In 2015, ACA, with the help of the Committee for the Advancement of Research and Evaluation (CARE), created the Eleanor P. Eells Award for Excellence in Research in Practice. This award is designed to honor camp programs that:

  1. Develop and implement or apply an exemplary research or evaluation project
  2. Use research or evaluation findings to improve program practice
  3. Develop model research or an evaluation project that can be adapted or replicated
  4. Share research or evaluation findings with others

The Research in Practice Award nominations are judged on creativity and imaginative planning; relevance to the needs of participants and/or camps; adaptability or potential for replication; cooperative efforts with other organizations, agencies, camps, colleagues, or universities; and the program's ability to meet its stated objectives.

Nominees for the Research in Practice Award are also judged on research/evaluation innovation, rigor, and utilization; adherence to ethical research or evaluation standards; and the camp’s use and sharing of the research and/or evaluation findings. Programs or camps must have been in operation for at least two years (planning and development time do not count) and demonstrate adherence to ethical standards for research or evaluation.

CARE selected Laura Blaisdell, MD/MPH, FAAP, camp medical director at Camp Winnebago in Fayette, Maine, as the 2021 recipient of the Research in Practice Award.

Blaisdell lives in Fayette with her two sons and husband, Andy, Camp Winnebago’s owner and director. Winnebago, founded in 1919, is a residential boys’ camp designed to shape each camper’s experience to match his abilities through its expertise in experiential learning and child development. Winnebago’s fundamental philosophy is that a boy’s character, values, and contentment are cultivated through a sense of joy, connection, and developmentally appropriate effort and challenge.

When the 2020 camp season was in jeopardy because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Maine public health leaders needed someone with camp medical expertise, as well as a public health perspective, to help determine how to best manage the risks of the virus in camps. Dr. Blaisdell was quickly invited to the table to help craft operating plans with state officials that empowered camp leaders to determine the best options for their specific environments.

From there, Dr. Blaisdell served as the lead author on a study for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention titled "Preventing and Mitigating SARS-CoV-2 Transmission — Four Overnight Camps, Maine, June–August 2020." While nonpharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) had been shown to decrease the spread of communicable diseases, data on the effectiveness of NPIs on the prevention and mitigation of SARS-CoV-2 transmission among children and adolescents in congregate settings, such as summer camps, were limited. Dr. Blaisdell and her colleagues looked at four Maine overnight camps that operated during the 2020 summer camp season, with 1,022 attendees from 41 states and international locations. Their report detailed the multilayered prevention and mitigation strategies that were implemented at these four camps — and which successfully identified and isolated three asymptomatic COVID-19 cases and prevented secondary transmission.

According to their findings, "prearrival quarantine and testing, access to timely test results, cohorting, and the ability to isolate and quarantine during camp allowed prevention and early identification of infection that might not be practicable or feasible in all settings." Thus, "these findings have important implications for the successful implementation of COVID-19 mitigation strategies in other overnight camps, residential schools, and colleges" (Blaisdell et al., 2020.

This study has benefited not only camps as they planned for summer 2021, but also the entire world of public health policy in helping to understand how COVID-19 can be managed in a residential setting. The camp industry has been fortunate to have one of their own contributing to the forefront of knowledge about the COVID-19 pandemic.

We hope this inspires you to support and engage in evaluation and research at your own camps. As Dr. Blaisdell has shown, research can be used to find out and demonstrate how camps are achieving their mission and to apply results to improve practices and camper experiences.

For More Information

Find a summary of "Preventing and Mitigating SARS-CoV-2 Transmission — Four Overnight Camps, Maine, June–August 2020" in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s September 4, 2020, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Taylor M. Wycoff is a research assistant for the American Camp Association.


  • Blaisdell, L. L., Cohn, W., Pavell, J. R., Rubin, D. S., & Vergales, J.E. (2020). Preventing and Mitigating SARS-CoV-2 Transmission — Four Overnight Camps, Maine, June–August 2020. MMWR Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 69, 1216–1220.

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