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From Zero Experience to Running a Park

Selena Kelly-Irvin’s park management journey at the Mill Casino RV Park in North Bend, Oregon, has been nothing short of transformative. From initially hesitating to step into the role of park operator, Selena not only embraced the challenge but excelled at it. Her involvement with OHI’s George O’Leary National School of Outdoor Hospitality Management played a pivotal role in shaping her expertise. Starting with the foundational year, Selena honed her leadership skills and began building lasting bonds within the industry. National School Year 2 provided her with a more in-depth understanding of operations, a growth in her existing network in a supportive community of like-minded professionals and kept her up to date on all things legislation affecting her park. Selena also joined an OHI 20 Group, reinforcing the importance of networking and collaborative problem-solving, becoming a Group 6 member. Amidst her already stacked responsibilities, we have one question: How does Selena find the time? The time to manage, learn, grow, implement, and pursue? In this interview, we dive deeper into the value Selena found in National School, how she got into park management, and how she continues to excel in the Outdoor Hospitality Industry.

What was your journey like getting involved in OHI’s George O’Leary National School of Outdoor Hospitality Management?

I had zero experience managing an RV park when I took this job. Being so new to this and the industry as a whole, I needed to get acquainted with the industry and everything that goes into it. The owners of the park suggested the National School so that’s what I did.

And I got so much out of Year 1, I had zero questions about Year 2. Then I really wanted a Year 3 [laughs]. I honestly think Year 1 is great because it has that leadership growth aspect, and you build a bond with the people that are in the school and they’re your peers in the industry, you all are leaning the same things and having the same issues.

Then Year 2 you somehow expand on that even more. You get to dive in on the specifics and your network solidifies even more. Most of the time you’re with the same people that were there for Year 1, so you already have a bond. So, that was a great thing because our class became close; we still have group chats that are active. Some of them don’t even have parks anymore. But we are always able to bounce things off of each other, like, I’m doing this, and my park is having a problem here. We were able to assist each other in those types of events. So, it was great. I really enjoyed it.

When you applied for your job as the park operator, you’d never run an RV park before?

Correct. I had never run one before. I have run a gas station. I’ve run a village in the Bering Sea of Alaska. I’ve done everything but an RV park and I didn’t want the job at first either. My sister was the tribal development lead advising the hiring for the role and she’s like, sister, this is like, right up your alley. This is the perfect job for you. And I’m like, you’re crazy, but okay, fine. I’ll try it out. I’m always up for a new challenge. So, I took the job in November of 2018. And I’m still here. And I love it. I love, love my job. So, it was a perfect fit. I just didn’t know it at the time it kind of took that nudge. It was the same thing with the National School.

They sent two managers before me. And I was like, you really want me to go to this school? Seriously? Am I really going to get anything out of it?

And then I got there, and I was like, oh, it’s the best thing you did. I’m definitely going to Year 2. It actually turned out to be for the best.

In Year 1 you discovered the leadership and the bonds in the industry to really help you thrive. Is there anything else that you walked away with after your 1st year that made coming to Year 2 a sure thing for you?

Some of those struggles that we have, like, ADA compliance, those laws and regulations that you know, you sometimes don’t know what you’re supposed to do. Where you’re supposed to go with them. It was great to actually have people there who you could ask questions even after class, like maybe the whole class doesn’t need to know, or take up the time, but you were able to actually get questions that you had answered and you knew that it was somebody who knew the industry or knew what was going on or how it was supposed to be done, so it was great. And the fact that you have those experts there to assist you in the areas that you are struggling.

What advice you would give to people who’ve done Year 1 and on the fence about attending Year 2?

So, we just had this conversation in my 20 group. One of the guys has completed Year 1 and he’s like, I don’t need to go to Year 2. I’ve got enough out of networking with my class. And we’re like, no, no, no, no, you have to do Year 2. It’s kind of like building a house.

Year 1 you get the foundation. Year 2 is where you put the structure in place; it’s adding the walls and the fixtures and the exterior. There are so many things that happen after Year 1 that you’re like, oh man, I needed to do this or this needed to happen and you learn what you need to do. Then in Year 2 you learn to operationalize and implement; you finalize things.

From hesitancy to thriving, Selena Kelly-Irvin proves that if you embrace a new opportunity, passion can find you. Attending OHI’s George O’Leary National School of Outdoor Hospitality Management to improve her management skills provided not only leadership growth and industry connections but also practical solutions to challenges like ADA compliance. Selena’s journey is ever-evolving, and she has found that leaning on OHI’s professional development opportunities has opened doors necessary for her overall growth. A truly inspirational story that has no near end in sight.