At the 2018 ACA National Conference, our iconic former CEO Peg Smith was presented with the Association’s highest honor — the National Distinguished Service Award.  In her acceptance remarks, Peg complimented camp professionals and summer staff members everywhere for the transformational work they do with children, youth, and adults.  I want to share three brief excerpts of Peg’s speech, as I believe they speak to the inspiring staff culture that each of you carefully nurtures during every exceptional session of camp you offer. 

  • “You are a special community that spans the globe and shares love and the best of humanity while remembering we must be mindful and practice goodwill daily;
  • You exemplify civility and honesty helping others with mastery designed to help them learn and reach their full potential;
  • “You embrace communication including humor which is one of the highest forms of critical thinking – modeling that the joy of laughter can be combined with the greater promise to make us all better citizens of the world.”

Staff culture is crucial to cultivating a high-performing model community where campers and staff practice the values and the 21st century learning skills that contribute to individual growth and help foster leadership skills. 

Positive camp culture is created when the right conditions exist in our programs — when we practice caring relationships with our staff members and campers and set high expectations, wherein everyone meaningfully participates in every aspect of camp life with great purpose and a measure of autonomy. 

Positive camp culture is cultivated when all camp staff and campers are physically safe, feel emotionally secure, are respected, and are expected to contribute regularly to the community.  Every camper and staff member deserves to feel powerful, challenged, and have the opportunities to master diverse skills.

When a camp builds a tradition of nurturing a high-performing camp culture every season, both campers and staff have life-long stories to share: the kindness and empathy they’ve learned and practiced; how much more resilient and determined the experience made them; and how much more open, flexible, and curious they became.  These life-transforming experiences translate into critically important 21st century life skills, such as collaborative problem solving, critical thinking, reflective self-awareness, cross-cultural agility, aspiration, and life-long everyday learning abilities.   

As you plan and implement your staff trainings, I hope you will remember Peg’s sage words. Your passion for camp culture will make a promising and beneficial difference around the world for decades to come.  Thank you for your dedication and tireless energy at camp. In Peg’s words: “The world needs you.” 

Photo courtesy of Camp Ramah Darom in Clayton, Georgia

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