Last month a contingent from the Camp Alleghany administration — myself, Director Sam Dawson, Special Events Director Bonnie Dawson, Program Director Taylor Fellows, and Office Manager Louise Dawson — attended the annual American Camp Association (ACA) Virginias Winter Camp Conference. It was held in charming Williamsburg, Virginia (always a treat to visit) at the Fort Magruder Hotel and Conference Center on January 14th
We really enjoy this kind of event (and other camp conferences) because they offer such a rich opportunity for ongoing professional development for serious camp professionals and camp organizations. As the ACA website teaser said about this event,
“The Virginias Winter Conference provides over a dozen educational sessions to fit every professional need. The Virginias Winter Conference will give you the opportunity to connect with your peers to discuss the challenges and opportunities that you experience at your camp.”
So, just to be super ready for all that stimulating learning and connecting, we decided to make the two-and-a-half hour drive the night before because the conference was starting super early in the morning.
This was nice for two reasons.
Then, back at the hotel, Taylor, Louise, and I met up with fellow conference-goers for some evening catching-up and fellowship, which is one of my favorite aspects of conferences! To get to discuss with other camp professionals trends in the industry, and issues like staff management, facilities improvements, marketing issues, camp activities and more, really helps us all grow and learn from one another around our shared business concerns.
And then the conference started bright and early Thursday morning with breakfast and our keynote speaker, Tom Holland the outgoing CEO of the ACA. He spoke on the ACA’s research, the camp industry in general, and the strategic direction of the ACA’s board in terms of new support directions for camps and the industry.
In the breaks we got to peruse the vendor exhibit hall, which is always a great time at the winter conference. We see lots of products, services, and vendors, many of whom we directly work with, and others where we check it out and see more aspects of camp life and evaluate whether it applies to us or not. It’s usually a great lark — plus you get candy and schwag, (ha ha)! (Enjoy this conference photo gallery.)
But back to the more serious stuff.
Lots to learn
The morning session I attended was called “Camp as a Year Round Educational Experience,” delivered by Susan Yoder, who works as the Public Policy Issues staff person with the national level ACA. Her session was described like this,
“Education reform debates have often overlooked the valuable contribution camp brings to the education & development of the whole child. The camp community knows that engagement in out-of-school activities has been found to predict academic success, such as higher test scores and lower dropout rates. But community and government decision makers don’t universally understand this.”
This was a compelling presentation that dovetails with some topics I’ve previously tackled on our blog but that I had targeted to develop even more for our blog this year. So it was great to find camp colleagues also thinking in this direction and offering tips for how to do more with this issue. So stay tuned for more from me on this in the year ahead!
The afternoon session I went to was called “Effective and Efficient Program Evaluation.” This was also great because it provided ideas for how to examine how things are working at camp in ways that don’t bog down the evaluation process in too much talk and subjectivity, but help offer standards and measurements that can be readily applied to learn certain lessons that help in shaping how that program will grow and change in helpful ways over time.
Finally, the closing keynote was called “Telling Your Story,” by Travis Allison of GoCampPro. I loved this presentation not only for how we tell stories and engage campers in traditions and narratives at camp, but in thinking about how we tell our story to the wider world through our website, blog, and social media choices.
I love that!
At Camp Alleghany we have so many stories to tell, to share, to listen to, to engage with — it’s an integral part of who we are. I’m definitely excited to look at this with fresh eyes and find ways to enliven our storytelling even more!
While it may seem like these three sessions were very different in nature, interestingly I found common threads weaving through all of them that I’m very excited to implement and add to Alleghany!
As always, I like to take these awesome conference experiences of learning and being exposed to new ideas and thinking in the camp world and take some time to mull over them a bit, talk it over at staff meetings and in e-mails with key personnel, and then weave ideas and plans of my own to implement at camp. That’s the part where some of this remains top secret for now — something for campers, staff, parents, and blog readers to look forward to hearing more about it the months ahead!
Excitement for the year ahead
I enjoyed a little time away from home to exclusively sink into “camp mind” while having such a positive experience with camp colleagues and leaders.
Since our other team members attended other sessions, we all have come back with ideas and inspiration for 2016.
We all love connecting with other camp professionals too, getting new ideas from sessions, and spending time with vendors in the exhibit hall.
Call me a huge camp nerd, but conferences are my jam :).
Next week my dad Sam and I will be hitting up Atlanta, Georgia for four days at the ACA National Conference, inspiringly titled “Envision.” I couldn’t be more excited!
Then, Taylor, Facilities Director Garrett O’Dell, and I will head to the Tri-State ACA conference in Atlantic City for the very first time this coming March. This high level conference focused on youth development is another opportunity that we’re extremely excited about! This really isa time of year for lots of learning and professional development in the camp world.
You’ll hear about all of that soon, too, so stay tuned to the blog!
— Elizabeth Dawson Shreckhise, Assistant Director, Camp Alleghany for Girls