From Peg: Are We Capable of Courageous Conversations?

“Success of an organization is measured in terms of its contribution to society.” — Viljoen, 1944

At the 2006 ACA National Conference, the 20/20 Vision was launched. At that moment in time, I shared the following: “One of the trends we see in the world today is an increasing awareness of social responsibility — how one creates benefit.” I went on to say we were witnessing a dramatic change in the landscape of the world’s population, “yet, we cling to a shrinking minority market of people and camps.” I challenged us, as a camp community who serve as advocates for quality, developmental experiences for children, youth, and families (and as responsible citizens and stewards for the legacy our camp ancestors left us), that we must do what we could to be sure more children had the opportunity to spend time in natural environments, be physically active and healthy, and experience authentic human connections. It was more important than ever.

As a result of the emerging demographic changes and societal challenges, ACA made a commitment to ensure more children, youth, and families of all ethnic, cultural, and socio-economic backgrounds had an opportunity to have a camp experience. As such, that commitment meant that we must serve not only a larger percentage of the child and youth population but the broader camp community itself, including those organizations providing outdoor programs.

The 20/20 Vision was a movement for change — to ensure no children and youth were deprived of the opportunity to have a camp experience. It was a movement that would require the collective action of many individuals. It was a movement that would demand we network with those who may not have been a part of the ACA camp community in the past. (Visit ACA’s 20/20 Toolbox for action examples at www.ACAcamps.org/campmag/2020-toolbox.)

Seven years later, although we have witnessed some change (see ACA President Tish Bolger’s “Camp Diversity: A Call to Action” at www.ACAcamps.org/campmag/1303/camp-diversity, the world continues to outpace our efforts. The ACA camp community has been proud of its history of adaptation and entrepreneurial acumen, yet, at this moment in time, it appears to be struggling with the pace of change and its implications.

In 2010, just under half of the babies born were nonwhite; today 46 percent of our youth are people of color. By 2030, the majority of workers under twenty-five will be people of color. At the current pace of demographic change in ACA’s camp community, it will take us until 2046 to reach 2030 projections.

I now wonder if the 20/20 Vision is not as much about social justice as it is an economic necessity — economic necessity for the camp community as well as society. It is true that if fewer and fewer children and youth are attending camp because it is not a part of their culture or their parents do not “see themselves” when they consider our camps, our business model will be seriously impacted. On the other hand, we also know that society will need skilled workers and innovators — those who possess the competencies that we have proven can be acquired by attending and/or working at a quality camp.

Yet I also wonder if we have decided to continue to serve our shrinking minority market and simply increase our internal competition? Are we accepting our shrinking influence and, instead, sharpening our individual gain? I simply cannot believe that is true. Although we do have our loyalty to legacy practices, we are a culture capable of courageous conversations. I believe that we understand that deliberation and discourse (although difficult), if pursued, can make us better.

The fact is a worthy vision is not easy. A vision of merit takes time. In Harvard Business Review’s “Leadership in (Permanent) Crisis,” there is a statement that “most sustainable change is not about change at all but about discerning and considering what is precious and essential.” Whether you believe the vision of serving more children and families or networking and partnering with an ever-growing community of committed camps and organizations is driven by social justice and/or economic necessity, we must realize we have not yet unearthed our potential.

Reference

Heifetz, R., Grashow, A., & Linsky, M. (2009). Leadership in a (permanent) crisis. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from http://hbr.org/2009/07/leadership-in-a-permanent-crisis/ar/1

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