The 2018 American Camp Association National Conference is here! Today, I’m delighted to join over 1,400 other camp professionals and dear friends for a fabulous week of winter camp down at Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. Our Board of Directors and National Council of Leaders are holding Association leadership meetings and camp directors, exhibitors, and presenters are flooding onto this expansive Spanish Colonial Resort à la Mickey and Minnie.

Pre-conference meetings are underway for the Diabetes Education and Camping Association, 4-H, Association of Camp Nursing, Girl Scouts USA, Boy Scouts of America, YMCA, Camps on Campus, the International Camping Fellowship, and Emerging Professionals in Camp. Today is a lot like the first day of summer camp. Old friends greeting each other; new friends meeting at the conference first-timer orientation; camp fun and fellowship is everywhere. Camp is in the air! The arrival of the National Conference signals the start of the pre-season camp preparation sprint for many camp directors. In her opening keynote, Florence Williams, author of The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative, celebrates the power of natured-infused, immersive camp communities.

Being here at #ACANat18 in Orlando brings back so many treasured memories. Some of my favorite conference events are the international singing and game-sharing sessions with camp directors from around the globe. This year, nearly 90 international camp directors are attending from eight countries. It is wonderful to enjoy so much diversity, meet new friends, and rekindle life-long friendships. At a previous conference in the Orlando area, I was privileged to experience a “backstage” tour of Walt Disney World® Resort while taking a class at Disney University. I can say no more, as I was sworn to secrecy.

I recall many memorable “I Believe” annual fund friend-raisers led by industry legends such as Joe Kruger and Sally Horner. They taught us to believe, lead, and give generously! There are many adventures to reminisce about such as armored mammals, creating the world’s largest s’more and roasting it with blow torches, game nights, dances, concerts, and so much more.

National Conference always offers outstanding presenters on diverse, thought-provoking topics. Some of the plenary and keynote speakers I’ve enjoyed most include David Elkind, Wendy Mogel, Bob Ditter, Michael Brandwein, Michael Thompson, Guy Kawasaki, Jean Twenge, Paul Tough, Niambi Jaha-Echols, Peg Smith, and countless others. This year, I’m really looking forward to Friday’s keynote address. We will be energized by well-known NASA cosmologist and “Gangsta” astrophysicist Dr. Hakeem Oluseyi. Dr. Oluseyi is an accomplished educator and TV personality who mixes humor, science, and philosophy into awe-inspiring learning. Most camps are dark sky places. They offer outstanding opportunities to share the camp telescopes with every camper and motivate them to learn more about the universe.

One of my earliest national conference memories was the first time I walked into the Grand Opening of the Exhibit Hall. At this conference, our Exhibit Hall is super social. Everyone is there eating, drinking, socializing, winning prizes, and cutting deals with hundreds of businesses and organizations that support the Association and camps by coming out to share their best goods and services at their most affordable prices. I’ve known many of ACA’s business affiliates for 20 years or more and appreciate their support of our work.

For me, the ACA National Conference is like coming home and seeing old friends. I wish everyone a great conference.

Unable to attend the National Conference this year, but don’t want to miss out on all the fun? Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram and look for the hashtag #ACANat18 for conference updates.

Tom Rosenberg is the president/CEO of American Camp Association.