This column is adapted from Posie Taylor's acceptance speech upon receipt of the 2017 ACA Distinguished Service Award at this year's national conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The Distinguished Service Award is ACA's highest award, honoring a lifetime of service to ACA and camp.

I joined ACA sort of by mistake exactly 40 years ago this spring. I thought I was becoming a medieval English literature professor and then a librarian, but suddenly camp — my refuge every summer but never a possible career path — became my full-time job. Though the Aloha Foundation, where I worked, was a large organization and I had several homegrown colleagues around me every day, I still felt that what I knew about camp was also homegrown. The founders of the Aloha camps, the Gulick family, had been involved in the earliest days of camping helping to start the National Association of Girls' Camps and then the American Camp Association. You can see their pictures on the walls at the ACA offices in Indiana. They obviously saw value in connecting with others doing the same important work they were doing, so I followed their lead to ACA, New England — and the rest, as they say, is history.

In these 40 years, so much has happened in our movement. ACA has positioned camp not as a lightweight extra, somewhere to fill empty summers for kids, but as an important part of the fabric of youth development, an essential place to build skills often neglected in schools across the country, and a vital part of a healthy foundation for children and young people from all backgrounds. Together we brought quality camps to the table with policy makers in Washington and state governments. We spoke up about the value of active, screen-free play and being in nature. We pointed out that all those new 21st-century skills folks were discovering had been at the center of the camp experience for over 100 years. Slowly we began speaking not just to the choir, but to the rest of the world about all that camps add to growing productive, happy, responsible, caring citizens.

In spite of all our efforts, and even after 40 years, you and I both know that our work on behalf of young people is not done. Too many children never have the chance to discover the stars at night, find salamanders under rocks, or swim in a crystal-clear lake. Too many children never know the joy of having loving mentors beyond mom and dad and learn too late that they can thrive, even away from home. Too many camp leaders don't understand the value of networking, continuously improving their camps and communities.

Too many camp leaders don't attend ACA conferences or workshops across the country to take advantage of learning from each other. Our colleagues who work in isolation may not realize that, when it comes to serving America's children and young people, we are indeed stronger together. Colleagues who miss these opportunities make our voices less powerful, our message easier to ignore, and our mission in service to young people less effective.

I am honored and grateful to be a part of this camp family and to join you on this path. We have vital work to do for children everywhere who need camp today more than ever. I am thrilled to know so many people who believe deeply in camp's mission and are excited for the journey ahead. And even after 40 years, I'm not ready to rest or retire, so let's get going together, doing everything we can possibly do for today's children and tomorrow's promise. 

Posie Taylor started as a homesick camper in 1954 and grew up at the Aloha Camps. After almost 20 years as director of Aloha's camp for younger girls, she became executive director of the Aloha Foundation in 1998. Active in ACA since 1977, Posie has had stints on the ACA national board as well as on the board of ACA, New England. In "retirement" she is a consultant and volunteer for her favorite causes. Her best role — Grammie to her beloved granddaughter, Kate.