From Ross - November 2016

November 2016

I am pleased to introduce myself as the new chairperson for the Board of Directors of the American Camp Association. My name is Ross Turner and I have been an ACA member since 1983.

For me, a career as a camp director came from a series of accidental yet fortunate discoveries. I did not graduate from Brigham Young University with the intent of starting a camp. In my early career I was a high school marine biology teacher and football coach. So how did a love of the ocean, teaching science, and coaching come together to form a camp? Well, it was a serendipitous opportunity mixed with an entrepreneurial idea and an understanding wife who was willing to partner in this crazy venture.

In 1976, I had the opportunity to leave my high school teaching position and accept a job on Catalina Island in Southern California as a summer camp director also tasked with developing a year-round educational marine science program. While this job was short-lived, it brought yet another serendipitous opportunity when our newly formed nonprofit organization was offered the opportunity to take over an old boarding school on the island. Now, 38 years later, the Catalina Island Marine Institute (CIMI) is still operating, and there have been several spinoff programs along the way, each coming from other serendipitous opportunities.

During my over 50-year professional career, I have been a science teacher, a coach, a unit leader at a camp in Maine, a director at a Boy Scout camp, and founder-manager of an independent nonprofit corporation. I have also discovered the importance of keeping a flexible mindset to see the possibilities of chance opportunities that sparked creative new ideas. Making the opportunities realities required a team working together, and the team's successful outcomes were always greater than any individual effort. Fortunately, I recognized the importance of these management principles — looking for serendipitous opportunities and then combining them with innovation, collaboration, and synergy — early in my career.

I am also a believer in "Big Hairy Audacious Goals" (BHAGs), as described by authors Jim Collins and Jerry Porras in their book Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies (1994). It is important to identify BHAGs that will take an organization to new levels of performance and achievement. I have found that keeping an open mind will allow me to see serendipitous opportunities that often become my BHAGs.

In my short time as ACA's board chair, I have had the opportunity to work with our new CEO, Tom Rosenberg, and all the amazing members of our leadership team. We are in good hands. The dedication and vision of our professional staff at our national headquarters in Indiana and in our field offices are outstanding.

Sitting on the Board of Directors provides a much greater understanding of all the moving parts between professional staff and our dedicated volunteers — all of you. The ACA vision of "Enriching Lives, Changing the World" provides organizational direction and helps create our collective vision. Currently, the ACA has on its plate some bold BHAGs: accreditation and research.

In the coming months you will hear more about the ACA Research Initiative. I believe it is imperative that our organization quantifies the vital role of camps in educating our youth. Camp directors have wonderful stories of how the camp experience positively influences campers. As camp directors, we all feel that children who attend camp are better prepared for life. The 21st-century skills practiced daily at camp give children an advantage in school, college, their careers, and their adult lives. However, we need more than anecdotal stories for camps to be part of the bigger discussion on education. Camps should be included in the educational process of every child along with pre-school and elementary through high school. We need data to show that students who attend camp do better in school and jobs and thrive in their communities.

ACA accreditation is a vital tool that will attract more camps to join. There are non-ACA members who want the credibility that standards bring to their program. ACA accreditation provides a framework for camp operators that results in safe, well-managed, successful, and high-quality experiences for their campers.

We all operate our camps to make a difference in the lives of children, and we believe that every child deserves the opportunity to have a camp experience. I am honored to be part of this movement and to contribute to our future. In my role as board chair, I look forward to tackling our current BHAGs as well as looking for future serendipitous opportunities. It is going to be a great experience.

Collins, J., & Porras, J. (1994). Built to last: Successful habits of visionary companies. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.