Building the Future: IAAPA Foundation


FROM LEFT: Brandie Conforti of JA Worldwide, Ng Hau Yee of JA Singapore, “The Business of Fun” winner Sylvia Chong, Carolyn Bassett of JA Worldwide, and IAAPA Foundation Co-Executive Directors Bobbie and Tom Wages

‘The Best Experience I Ever Had’

The IAAPA Foundation continues its mission and looks ahead

by Juanita Chavarro Arias

100th Anniversary-w dates-colorSylvia Chong became the envy of attraction enthusiasts worldwide in November. Like a celebrity touring IAAPA Attractions Expo 2017, the 17-year-old from Singapore strolled the trade show floor, met industry executives, and learned about the operations behind some of Orlando’s biggest theme parks.

Chong’s four-day trip was the grand prize for winning “The Business of Fun” contest, a partnership between the IAAPA Foundation and nonprofit youth organization JA Worldwide (Junior Achievement). The contest asked students ages 14 to 19 to submit their new ideas for rides, facilities, entertainment, and more. Chong won for her idea “A Token for a Queue,” which proposed using personalized tokens to hold guests’ spots in a ride’s queue rather than standing in line themselves.

After returning home, Chong wrote a reflection on her time in Orlando, and IAAPA Foundation Co-Executive Director Tom Wages says he felt inspired reading Chong’s description of the trip as “the best experience I ever had.”

“We are striving to raise the awareness among students of the career opportunities within the industry,” Wages says. “Once a student is introduced to the exciting potential of careers in the industry, we help develop pathways for them.”

“The Business of Fun” contest is just one program through which the IAAPA Foundation has touched the lives of students by “inspiring life-changing careers in the global attractions industry by cultivating tomorrow’s leaders.” Since then, the foundation has formed partnerships with colleges and universities, including the University of Central Florida Rosen College of Hospitality Management, and awards scholarships to students pursuing a career in the attractions industry. Supported by generous donations from IAAPA members, the IAAPA Foundation Scholarship Fund awarded scholarships for the 2017-2018 school year to three students in the attractions management track at the Rosen College: Frank Hamedl from Fishkill, New York; Ashley Kaczor from Lake Worth, Florida; and Jarret Geist from Allentown, Pennsylvania.

“Our IAAPA Foundation scholarship recipients are not only thankful for our financial help but have expressed their deep appreciation for the access, exposure, and connections they make by being an IAAPA Foundation scholarship winner,” Wages says. “One of this year’s scholarship winners summed it up this way: ‘Thank you … the IAAPA Foundation means the world to young industry professionals like myself.’”

IAAPA Foundation Mission

The IAAPA Foundation inspires life-changing careers in the global attractions industry by cultivating tomorrow’s leaders.

This year, the IAAPA Foundation will continue engaging students with the attractions industry by building on its global initiatives with JA Worldwide—such as its job-shadowing program at IAAPA Expos—by encouraging IAAPA members to connect with their local JA office, and by supporting the scholarship program, externship, and industry executive programs with the Rosen College. In addition, the foundation plans to expand its “Educators Roundtable” program and is developing new programs with other colleges and universities that support attractions management programs.

“We have learned that the colleges providing the most relevant curricula want engagement with the industry,” Wages says. “For example, we have coordinated with the Rosen College to send a professor for a full semester to Silver Dollar City for real-world knowledge that he can take back to other teachers and take into the classroom.”

The IAAPA Foundation will also launch a “Future Leaders” program to identify, support, and track highly motivated students who are actively pursuing a career in the attractions industry. For Wages, it has been gratifying to see industry executives reaching out to support and encourage students who have taken part in IAAPA Foundation programs.

“Under the leadership of Chair Jane Cooper and the IAAPA Foundation Board of Directors, Bobbie [Wages], the foundation’s co-executive director, and I believe the IAAPA Foundation will become increasingly effective in its ability to inspire life-changing careers in the global attractions industry,” he says. “What could be better for those of us who have spent our careers in this amazing industry than to have a chance to turn around and lend a hand to those who want to follow.”

The IAAPA Foundation was formed in 2010 and is incorporated in the United States as a 501(c)(3) charitable foundation. The foundation accepts contributions from individuals, corporations, trusts, and grant-presenting organizations around the world. Last year, the IAAPA Foundation established a memorial fund in honor of Al Weber Jr., founder, president, and CEO of Apex Parks Group, who passed away in 2016; the fund supports education for future attractions leaders.

For more information about the IAAPA Foundation or to make a donation, visit


ABOVE: The IAAPA Foundation supports students through many programs, including its scholarship fund and job-shadowing program, in partnership with JA Worldwide, at IAAPA Expos.