A Reflection from Member Susie McArdle

March 5, 2020

Camp was a natural part of my childhood as I was able to attend Girl Scout camp and an outdoors camp in western Kentucky. As formidable, fun, and memorable as these experiences were, I never pictured myself actually making a career out of camping later in life. After a 10-year stint in the nonprofit world, however, I found myself exactly there, helping run a sports summer day camp in Phoenix, Arizona. My first summer on the job was quite a whirlwind, filled with learning the programs, meeting all the people, making on-the-spot decisions, and just figuring out what the heck was going on.

As the off-season settled in and life resumed a semblance of normalcy, I realized that there was an enormous amount of information that I really didn’t know that I didn’t know. My scope of understanding only stretched as far as our own camp and the one year of experience I had under my belt. We had a good program with a few decades of history behind us, but in order to continue to grow and improve, we needed to do some serious introspection, absorb outside ideas and strategize for the years to come.

Much to my delight, just as the realization settled in for the need to look beyond ourselves, the opportunity arose to attend the ACA National Conference in San Diego. Thanks to the scholarship from ACA, Southwest, I was able to attend not only the regular conference, but also participate in the preconference New Director Orientation and EPIC (Emerging Professionals In Camping) workshop. The conference was filled with presenters touching on just about every topic I was interested in and it was enormously refreshing to be in a room with people facing the same challenges as me! Together we learned about leading effective trainings, holding meaningful reflections, handling camper behaviors, obtaining feedback, being the hype man, utilizing our online systems, and building a cohesive staff team, amongst many other topics.

Presenters and participants at the conference pushed me to rethink our systems, expanded my understanding of the scope of the camp world, and truly left me inspired, motivated and feeling very fortunate to be a part of this nation-wide community. Moving forward, I am excited to continue conversations with the folks I met at the conference and incorporate many of the innovative and creative ideas shared in the workshops into our programs.