Creating Exceptional Experiences

Tom Rosenberg, President/CEO
January 2017

Have you heard the theme song "Try Everything" from Disney's animated film, Zootopia? Musical artist Shakira performs the song and voices a character named Gazelle, a pop star from the city of Zootopia who holds a peaceful protest and publicly asks for the harmonious Zootopia she loves and cherishes to be restored. The upbeat lyrics are inspiring and could easily serve as an anthem for exceptional camp experiences that transform millions of young lives every year.

"Birds don't just fly, they fall down and get up, Nobody learns without getting it wrong."

At camp, we teach leadership in exceptional, caring communities where campers and staff are encouraged to grow through positive risk opportunities. Nurturing friendships, trust, and enduring mentorship are a panacea for fear and reticence. At camp, children and youth are encouraged to try everything and help everyone, to explore new activities and new ideas. Camp offers "safe landing zones" where everyone understands that mistakes lead to grit, perseverance, learning, practice, confidence, and success.

"I won't give up, no I won't give in, 'Til I reach the end and then I'll start again, No I won't leave, I wanna try everything, I wanna try even though I could fail."

At camp, we inspire campers and staff to be their best selves. Life there is authentic and full — truly exceptional. We place a high value on promoting justice, equality, and altruism — encouraging campers to contribute purposefully to their bunk communities and the broader camp community. Campers learn quickly that the more they put into camp, the more they get out of it — and children and staff alike count the days until the next season when friendships can be rekindled and the joy of camp renewed.

Each season, we celebrate character and personal responsibility for each other. Through real human connections, we learn to resolve conflicts nonviolently with empathy and sensitivity. Surrounded by friends, we feel optimistic, joyous, and more confident. In the bubble of camp, life feels slower, more mindful — filled with wonder and gratitude. We feel more capable and motivated. What could be better than these exceptional experiences?

"Look how far you've come, you filled your heart with love Baby you've done enough, take a deep breath, Don't beat yourself up, don't need to run so fast, Sometimes we come last, but we did our best."

The magic of camp is exceptional communities — in each bunk group and camp-wide. This is also true of our professional camp community of members and volunteers at the American Camp Association. At the ACA National Office, the walls, library, and archives celebrate the lives and work of the camp pioneers and mentors who over the past 106 years blazed the way for countless future generations. Taking in this history brings back memories of the many ACA national conferences where I learned so much from the exceptional camp professionals who live on in our hearts and in our daily work. Each conference is an opportunity to build on the legacy and create a stronger camp community.

Please join me at this year's national conference, February 21–24, 2017, in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The theme of this year's conference is "Creating the Exceptional." At conference, we celebrate our professional community by creating an exceptional environment in which to collaborate, socialize, discuss challenges, access experts, and leave inspired and rejuvenated.

I look forward to a fun and thoughtful conference filled with powerful conversations around building capacity, research and outcomes, exceptional programs, and our collective impact.

See you in Albuquerque!