this Saturday, March 22nd he’s turning two.  In celebration of his birthday and to support the Ryan family and others battling his condition, the first annual Run with Rex 5K and Birthday Party will happen!

The event will take place at the Austin State Supported Living Center located at the corner of 35th and Mopac.  The 5K starts at 9 AM with the Kid’s 1K to follow.  There will be lots of family fun, entertainment and the opportunity to help.  I will be the emcee of the event and encourage everyone to sign up, bring the family and be a part of supporting a little guy that needs us all.

For more information and to register for the run visit the Race Registration Site.  To learn more about Rex and his fight against Neuroblastoma visit

Go Rex!


Kidventure Camp in China 2014

Kidventure-Julong brings our unique camp to China in 2014

Kidventure-Julong brings our unique camp to China in 2014

After 20 years of running a summer camp business, the last place I probably ever thought of playing capture the flag or roasting marshmallows with campers would be in China.  But, life often serves up the unexpected, even if it’s halfway around the world.

Last November, with my wife, Peggy, at my side, I stepped off of a China Air flight and set foot in the Land of the Dragon.  We had been invited to visit a prestigious boarding school called The Julong Foreign Language School located in a quaint village north of Xiaman, China.   For the past few years, Chinese students with the means have been flocking to attend summer camp programs here in America (from Boston to San Francisco to Kidventure in Texas).  They come in search of the chance to further their English, expand their academic opportunity and soak in the ‘western culture’.

From Xiaman, we took a high-speed train north to Quanzhou where the Julong School is located.  A very kind driver met us at the station and drove us through a beautifully idyllic landscape, ever-so manicured and kept.  As we drove onto the school grounds and up the hill towards the administrative offices,  we were surprisingly greeted with a 60 foot tall LED board.  On it read, “WELCOME MR. KIDVENTURE TEXAS OF THE USA”.  I knew at that point that we were definitely not in Kansas.

Julong is like a small university, complete with attractive dorms, neat classrooms and plentiful athletic fields and basketball courts.  Everywhere there are gardens, flowering plants and pathways.  School children dress in athletic suits of varying colors and the sound of younger children singing and older children reciting lessons fills the air at all times.  Students at Julong attend class and remain at school during the week, returning to their homes on weekends.

The day at Julong was spent in meetings, sharing tea and eating.  Meetings in China are rarely about business and much more about getting to know one another and becoming comfortable with those around the table.  Beside a charming lake, we were treated to an amazing lunch, complete with traditional Chinese dishes that I could not identify.  We were toasted (many times) and shown a hospitality and kindness that was humbling, even for Texas standards.

That day, the idea of bringing Kidventure’s summer camp to China was formulated.  Around a traditional tea ceremony with school officials, my wife and my friend, Tommy, drew up a vision for camp in China.  That vision was to build a team of American camp counselors, directors and specialists who would travel to Julong and bring Kidventure camp (complete with tie-die shirts, camp songs, mud-wars and s’mores around the campfire).  Camp would be ‘delivered’ in English with a focus on transposing strong character skills and a healthy value system.  What better atmosphere to accomplish this than camp!?

KVJ LOGOThis coming summer, Kidventure-Julong Camp will take place in the mountains north of Xiaman from June 29-August 3, 2014.  A team of 17 will travel from Texas and bring the joy and adventure of Kidventure to children ranging from ages 8-16.  We’ll play Ga-Ga, learn countless camp songs and run around at night with glow-in-the-dark painted faces.  We will share campfire stories, sack race and build relationships that only camps can foster.   For our Chinese families and their campers, I am sure they will want to further their competency in English as many hope that their children will become more comfortable and familiar with Americans and our customs.  For me, my hope is that a greater understanding of each other will occur over the course of camp.  My desire is that a team of highly energetic and caring  Americans will gather with children from a very different place and both will understand that we are not so different.  For in the world of camp, the language of fun, acceptance and childhood is universal and the opportunity to bring the world together can happen at a place called Kidventure.



Always Fight for Them

rexThis past Tuesday evening I entered Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston to visit some new-found friends of mine who have been faced with a tough life challenge. I walked out of that hospital with a newer sense of what it means to fight for what you love.

Rex Ryan was diagnosed with Stage 4 Neuroblastoma Cancer on September 12, 2013, at the age of 18 months. Since then, he has had major surgery,  multiple rounds of chemo, at least 16 blood transfusions and has spent most of his days in Dell Children’s Hospital. He is probably one of the cutest little guys I have ever seen and a real fighter.

I had planned on simply dropping off some food for Rex’s mom Lesley.  Rex was having a pretty rough day before my arrival and Lesley felt like the timing might not be good.  Upon arriving on the 8th floor where Rex had come to occupy, I asked the nurse to please make sure Lesley got the food. Immediately, she moved to Rex’s door.  Shortly after Lesley popped out.  Rex had fallen asleep and the timing was a bit better.

Rex’s hospital room had been carefully transformed into something much less ‘hospital’ and much more like a little home.  There were electric lighted candles, pictures of family and newly gifted stuffed animals strewn about.  The bed had been repositioned and much care had been taken to make the room as loving and comfortable as possible.  Rex laid sleeping on the couch area with a warm blanket pulled around him.  He looked peaceful in the moment on what was a pretty painful and uncomfortable day for him.  Lesley and I talked about his medical schedule, the medications he was receiving and the upcoming procedure that would take place in a couple days. We talked about her husband, Casey and her daughter, Elle,  the travel back and fourth from Austin, sleeping in a hospital and everything in life that has been turned upside down because of cancer.   Simply witnessing your child dealing with so much pain is a heartache no parent ever wants to bear. Yet in the midst of all the struggles and adversity that had mounted on that boy and his family, I was presented with this incredible example of hope and unwavering positive attitude.  Talking with Lesley, you learn real quick that no adversity, when it comes to your child, can not be overcome; that no low blood counts can’t be brought back up; that no cancer can’t be beat; hair grows back, tissue heals, pain goes away and Spring always follows Winter.  Spring always does follow Winter.

I departed from the room as Rex was still sleeping next to a large stuffed animal.  I said goodbye and walked through sleepy hallways and down a quiet elevator. Just before I passed through the doors of the hospital I stopped and said a prayer for Rex.  I prayed for his health, for growing older and for Spring. I prayed for the Ryan family and that they keep up the fight.  The entire experience reminded me that nothing in this world is worth fighting for more than our children and that the most important things we have are always being tucked in by us at night.  Make the most of each and every day and never-ever stop loving them.

Thank you Leslie, Rex, Casey and Elle for inspiring me to be a better parent.



Ping Pong, Humility and Bigger Life Lessons

The agony of defeat…

Sunday evening I was beaten by my 13 year old boy at ping pong.  He has never beaten me at ping pong. He beat me four games in a row. The bloody aftermath was a lesson in humility and parenthood.

As a dad there is an unwritten rule, an obligation and a genetic directive that drives us to win when playing our sons at a variety of endeavors.  These include age-honored events such as  ’Around the World’, ‘Pea-knuckles’, ‘H-O-R-S-E’, ‘Paper-rock-scissors’, ‘backyard football’, and anything thing that involves rock-throwing, wrestling, or sports-based trivia.  The intense drive to win at these endeavors involves a great deal of pride and some misguided goals at building manhood and toughness visa loss.  In other words, if they are going to pass into manhood, they must first get there through the ‘old man’.  It’s archaic I know, but stay with me.

As a child, my dad loved to play me in basketball.  Granted, he was a skilled athlete in his own right, but I practiced every day honing my own basketball prowess,  constantly focused on the goal of finally beating him and claiming heir to Valhala.  He would toy with me at times, allowing me to close in on a prospective win, lifting my hopes only to lay waste to me, crushing my spirits in utter defeat.  The day I finally won at basketball was a small but significant benchmark.

As a parent, one of our ultimate goals should always be to raise our kids to be better than us.  Not just in games and sports but more importantly in life. I think for me, the idea of competition with my son just provides a platform where he learns how to practice, strive and ultimately win against his dad. My hope is that the same determination and spirit he brings to the ping pong table will be brought in the ‘real world’.  My hope is that he values striving for integrity, character and being a good person as much as he values the games.  There is always a balancing act we play with our kids.  We need to make it challenging for them to succeed, but not diminish their spirit in the quest.

In the coming months it is apparent that my son will be chalking up more and more wins against his father who is watching his son grow from a child to a young man.  Ping pong and basketball are fun, but my hope is that his greatest success in life will be those that define who he is and provide for a better place for those around him.

In the meantime, I will be sneaking up into the game room for some late night training sessions.  I’m certain I am going to have to play the kid again.




Be a Parent…You Can Do It