I can remember my first American Camp Association official event. It was the ACA, Ohio Annual Meeting in January of 1990 at the Fawcett Center at the Ohio State University. I remember seeing members of the then-ACA, Ohio Board and thinking that one day I would love to be like them. I was the director of CYO Camp Christopher in Bath, Ohio, and was a green 25- year-old camp director. I remember two of my long-time mentors — Big Jim Sovacool who was the executive director of CYO and Coach Bill Tighe who was the camping expert for the Diocese of Cleveland — forcing me to both network and become involved with ACA. “Join ACA and do something” was their mantra — and they lived that mantra.
My first official volunteer role for ACA (which I have a feeling is common) was that of associate visitor. My first visit was at YMCA Camp Fitch on the Ohio/Pennsylvania boarder and the lead visitor was the legendary — at least legendary in Ohio — Helen Bradburn. Helen had been visiting camps for over 50 years and was notorious for being very strict. Camp Fitch is on the shores of Lake Erie and is spread over several hundred acres. The director was Bill Lyder, who was another longtime ACA, Ohio legend (soon to become ACA, Ohio president and the person who asked me to get involved on the Ohio Board). There are three distinct memories I have from that day. First: we walked the entire camp, which ended up being multiple miles. Helen would have nothing of the golf cart or van; they didn’t have those in the good old days. Second: Helen and Bill argued and bantered back and forth all day mostly because of her strictness. Third: I learned more about the camp experience from those two legends in one day than I did from any books, trainings, and classes ever taken to that point.
From that day on, I was hooked on ACA!
While there are many other stories to share, the point I am trying to make is that being "part" of ACA is a good experience, but being "involved" in ACA is a great experience. Becoming involved in ACA has literally changed my life. I have volunteered with ACA on a local, regional, and national level for the majority of my professional career. My volunteer experience has run that gamut throughout our association. I have always been able to find a place that fits my needs and strengths while hopefully benefitting ACA. There have been times when I was asked to volunteer and times when I asked if I could volunteer. I have always been "too busy" to volunteer but always made the time to serve because it was important. I have met some of the most amazing people and served alongside some brilliant thinkers and doers. Many of these people I am lucky enough to call colleagues, mentors, and friends — lifelong friends. I hope I have been able to serve with honor and integrity and give back a small piece of what I was given by ACA.
So, if you are currently giving of your time and expertise to ACA — thank you! Please know how much it is appreciated.
If you are considering giving of your time and expertise to ACA — MOVE! We need you!
If we don’t find you, come find us. Contact ACA at the national office or your local office, browse volunteer opportunities, reach out to your camp director, call me – there are plenty of ways to get involved and give back. Trust this former green 25-year-old camp director – it is worth the life-changing experience!
Rich Garbinsky is the president/general manager of Pinnacle Sports in Medina, Ohio. He currently serves ACA as chair of the Volunteer Engagement Committee. He has volunteered in many capacities for over 25 years with ACA both locally and nationally including serving on the Field Service Committee, the National Board, 20/20 Vision Committee, and many others. He credits ACA with giving him both lifelong friends and mentors that have been life-changing.