As Jaclyn Destefano views it, her generation not only brings technological advancements to the fair industry, they also bring about perception shifts.
Destefano, 28, is a Unit Manager of Dreamland Amusements, her family's carnival company, where she oversees daily operations with everything from advertising to ticketing.
Born into the industry, Destefano got her start at a very young age. By age 15, Jaclyn was managing 3 games at the local fair. By age 19, Jaclyn became the youngest Unit Manger for the 2nd unit of Dreamland Amusements."It started off as me managing a few dates over the summer months when I was out of school to me managing the entire second unit," said Destefano.
Although Destefano got her start early, her parents never pressured her to make a career of the industry and "always put an emphasis on education," she added.
"I worked at the fair Friday, Saturday, Sunday while going to class Monday through Thursday. My schedule was extremely busy but it was worth it," she said. Jaclyn attended St John's University in Queens, NY were she received her undergraduate degree in Early Childhood Education with a 4.0 and her Masters Degree as a reading specialist.
"The teacher in me definitely comes out at times. Being a teacher, you have to be extremely organized and very team orientated; which translates well into the carnival industry. Everyone has the same job, to make the kids smile. So you have to have a child's mentality at times," she said.
With management experience that spans over 10 years and two degrees, Jaclyn Destefano doesn't seem like your typical "carny". As her generation of professionals fill more leadership positions, she hopes that the old stigma of carnival workers being "uneducated, misfits, and runaways" will change.
"It's hard being in a business that has so many negative connotations, especially being so young and a woman. Sometimes guests do not take me seriously and/or do not anticipate a young woman being in such a high position. This is something I hope changes," she added.
Destefano's passionate attitude towards eliminating the stigma about carnival workers comes from her traveling experiences and the rise of technology.
"I want to showcase that the fair provides new opportunity. Many people who work with us become a part of the carnival because they have never been outside of their tiny town. I like to call the fairs, the "Real America". From the workers to the guest, the fair experience is real. I get to travel up and down the East Coast and discover towns that are so different from one another, but the smile on a child's face never changes," she said.
To boost fair morale and expand minds about the "traditional" carnival experience, Dreamland Amusements is engaging customers through social media platforms including Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.
"I think social media and branding creates a more professional package, which helps lessens the old fair stigma. It's really about the little extras that nobody would ever notice," she added.
With that being said, the most significant generational change in the fair industry today is the rise of social media and branding. "Today, people want the experience. It's all about how the carnival feels, cutesy signs, and customer satisfaction. To create this ambiance, we recently redesigned our website and created a Dreamland Amusements mascot," she said.
With all these new marketing initiatives, Dreamland Amusements is hoping to be seen as "Disney on Wheels". From the time you enter the midway until the time you leave, Dreamland Amusements wants you to have an experience that you will never forget.
An experience Jaclyn will never forgot is the time she slept walked. " Last year, I was helping at one of our county fairs in Florida and was working super long days. I guess I had been changing the batteries to the machine guns earlier that day. That night I sleepwalked and was yelling "I have to change the batteries in these guns!"
As her experiences show, the carnival can take you on an usual ride in life. From long days to even longer nights, one has to be passionate about the industry in order to keep going at such a pace.
"You have to really have to live, eat, sleep the business. You have to take the highs with highs and the lows with the lows," she said. "When there are tough days, you just have to remember why you're working so hard in the first place. If you aren't in love with the business, you won't last." she added.
Unlike many amusement companies, Dreamland Amusement's route is year-round. They travel from the peaks of New Hampshire to the beaches of Miami, FL. This year the fair has added two new rides: the Dream Wheel and the Storm.
Dreamland Amusements has already started their route for 2016 and are currently in Georgia where DeStefano was managing the unit.