I did not always love camp. I attended lots of summer programs as a child: day, resident, church, and even family camps. Each experience had its highs and its lows, but, all in all, I didn't find any to be particularly wonderful. I complained about the heat, the bugs, the food, the strangers with whom I had to share living spaces, and the activities that were outside what I now know to be my comfort zone. I did not love camp.
And then I worked at camp. It's a long story of how I stumbled into being a counselor; I didn't really like children — or the heat — and I downright hated bugs, but somehow . . . I got hired. Over that first summer, I grew to love the campers, my campers. I grew to love creek hikes and silly songs. I grew to love the hot and wet — and even the bugs. They all made camp what it is. What I learned that first summer is that camp is a place to grow — for me, for my campers, and for my fellow counselors. I began to love camp.
When I couldn't get enough from day camp, I began working overnights and weekends and eventually changed to resident camp. I also worked during the off-season: creating training materials, helping with retreats and environmental education groups, and doing everything I could to stay connected. My camp director noticed — and he encouraged me. He introduced me to the American Camp Association (ACA). He signed me up for my first Tri-State Camping Conference, and he dragged me along to Standards visits and suggested I be trained as a Visitor, which I was. He prodded me into becoming a member of ACA.
ACA opened up a whole new world to me. I read every issue of Camping Magazine from cover to cover, every word — even the articles that didn't apply to what I was currently doing, even the ones that I didn't really understand. I learned about legislative issues, risk management, food service, health and wellness, marketing, and even construction! I attended workshops and conferences outside of my areas of expertise — and outside of my geographic area: As a student in college, I paid my own way to attend BCDC (the Basic Camp Directors Course) and ACA's National Conference in Chicago (traveling there from New York).
Through these and other educational opportunities sponsored by ACA, I met my husband and a great many friends that I now have within the camp community. I am the professional that I am today because of ACA. In fact, I am the person that I am today because of ACA. I am extremely grateful for all that ACA is and all that it does.
And so, when a letter came in 2002 asking me to donate to CAMPaign '07, I did. I wrote a check for $1,000. That $1,000 was a lot of money for me at that time, but I knew that ACA was worth every penny. It is still worth every penny.
How much do you value ACA?
Think about what this association has brought to your life — professionally and personally. Consider the people who are your closest friends. Contemplate where you've learned all that you know. Scan the list of people and organizations that you call in times of trouble. Reflect on the knowledge you have gained and the opportunities you have been granted. Take into account how you learn the latest and greatest available to camps. Ponder where you would be without ACA.
As this great organization celebrates 101 years of giving its all for the betterment of camp, isn't it time that we all give back just a little of what we've gotten?
If you haven't yet, get more involved. Speak with your local ACA field office about volunteering, or contact the national office to let them know of your interest and the skills that you can offer. Your participation and engagement makes ACA what it is — and what it can be. To all the current and former staff and volunteers, at both the local and national levels, THANK YOU!
If you don't have any time to give, donate money. Consider $150 this year to commemorate the 150th anniversary of camp. Larger gifts are always appreciated and used well. Give for what ACA is worth — to you, to your camp, to future campers and their families. Consider a regular annual (or monthly) gift.
And, as always, continue to advocate the value of a quality camp experience. Make your program the best that it can be, and tell others about all that you do — all that we in the camp profession do. Use Twitter, Facebook, links on your Web site, comments on blogs that you read, letters to your camp families, and e-mails to your staff. When every child has a quality camp experience, when every employee has once worked at a camp — then, the world will truly be a better place. Be a champion of the camp movement and make that vision a reality.
Encourage your staff, families, alum, and other friends of camp to do the same: volunteer their time to a camp in need or to ACA, share their positive experiences and encourage everyone they know to attend camp, or donate in support of camp. ACA does so much for camps and for each of us who works within camp. Without ACA, we would not be who we are. And without us, there is no ACA.
Experienced in day, resident, private, and agency camps, Jessica Coleman enjoys consulting with colleagues and fine-tuning their camp cultures to create consistently excellent experiences for all involved. You can contact her at Jessica@ColemanFamilyCamps.com.