To be able to go to ACA's National Conference and feel so many people focused on the same goals that drive you, a group of people working toward a mission — it encourages so much growth. To be around so many driven people who say, "Yes, I care about education and our youth, and it starts with us," and to identify with this entire industry that is, simply put, a big family, is so rich and important. It is something not a lot of people my age, all of 22, have an opportunity to be a part of and feel. It is something I have trouble explaining, so bear with me.
I remember walking through the doors and seeing everybody at last year's conference. We were in the first meeting — we were all listening to the keynote speaker, and we were all buying in. Each of us flew to Atlanta, so you could say the buy-in was high. I recall our whole team, 12 of us, walking through the night-time streets to Mary Mac's, the heart of soul food, our small family experiencing Atlanta together. In shared workshops we jotted down and scribbled every piece of information that was applicable. We ought to have brought more notepads.
We met attendees from neighboring camps, putting faces to names, and making new friends in the camp world. There were so many smiling people — smiles that brightened our Atlanta experience. I remember feeling so focused on what it is I do; devising programming is nothing short of innovation. Everybody was having those lightbulb moments. We were a bunch of busy bees, buzzing — you could feel the vibration. As soon as we walked through the doors, we could feel camp in the air. Together, we brought a new energy to those city streets.
I felt my perspective grow. I was awestruck and remember saying out loud, "Jalen, you are doing something so important right now." Toward the end of the week I realized that I am a part of something huge. I hadn't just gone to a workshop conference. This was a movement in the sphere of education and youth development. What we are doing at these national conferences is truly tomorrow. How we share and communicate, how we borrow and steal (with permission) ideas and techniques; competition is trivial in our industry. Of course we are all trying to fill our bunks, but when we are all together, we eat family style. We wash each other's dishes and massage each other's backs and shoulders. The national conference gave me this unique perspective. We are indeed a family.
Camp has always and will always foster growth. With each person who shows up summer after summer, our family grows ever larger. I am proud of this.
Jalen Bazile grew up in the outer areas of Houston, Texas. Fascinated by ideas, he studied philosophy at the University of Missouri. Afterwards, he became a summer camp counselor for Sanborn Western Camps. Jalen is now enjoying living in Colorado as a program director.
Photo courtesy of Sanborn Western Camps, Florissant, Colorado.