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Playing his own game

Playing his own game

Monday, December 17, 2018

FLC experiences shaped a career in mental healthcare

"I picked Fort Lewis without knowing much about it," says Denver native Casey Meinster. "It was the farthest-away in-state school, and I wanted to go far away from home and still be in-state. So it was a blessing in disguise."

What she's most thankful for today, though, is how the unique professional opportunities she received through the Psychology Department, on campus, and in Durango helped launch her challenging and rewarding career as a mental-healthcare professional.

Today Casey (Psychology, '06) is the clinical director at the residential treatment center for Hathaway-Sycamores, a 700-employee community mental-health clinic that has 10 locations throughout the county.

"I work primarily in a residential, short-term, six-month program for foster children," she explains. "These are children who are in the child-welfare system, so they're placed there because they are not being successful in foster homes or biological family homes. They come there and get very intensive treatment and support until we can get them either reunified with their family of origin or into a foster home and or into a lower level of care."

While a student, she volunteered for the campus sexual abuse hotline, and also for The Family Center, in Durango. Through the Psychology Department, Casey also spent a summer in an internship at Napa State Hospital, in California, which provided her first experience in an institutional setting. While there she also met several psychologists and psychiatrists who attended Alliant International University, where she later earned a master's degree from the California School of Professional Psychology.

"I always tell people that you've got to volunteer or do something, because it's easier to get experience that way," she urges. "I feet like all of those experiences helped me get my first job, and that's why I was able get into the field right away."

Jordan and Casey MeinsterJordan Meinster has grown a thriving business that is now blossoming into a successful franchise spreading across the country. And the roots of that business reach back to the Fort Lewis College campus.

“I have played pickup basketball my whole life,” Meinster (Economics, ’06) explains. “So when I got to Fort Lewis, I played pickup at the Student Life Center, and also down at the parks in town. If I had two hours between classes, I'd study for an hour and play an hour of basketball. But often it was like, ‘Good luck with that!’ because the games were so disorganized."

Despite those inconveniences, Meinster persisted, and his pickup basketball habit helped keep him happy and healthy during his years as a full-time student with an outside job as a kitchen manager at a Durango restaurant.

As an Economics major, though, Meinster also couldn’t help but plot ways to fix the game he loved.  “My idea started in my freshman year,” he says. “I swore to myself, if I ever owned a gym, I'd have referees on the court, and I'd have somebody organizing it.”

Upon moving to San Diego after FLC, he was surprised to find that despite the hassles and frustrations, lots of other people, like himself, still gathered to play the game they love each in their own way. Still, he says, inventing a new business model that would change pickup basketball in cities around the country "was a pipe dream. It honestly wasn't something I thought I would do.”

Until, that is, 2011, when he signed up for a three-day intensive entrepreneurial class at the University of Southern California. He used that opportunity to research the costs of building courts, investigate membership models, and get a sense of the fitness club market. “A month later,” he laughs, “I quit my job and just went for it.”

Since then, Meinster has continued to up his game. He went on to get his MBA from USC. And today he’s founder and president of PickUp USA -- a basketball-focused fitness club chain that the October 2016 edition of Entrepreneur magazine cited as a company "on their way to becoming tomorrow's next big thing."

The original concept, Meinster explains, was just pickup basketball with referees. He and his wife, Casey (Psychology, ‘06), rented a warehouse and installed a basketball court, and PickUp USA was in business. “We learned what worked and didn't as we went along,” Meinster says. “Pickup basketball was the fundamental core offering, but now we offer group training with basketball, we do private training, and our clubs have full fitness centers.”

In 2016, Meinster took another big leap: He started franchising his model, and the concept took off. Today there are five PickUp USA locations open across the country, and four more are in development. And off the basketball court, the business world is noticing: The company was recognized by Franchise Gator as a “Top Emerging Franchise” for 2017 and 2018, and a “Fastest Growing Franchise” for 2018.

Franchising is sort of like "pickup business" – anyone can come join the team and get in the game, but also be independent. All PickUp USA clubs are independently owned and operated under a franchise agreement. That’s the type of game-strategy that may suit certain aspiring business people, Meinster stresses. “With a franchise, you can attach yourself to a brand, still work for yourself and own a business, but you're not working by yourself, you're not in it alone.”

Still, any entrepreneurial adventure has its challenges and risks, which is something Meinster learned on his own business’ ten-year evolution from the Student Life Center to a successful franchise. “Buckle up. It's a long journey,” he advises. “But, if you have a good idea, and you have the ability to stick with it, and you understand there's going to be sacrifice,” he adds, “then go for it like nothing else.”

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