We know from our research that camp experiences—for both campers and seasonal camp staff—offer rich opportunities for learning and development. Our research suggests that campers and staff use what they learn at camp in school, in their early jobs, and in roles as they enter adulthood. This evidence is why we believe that camp experiences should be accessible to all, and why ACA is prioritizing equitable access to camp in its 2020-2024 Strategic Plan.

We also know that many young people face barriers to attending camp. These barriers range from structural barriers (e.g., cost, location) to social barriers (e.g., not having a friend to go to camp with) or family background (no one from the family has ever attended camp).

Without a parent or caregiver who attended camp as a child, a young person today is unlikely to seek or enroll in a camp experience. Likewise, this same young person is unlikely to seek or value camp staff employment. As years of ACA enrollment and camp staff data have shown, the results are a camper-staff-camp parent pathway only accessible to some youth. We know that one of the best ways to achieve access to camp is to create more entry points into this pathway, and the best tool to achieve inclusion is to recruit and retain diverse camp staff.

CIT programs are one such promising entry point. We know that CIT and smaller leadership programs are common at day and overnight camps. We also know they are often designed to train campers to become camp staff. However, CIT programs can present their own set of barriers like cost and availability.

The Leadership Pathways Project

 At the start of this re-granting project, ACA opened up two grant opportunities for camps. Twenty grants were awarded to 1) support the design and implementation of a new CIT or similar leadership development program or 2) support the expansion of an existing CIT or similar leadership development program. The focus of both grant opportunities is on engaging young people who might not otherwise enroll in a CIT program. this focus can include young people of color, from low-resource backgrounds, LGBTQ+, or youth with physical or developmental disabilities. We are especially interested in youth representing these populations who did not regularly attend camp as a child.

Cohorts & Mentorship

Grantees designing new CIT programs and grantees expanding an existing CIT program belong to these respective cohorts. Both cohorts participate in monthly virtual check-ins and one annual in-person gathering with their cohort. These gatherings focus on learning from one another as well as from thought leaders in camp, youth development, and diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts.

Research & Resource Development

In addition to the grant cohorts, this project also includes a research plan to explore how camps improve practice and policy to achieve their goals related to diversity, equity, and inclusion. An external research team is conducting interviews and case studies that will be used to inform ACA’s strategic goals related to increasing equitable access to camp. Research findings as well as learnings from the cohorts are being used to develop a toolkit that will be available to camps interested in expanding access to camp through counselor-in-training and similar leadership development programs.


  • Year 1 (January 2021 – December 2021): Design and concept testing
  • Year 2 (January 2022 – December 2022): Implementation planning, initial testing, evaluation
  • Year 3 (January 2023 – December 2023): Improvement planning, full implementation, reflection

Awarded Grantees

  • Camp Common Ground
  • Big Sur Land Trust Youth Outdoor Programs
  • Tampa YMCA
  • Camp Blodgett
  • Aspire
  • Trail Blazers
  • Camp Santa Maria
  • Montgomery County Recreation
  • NatureBridge
  • YMCA of Greater Seattle
  • Camp Bovey
  • Camp Mendocino
  • Easterseals Colorado
  • 4-H Primitive Pursuits
  • Sherwood Forest
  • Timber Pointe Outdoor Center
  • Camp Kaufmann
  • Camp Mokule’ia
  • Lexington Recreation and Community Programs
  • Acta Non Verba
  • PARI Summer Space Camps