The ACA National Conference is about connections. There is an instant familiarity that connects the camp community. The overenthusiastic hellos when greeting old friends, the warm welcome when engaging firsttime attendees, and the common sense of purpose and camaraderie are welcome and comforting. Attending the conference feels a little bit like coming home. It is a place where we can connect and grow as camp professionals. A place where we can explore new ideas and new places, and where we can create connections with others who are supportive and encouraging. A place where we all find ourselves for the same purpose — to make a difference in the lives of children, youth, and adults. I remember attending my first ACA National Conference. I felt that combination of anxiety and excitement you get when you are about to experience something life-changing. For the first time I was able to connect with my peers from our sister camps, to connect with like-minded people who were just as enthusiastic as me to learn new and better ways to increase camper involvement and inclusivity. I gained access to a wealth of expertise that expanded my understanding of what camp could be, what a difference camp could make for children, and for me personally.

The breakout sessions offer an amazing opportunity to connect with and receive knowledge from experts in our chosen field. As I gained experience, I gravitated toward learning about how to create a cohesive, motivated team, how to manage the business side of camp, and how to communicate effectively with parents. You do not have to guess about how to react to a crisis at camp. You can speak directly with folks who have been through it and be better prepared at responding if it happens at your camp, or better yet, be able to prevent it.

In between sessions you can bounce ideas off that new best friend you met 10 minutes ago. You can check in with your colleague from the other side of the country and see how the new programming they implemented went last summer and what they would do differently next season. If you are looking to network, a great way is to volunteer. This affords a fascinating chance to get directly connected to the conference and the ACA team. Find out how you can take a more active part in the conference.

This year’s conference is in San Diego, California, where the weather in February tends to swing wildly between 65 and 75 degrees. The trolley is just a short walk from the conference center, connecting you to the city and, more importantly, food! San Diego is known as a destination for food and drink, and there is something for everyone. Tacos, check. Great vegan food, check. Italian, Asian, and American pub fare, check, check, and check! Did I mention the tacos? You can visit historic districts like Old Town, or the Gaslamp quarter downtown. Ocean Beach offers an eclectic beach vibe with outstanding views from the pier or Sunset Cliffs. San Diego has a rich and diverse cultural history that is just waiting to be explored.

The ACA National Conference is all about connection. With peers and experts alike. With new ideas or reimagined old ones. With new places, new people, and a rejuvenated spirit. Come home to the conference in February.

Joshua Bowen works at SeaWorld Adventure Camps in California and is a member of the 2020 ACA National Conference Team.

Photo courtesy of ACA National Conference Team.