The 2012 ACA National Conference will be held in Atlanta. My first national conference was in 1974 in Atlanta, so for me, returning to the same city thirty-seven years later brings back a flood of memories of not only my first national conference, but also a multitude of others (including a second one in Atlanta that I have attended!).

Looking back over the last thirty-seven years, our national conference has gone through changes and, at the same time, held onto core principles. In 1974, we held national conference every other year with regional conferences being held in the intervening years. Today we have both national and regional conferences each year, as well as a number of local education events. This change provides our membership with a wide array of education opportunities ranging from programmatic “how to” sessions to sessions discussing emerging trends and cutting-edge practices.

The national conference continues to be our largest national event — bringing people from all parts of the country together to share ideas, build networks, and gain an understanding of our national diversity. The national conference provides an opportunity for a gathering of a number of kindred groups such as:

  • National youth organizations (e.g., Girl Scouts, Campfire, and YMCA, to name a few)
  • Professional groups (e.g., Association of Camp Nurses)
  • Program focus groups (e.g., Association of Independent Camps, special populations, Religiously Affiliated Camps Council)

Over the years, the numbers and types of kindred groups using the national conference as a time and place to meet has grown in
size and diversity.

One change over the years has been the increased involvement of international members. Each year, we see a growing number of attendees from an increasongly diverse range of countries. The addition of international attendees provides all those attending an opportunity to gain a better understanding of the global reach and impact of the camp experience.

National conferences serve as a major educational event designed to complement, and be complemented by, regional and local educational events. In 1974, I recognized the value of attending educational sessions, as I took what I learned home and applied it. This value has now been expanded — receiving external validation of the educational and professional development assets one builds at the national conference. Professional development is a key ACA priority, and to support this focus, the national conference today has built on past certification programs, educational tracks, and our research to provide continuing education credits to those building their professional portfolio. In Atlanta, there is the opportunity to earn up to 18.25 ACA continuing education credits.

By attending national conferences over the years, I was able to build networks and resources that were invaluable in doing my job. It was at the national conferences that I first learned of emerging trends and new ways to approach challenges and develop programs.

And throughout the educational programming, what I remember most are the relationships I developed and all the fun we had and stories we still tell of our times together. National conference is a time to learn and connect.

As a member I do encourage you to participate fully and often in your local education events, regional conferences, and, yes, by all means, the national conference. Think of these events as a three legged stool — without one of them you will surely tip over.

I look forward to seeing you in Atlanta in February.

Art Wannlund

Originally published in the 2012 January/February Camping Magazine.