Every year you, as a camp director or staff person, are faced with the decision of where to gain professional development. You might begin to search for the best training specific to your needs, recognizing the importance of being involved professionally on a continual basis. You may also find that regular participation in training events has a variety of professional benefits: helps you become better equipped to perform your job, provides a wide range of ideas and resources specific to camping and the clientele served, and keeps you up to date on current information, new technology, and ideas relevant to the field.
The Value of Cross Training
Cross training from a variety of organizations in the field of camping is important; it opens your mind to new ways of doing things and to proven methods that can or have not worked for others in the industry. Camp professionals can benefit from looking at how affiliated organizations operate programs that relate to the camping industry. Attending educational sessions offered by these organizations broadens your network base and allows you to generate ideas that can be adapted to your specific camp setting. For example, consider attending a course or convention offered by a food service vendor or supplier. YMCA Camp Thunderbird in Lake Wylie, South Carolina, discovered a new way to garnish food and prepare serving lines by attending a training taught by chefs at a food service company. In addition, they were able to swap menus and discovered new meal ideas such as chicken fajitas and soups. You may also develop a better and more cost-effective way to serve meals by finding out how a local state park operates its food-service industry.
Participating in different states’ Recreation and Park Association or Department of Natural Resources conferences and local training events can also provide you with new programming ideas. For instance, The Delaware Department of Natural Resources taught a course that provided a wonderful way to teach children how to fish. The course offered helpful and ready-to-use resource material — the information packet was easy to implement and provided a unique and fun fishing opportunity at camp. Using this resource material, campers learned how to make simple fishing poles using aluminum cans and how to identify the different types of fish they would catch.
Many organizations provide training on a regular basis. The following organizations have well-defined goals and objectives to meet many of the educational needs of camp professionals.
North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE)
NAAEE’s mission is to promote environmental education and support the work of environmental educators. They are able to integrate the many environmental interest groups and organizations that are dedicated to improving education. They work to provide a scientific approach to promoting education about environmental issues. NAAEE offers a national conference in August.
Association for Experiential Educators (AEE)
AEE has as its vision the contribution of making a more just and compassionate world by transforming education. Experiential education involves providing experience, which facilitates the learning process. Attending training associated with these types of organizations enables professionals in camping to contribute excellent ideas and extend the value of their year-round programming.
American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance (AAHPERD)
The AAHPERD is an alliance of six national organizations and six district organizations. This is a unique organization because it is a mixture of many organizing bodies working toward the same goal. Together they are able to provide members with a comprehensive and coordinated array of resources, support, and programs related to achieving a healthy lifestyle. Through training in healthy living, camp staff may find new ways to teach campers how to choose activities that they can develop over a lifetime.
National Recreation & Park Association (NRPA)
NRPA cites as their mission “to advance parks, recreation, and environmental conservation efforts that enhance the quality of life.” This organization sees the value of promoting individual and community wellness programs. In addition, they promote environmental values and responsible management of environmental education programs. Since camps focus on individuals and the camp community, finding new ways to develop a healthy camp environment would be beneficial to camp directors.
Local equipment suppliers, such as Recreation Equipment Incorporated (REI), offer training in backpacking and camping to the community. Discount School Supply provides arts and crafts training for camp staff in major cities through out the country. Special interest clubs also provide training. The Sierra Club focuses on environmental education training, especially for young people, which nurtures leadership skills and promotes intercultural communication. They strive to mix the cultures and abilities of people while discovering ways to protect the environment. The National Audubon Society sponsors environmental education for children through a program called Audubon Adventures. This material is available for use in environmental education settings and is described in detail on their Web site. The Audubon Society also operates several camps.
Several national organizations hold training sessions during the year that provide support and ideas for specific disciplines. One example of this type of training event includes a conference at Blue Ridge Assembly in Black Mountain, North Carolina, sponsored by the YMCA southern field each January.
Camp Fire USA, Boy Scouts of America, Girl Scouts of the USA, and the Association of Independent Camps (AIC) also provide similar training events that are offered prior to the American Camping Association (ACA) National Conference.
Outcomes of Cross Training
In the mid 1990s, Kelly Moxley, director of Camp Chatuga in Mountain Rest, South Carolina, attended a training sponsored by the Western North Carolina Private Camp Association and wrote about her experience: “The training event had three or four interest group areas to go to, and I attended the one on camp ethics. Helen Waite shared the staff ethics policy she recently developed for Eagle’s Nest Camp in response to some incidents that had just happened. She graciously gave us copies of it, and I took it and ran with it — developing a detailed ethics policy for staff. I recently added one for campers. We update it yearly depending on changing needs that we see. For instance, private parts of the body are private. But we had a camper get hurt in his private area in a mountain biking accident, and he would not tell anyone where he was hurt. So we modified our policy for counselors to ask about that area when an accident has happened, and for campers to tell the nurse about that area if it has been hurt.”
Moxley was able to take what she learned and create a model that worked for her camp. She presented a session on this topic at the ACA Southeastern Section fall conference last year. This is one example of how an idea from an affiliated organization can be adapted and brought to others within your own organization.
Many religious and private organizations also provide a resource for training. For example, the Presbyterian Church USA sponsors the Presbyterian Church Camp & Conference Associates (PCCCA). A training event is offered annually in November to provide training for administrators and program directors. “It was the one place I could connect with people who were in the same (Presbyterian) boat. The workshops were helpful, but the networking was the real value,” commented John Hicks, director of Calvin Center, who provided this insight based on his involvement in PCCCA.
Hicks would often tell people that PCCCA was where he went to get his batteries charged each year. Out of those meetings came much of the value for the denomination. As a result of the PCCCA workshops, a group of camp professionals developed the Consultants Network. This group makes visits to sites and facilities, providing helpful recommendations that benefit the organization. Hicks recognizes that gatherings with the broader camp community are enjoyable and necessary. However, he believes that he “gains so much more from the Presbyterian gatherings . . . not from a parochial sense but from a relational sense.”
Training opportunities also exist for Jewish camps. The Jewish Community Centers Association of North America is a significant institution for Jewish education. This organization supports community centers and camps through programming, adult education, ambiance, staff training, and leadership development. Another organization called the Union of American Hebrew Congregations provides support for camps of Reformed Jewish congregations.
James “Pop” Hollandsworth, a retired educator and camp director, provides another avenue for local training. Hollandsworth is a guide at the Huntington Museum of Art. The museum offers a half-day training each week for volunteers. The training teaches docents how to present and interpret art to visitors, usually school groups, but adults and seniors as well. Since camps focus on working with children and parents, this type of training benefits camp professionals by offering more opportunities for community involvement. “Although I have retired from being active as a teacher and camp director, I still consider that there is a strong correlation between former educational training through ACA and what I am doing now as a volunteer,” states Hollandsworth.
Professional Training and Certification Opportunities
An advantage of attending training courses inside and outside of ACA is the opportunity to gain certifications that meet your needs. Gaining certification enables a professional to be recognized in the field as one who sees the importance of continuous training. In addition, employers place value on hiring certified professionals because it verifies a commitment to the industry. Likewise, just as parents see benefits in sending their children to programs or camps that are accredited, directors that value maintaining certifications reveal a level of excellence.
The ACA offers the Basic Camp Directors Course (BCDC) as a training tool for new camp directors with less than six years of experience or for seasoned program directors and site managers. The Camp Directors Institute (CDI) is also offered by ACA. This training enables participants to examine the variety of aspects between the philosophy and the operation of their camp.
The NRPA offers certifications for professionals, aquatic facility managers, and those interested in becoming playground safety inspectors. The primary purpose of NRPA’s professional certification process is to ensure that personnel employed in recreation, park resources, and leisure services meet high standards of performance. To obtain the certifications offered, you must pass a written exam. The Certified Park and Recreation Professional (CPRP) exam is designed to assess the core knowledge of job-related tasks common to entry-level professionals. To maintain the CPRP certification, you must submit documented continuing education units (CEUs) every two years. This ensures that professionals are up to date on changing information in the field.
NRPA also offers online opportunities to gain CEU credit and accepts documented training from events within ACA. The Aquatics Facility Operators (AFO) certification course is an educational training program for those persons managing and operating aquatic facilities. Likewise, the Certified Playground Safety Inspector course provides a comprehensive training program on playground hazard identification and risk management methods. Detailed information about these certification programs can be found in the directory of Web sites.
Seek Well-balanced Training Programs
Professionals and camp staff should seek the opportunities that are available to them within the local community and beyond. Professionals should be willing to step outside of a specific organization for a healthy and well-balanced program. Value should be placed on attending conferences and seminars conducted by ACA and local sections. However, by adding alternative training the opportunity for broadening one’s knowledge base and camp experience is enhanced.
Cheryl Gans, C.C.D., C.P.R.P., is director of Camp WoHeLo in Roswell, Georgia, and has fifteen seasons of camp administrative experience.
Originally published in the 2002 July/August issue of Camping Magazine.