I recently had the chance to speak with Shanelle Rauh and Dave Thoensen, who are the co-chairs of this year’s National Conference committee.

Bekah Carmichael: Thanks for taking time to talk with me just a month before the National Conference. I’m sure it’s a very busy time!

Shanelle Rauh: We could talk about the conference for hours — we are so excited about this year’s program!

BC: Excellent. I can’t wait to hear all about it! First, though, I’d love to know how each of you got into camping and found your way to ACA.

SR: Well, for me camping was a college job in the summer. I just kept coming back, staying at my “home” camp until I eventually became the executive director. The owners of the camp were strong believers in ACA and being involved in the community. Local legend says that we were one of the first day camps to become accredited way back when. I attended my first ACA conference as a student in 2009 (also in Orlando), met other people from Heart of the South, and soon became the professional development chair for the LCOL. At some point, I was asked to be part of the National Conference planning team and it has been such a fun way to give back. I was very excited to be asked to step in to the Program Chair role after Jane Sanborn stepped down last Year. I have such huge shoes to fill. Jane’s memory of everything and everyone is exceptional. I can’t wait for February — I’m so excited for this conference!

BC: That’s some great history there. Dave, what about you?

Dave Thoensen: Well, I got to camp a little late in life. I had never been to camp as a kid, was not really familiar with it until we bought our camp. My wife was familiar, but not me. I was totally new. I didn’t understand what I didn’t understand. Being ACA-accredited was part of our purchase agreement of the camp, so I got connected to Gordie Kaplan at ACA, Illinois, who became a mentor to me. He would help me with things as they came along, but he told me that I would benefit more from really getting involved in the ACA community. I took a couple of courses and everyone I met along the way encouraged involvement. I’ve been an accreditation visitor for 25 years now. Then one day I had a voicemail from Jane Sanborn and I couldn’t imagine what she wanted to talk to me for, but it was to ask me to join the conference program committee, which I obviously did, and I’ve been here ever since.

BC: And how has that experience been?

DT: Well, we just got back from our in-person committee meeting in Orlando. We have 14 people on our committee this year, and each is so committed to producing a quality program. We spend a lot of time on serious stuff, but we have a lot of fun times too. I’ve been so fortunate to get to meet so many excellent people. This experience has been an absolute gift. It bolsters you professionally because you learn from others. I’ve benefitted far more my volunteer effort than I’ve ever given.

SR: That has been my experience, too. Anytime we get together with other camp pros, everyone wants to share. Whether it’s their time, their spreadsheets, their program ideas. Camp people are always willing to help other camp people.

DT: Well, the more good camps there are, the more kids are gonna go to camp. They might not be at my camp this summer, but they will be at A camp, and that’s what’s important.

BC: That’s so true, and it’s been my experience too that the camp community is more collaborative and supportive than any other I’ve been a part of. What do you think folks can look forward to most in Orlando?

SR: Especially after COVID, it’s a chance just to come together, be together, and learn what others are doing. Our closing keynote is designed to really celebrate the individual camp professional, and that’s a change that we’re excited about.

DT: Yes, if you’re a camp pro, looking for the best source of information, I cannot think of a better resource than the National Conference. There are incredible speakers, the ability to meet and talk with vendors 1:1, and tons of networking. That’s where the connections really happen.

SR: And the space this year really fosters those small group conversations that lead to lasting connections.

BC: Excellent. I think many conference attendees and ACA members in general don’t know that a lot of the planning of the conference is done by volunteers. Tell us about that whole process.

SR: Well, the first call for volunteers is really the call for presenters in the late summer. Then we have a group of volunteers who meticulously review all the proposals. This year it was almost 300! That group spends a lot of time in thoughtful discussion, making sure we select a wide array of session topics, diverse speakers, and allow space for new voices among our well-known experts.

DT: After the sessions are selected, that moves on to other groups of volunteers who are responsible for planning a lot of different details, including hospitality, social media, outreach, entertainment, etc. And entertainment is specifically a tough one. You have to find high energy groups who are willing to do a very short performance in a hotel ballroom.

BC: What would you tell people who are interested in volunteering?

SR: At this year’s conference, most of the specific volunteer spots are full, but you never know what might happen. So if someone is interested, they should go ahead and complete the volunteer interest form. Or they can pop by the Hospitality Booth and let them know they want to help. We never turn away people who want to get involved!

DT: And if you’re looking to be involved outside the conference, be an accreditation visitor. It’s the most lasting and continual way to meet new people, see new camps, learn new things. And with technology, you can support accreditation without having to travel far and wide all the time. Or, find your local council of leaders and volunteer locally. There’s so many ways to be involved, and so many people out here to learn from.

SR: Yeah, camp is such a cool thing.