"These are not little kids - these are near-adults or adults who are ready to make substantial and significant contributions to the success of the hobby."
This fall, APS Development Assistant Erin Seamans spoke with Ann Dunkin about the Young Philatelic Leaders Fellowship program, a scholarship program run by the American Philatelic Society. YPLF supports young philatelists, offers them unique opportunities to attend stamp shows across the country, and connects them with experienced mentors in the philatelic world.
Ann Dunkin has supported the YPLF as a philatelic mentor since the program's beginning. See the full interview below.
Erin: What led you to donate to the YPLF for the first time?
Ann: Well, I think that the shortest answer is that there are a lot of ways to grow our hobby. I get very tired of hearing people complaining that our hobby is dying. But that's not a competition: there are a lot of ways for our hobby to grow and one of those is for youth. And so Alex Haimann and I have had a lot of conversations over the years about the right answer, and my answer to that is that we should pursue all the ways to grow the hobby and YPLF is one of those. I think it’s a way to grow people who will not just be collectors but exhibitors and dealers and writers and cachet makers and people who will make real substantial contributions to the hobby.
E: That makes sense, the next generation will carry on the legacy. So why do you enjoy giving to the YPLF and why do you continue to support us?
A: I've had the opportunity to - over more than a decade, since the very first year - to be a mentor in the very first or second year for one of the fellows. So I've gotten to meet and gotten to know a lot of the fellows over the years. And they're really great people, young people - some of them aren’t so young anymore, although they are more than me so there's that. They are great individuals and I really enjoyed getting to know them, seeing more youth in the hobby. I mean I am, shockingly, on the younger end of the cohort and many of those folks are closer to my age than the mainstream of the hobby, even if we are potentially similar in age. So I just like the energy that the kids bring in, I like supporting them, I like getting to know them. So that's what keeps me coming back, the young people in the program.
That makes sense. With every interview that I've done with alumni, the same sentiment keeps coming up about the mentors and donors: the alumni have nothing but many many thank-yous for the time and attention and support. So I'm glad that it goes both ways. What was one of your favorite results of the fellowship program to witness personally?
What is really cool to me . . . obviously it's cool because every one of these kids or young people have stayed. Well, all but one, as far as I know, have stayed deeply engaged in the hobby. But not only have they stayed involved but you've got someone whose the president of an auction house, you've got people who are writing for magazines, you've got people who are working for the Inspector General’s office at the Postal Service - which seems a little orbital but it's still very connected. So we not only have these folks as a part of the hobby, but it opens doors for some of them to make careers in the hobby. And if they haven't made careers, then they have become engaged at a much higher level than you might see otherwise.
That's an absolute great outcome because when people walk into a show and they don't see anyone like them, then they are not likely to stay. So the more that young people are involved in our hobby, the more visible they are - whether that's online or at events - then the more likely you are to get more people like them to show up. Right? You don't want to be somewhere where you don't see people like you, and if you are twenty years old and you walk in the room and everybody's seventy-five, you’re probably not going to stick around. It's a great outcome for the folks who have been able to become professionals of the field and it’s also a great outcome for all of us that there is the visibility of those folks who are becoming the next generation of the hobby at a much young age.
"YPLF is a way to grow people who will make real substantial contributions to the hobby."
I can just hear your passion and excitement for the hobby. I'm actually kind of curious; when did you start stamp collecting or begin getting into the hobby of stamp collecting?
Well I know I started when I was a little kid, I can't remember exactly. Not like the people who say, "I was 8 years old!" I don't remember exactly how old I was. Like everybody else, right, there were a number of years where I really set it aside. I think at some point when I was in college I stopped buying new issues, which was the last thing I should have been doing, and 15 years ago or so I started to find the ability to get back into it.
So I would imagine that - being a part of the YPLF program as a donor - you must really want to give back to the youth of the next generation. Are there any other hopes that you have to accomplish through this philanthropy?
It certainly is the most important thing to support the next generation of collectors to be successful. My hope is that we will see more of these young people stay connected to the hobby through more of their lives. I think that the gap, where people leave the hobby for 20-plus years, part of the reason is that people get busy, but part of the reason is that there's nobody their age. And there's no one writing for magazines, or no one’s showing up at shows. If we can help make a continuity in that social network of the hobby, so people feel like they have a cohort when they're 25-30 and not just when they're 50. I think that could be incredibly helpful because part of any hobby is that social connection, and if you're twenty years old then there's nobody your age. You are likely to sort of drift off for a few years until you get older.
That definitely makes sense: connections and making friends and making it fun will make any hobby more inviting. I can understand that sentiment.
What do you wish everyone knew about YPLF that you think isn't talked about enough online or in publications?
I think there is some very curmudgeonly stuff that goes into the hobby. But I really wish that everybody has the opportunity to meet the fellows. I hope people will take that opportunity to meet the fellows and to meet the previous class of fellows, and get to see what really bright, capable, and accomplished people these fellows are. They all are accomplished beyond what some of our fellow stamp collectors expect of people at that age - I think these expectations aren't necessarily well-calibrated. Because [the fellows] are getting hired in organizations . . . they are way more accomplished at 20 or 22 than we were at that age. We often joke at my old alma mater that none of us could ever get in there today - which is not really a joke. It's just that the bar is raised. These folks are incredibly accomplished and have grasped the hobby more than everybody realizes. I think some people think that YPLF is just fun and games for a bunch of teenagers, but there's a lot more going on there. So I wish everyone would get a chance to meet them and get to know them.
"Part of any hobby is that social connection."
Through talking to all the alumni and everyone that is involved with YPLF I can see that there's a huge knowledge base that you are undertaking with each track; really understanding the art of each part of the stamp collecting world. If you found yourself talking to someone about supporting YPLF, what would you tell them?
I would tell them that if they're concerned about the future of the hobby, which many people are, one of the ways is to make sure that the hobby continues to be successful. I know I hear that "We need older people to get involved because we are going to have to wait too long for these little kids.” These are not little kids - these are near-adults or adults who are ready to make substantial and significant contributions to the success of the hobby. If they want the hobby to be successful then this is one of the ways they can support the future success of the hobby.
I couldn't agree with you more. You always want to look to the future and the future is our youth . . . I'm curious about your story with stamp collecting. I know you had mentioned that you were a mentor and a donor as well, but I'm curious if you attend a lot of events to meet fellows? Can you share more about your contact with the program?
I mean I think that more people should take advantage of the opportunity to meet them. If you attend a stamp show or some of the other events that go on throughout the year, you would get the opportunity to meet the current fellows. If you find a current fellow, then you'll usually find a part of the pack of previous fellows. So I get the opportunity at various events where there were a couple of former fellows there and Alex was there. That's my opportunity to interact with them. I've only been a mentor once, a while ago, so that hasn't really been an opportunity that has come up again, as there have been far more accomplished people offering to mentor. Me mentoring a writer versus John Hotchner mentoring a writer? There's just no comparison. As long as John is available to mentor writers they don't need me.
So who did you end up mentoring?