ACA’s 2020 Vision: The Role of Faith-Based Camps

ACA has adopted an audacious goal: Double the number of participants in camp experiences and triple the number of persons using ACA resources to strengthen the quality of camp experiences. And all this in the next ten years — hence the moniker "2020 Vision." The vision translates to 20 million campers and 20,000 participants in ACA by 2020. When we realize that all camps are serving only 20 percent of the eligible population of children, we can see that we have an obligation to share our gift.

So what is the gift we give to campers? We know intuitively what the gift of camp is, but we need powerful and relevant ways to communicate this to parents and churches who do not yet know what camp can accomplish. All camps provide progressive and key learning experiences in interpersonal relationship skills (making new friends, negotiating with peers, self regulation in games and activities, etc.). Camps give participants a love of human powered activity (hiking to the top of a hill or mountain, boating, swimming, or active games). And camps develop a sense of awe and appreciation for the environment (being outside much of the day, environmental activities, camping out, and stargazing). In addition to these three accomplishments which all camps provide, faith-based camps give participants a stronger understanding and integration of the faith that brings us together.

The 2020 Vision of ACA sees a future where camp experiences are valued by a greater segment of our communities, where the quality of camp experiences is greater, and more campers are benefiting from a camp experience. Imagining 100 percent increase in participation drives change in organization and attitude. ACA sections are actively looking at ways to provide more coordinated and robust services in today's world. You will see increased volunteer activity with greater coordination and support. Accreditation will transition from the entry point to ACA resources to one key product among many.

The Religiously Affiliated Camps Council (RAC) has been a key contributor preparing for the 2020 Vision. Almost ten years ago, RAC Council members invested seed money to support research to measure outcomes (changes) experienced by campers. This initial research set the stage for subsequent studies which have provided language to use with educators, funders, and parents, describing the benefits of the camp experience. The results of this research can be found on the research page of the ACA Web site. The paper is titled "Directions." In that initial study, campers and parents described growth in the areas studied if the whole camp community clearly understood the expected outcomes. The greatest change reported was in sense of spirituality achieved in faith-based camps.

Faith-based camps have an important contribution to make toward achieving the 2020 Vision. Our shorter session length allows us to add a few (or a lot) more campers: potential increases that could be multiplied by the number of sessions operated. In addition, many faith-based camps have year-round facilities available for additional experiences beyond summer camp. My own camp has started a "Christmas Camp" between Christmas and New Years. Right along with increased number of campers is a goal of increased quality of camp experiences. Quality improves as all in our camp communities understand the expected outcomes (changes) that a camper will experience during a session.

In addition to making a difference in our own camps, there are also opportunities to create positive change in wider circles. We all know neighboring faith-based camps which are not part of ACA. The challenge for us is to tell the story of resources available through ACA to increase the quality of camp experiences, and to learn the language necessary to encourage support from faith communities, parents, and funders. Some of these camps even have space for lots more campers — pushing closer to the 2020 Vision. So our tasks are self improvement and telling the story of resources and possibilities. Ask your local ACA group (or volunteer) to provide training to improve quality and interpretation of camp experiences. Don't forget to invite non-ACA camps to join in that training and conversation.

Peter Surgenor is ACA President. In his spare time, he is Executive Director of Holmes Presbyterian Camp & Conference Center in New York.