“Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.” -- Brene Brown

Tom Rosenberg

According to Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, all of us have an innate need to belong and be accepted among social groups (Wikipedia, 2023). Belonging impacts our physical and mental health, memory, ability to reason, as well as our capacity to be attentive, to sleep, and to thrive in academics, career, and community. 

Many people struggle to belong, whether from social isolation, loneliness, or from a lack of connection to others. As I consider the people around me, both young and old, so many are wrestling with these challenges. 

Earlier this year, the Surgeon General, Vice Admiral Vivek H. Murthy, MD, MBA, proclaimed a public health crisis of loneliness, isolation, and social disconnection. A 2023 systematic review of research on loneliness and well-being in young people during the pandemic found that about two-thirds of children and adolescents felt lonely at least some of the time, if not more (Farrell et al., 2023). Even before the pandemic, social disconnection had become a concerning trend due to socioeconomic mobility challenges, shifts in technology, broken family and community structures, and the pace of modern life. The COVID-19 pandemic merely magnified and accelerated the struggles that already existed.

So how can camps help campers and staff improve their skills related to belonging while at camp? 

  • Integrate intentional programmatic opportunities to help campers learn to relate to one another and each other’s cultural backgrounds. 
  • Help them develop a sense of self-identity and community. 
  • Emphasize the practice of group social norms, cultural values, and treating the place and land with respect. 

Create a culture that emphasizes appreciation of each individual’s unique qualities and contributions, and you will foster a genuine desire for authentic and meaningful friendships among your campers and staff.

If you haven’t already, please read Dave Brown’s “Developing Social-Emotional Learning Skills at Camp” in the May/June 2023 issue of Camping Magazine. It’s full of useful ideas on helping campers develop relationship skills, become more self-aware, regulate their emotions, and practice self-control. 

I also recommend Christen Peterson’s “Confronting Barriers to Belonging at Camp” from the September/October 2023 Camping Magazine issue. She offers excellent suggestions for improving your camp’s accessibility and culture of belonging. 

Finally, I recently enjoyed and also recommend social psychologist Geoffrey Cohen’s book, Belonging: The Science of Creating Connection and Bridging Divides. It’s packed with actionable insights and practical guidance.

I am excited to celebrate you and the quality camp experiences you lead in New Orleans this February 6–9 at the ACA National Conference, where we’ll “laissez les bons temps rouler” (“let the good times roll”) while working together to build a world of belonging and growth for future generations.

Wishing you a happy, healthy, and hope-filled year ahead! 


  • Brown, D. (2023, May). Developing social-emotional learning skills at camp. Camping Magazine. ACAcamps.org/article/caminping-magazine/developing-social-emotional-learning-skills-camp
  • Farrell, A. H., Vitoroulis, I., Eriksson, M., & Vaillancourt, T. (2023). Loneliness and well-being in children and adolescents during the COVID-19 pandemic: A systemic review. Children. doi.org/10.3390/children10020279
  • Peterson, C. (2023, September). Confronting barriers to belonging at camp. Camping Magazine. ACAcamps.org/article/camping-magazine/confronting-barriers-belonging-camp
  • Wikipedia. (2023, November 19). Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maslow’s_hierarchy_of_needs