With so many years under its belt, Family Camp has a life all its own, a subset of camp if you will, with treasured memories, special traditions, and a unique feel as Term Camp is packed up and the end-of-season (and more relaxed) multi-generational family vibe steps in to close out the summer.
We know from so many alums that Family Camp is looked forward to with longing each year, and enjoyed in a spirit that combines the nostalgia of long-held memories with the heartfelt urge to make new memories with new generations of family campers both young and old.
And of course we really value how our dedicated alum help to underpin that Family Camp is an integral part — and extension of — our philosophy and mission, driving everything that we do. Not that we think anyone needs a reminder, but for the benefit of those who are newer to us, that mission is that, “We are always working towards naturally inspiring growth through honor, loyalty and friendship.”
I can’t tell you how excited we are to celebrate the 50th Anniversary this summer in that mission-driven way, and to really revel in all that Family Camp is!
50 and going strong!
In the spirit of all that joy and excitement, we also wanted to take some time to share with you how Family Camp fits into the overall structure of camp. This is, again, driven by our mission above all things, but also takes into account camp as a business, with a long-time reputation as an enjoyable, healthy, and safe destination, and with family-friendly values and standards that our Family Campers can rely on.
Part of what I want to share speaks to the feedback that we received in our end-of-session survey after Summer 2015, and the other part speaks to Camp Alleghany’s place within the official accreditation system governed by the American Camp Association (ACA) of which we are valued members (and which membership we value tremendously).
Accreditation across the board
Followers of the blog may recall that this past summer was our summer for re-accreditation, a process of paperwork and on-site visiting by ACA peers that formerly happened every three years, but now will happen every five.
The nature of ACA accreditation is that every aspect of a camp and its services/offerings must be accredited for the camp as a whole to be accredited. In other words, a camp cannot be ACA accredited unless the entire operation is accredited.
In our case, what this means is that our operation is accredited for Mini Camp, Term Camp, and Family Camp as a whole, along with other times we have residents, such as our pre-camp season staff training time. To state this in reverse would be to say that, if for example, Family Camp were not up to ACA accreditation standards, Mini Camp and Term Camp would then not be able to be accredited.
And may I add, heaven forbid! Seriously.
Our accreditation is like a gold standard in the camp world, a highly valuable aspect of our operation, services, program, standards, and reputation that we earn through compliance with ACA standards. And while our mission drives the foreground of Camp Alleghany life, ACA accreditation is the strong foundation on which such a mission rests.
And ACA accreditation changes with the times. The ACA sometimes adds new mandatory standards that all camps wishing to maintain ACA accreditation must demonstrate they have complied with. Or non-mandatory but compelling voluntary standards are added as well, to undergird the ACA’s accreditation mission to support, “…program quality and the health and safety of campers and staff.”
Needless to say this keeps us — the Camp Alleghany administration — on our toes. We have to keep up with and know the accreditation standards, and demonstrate that we have implemented them. And this of course makes an impact on our programs as we endeavor to develop and remain current with our compliance.
Family Camp and ACA accreditation
So how does this affect Family Camp?
Well, like I said ACA accreditation is an all-or-nothing prospect. That means Family Camp has to meet all the ACA’s required standards as well or we lose accreditation for Mini Camp and Term Camp. And losing that accreditation is a non-starter for us.
So last summer, when it was our re-accreditation summer, when we were already going through Mini Camp and Term Camp and the facilities and our paperwork etc., with a fine-tooth comb, we also paid special attention to how Family Camp is meeting those standards.
We have to admit that we hadn’t paid as much attention in previous years to the Family Camp piece (we still paid attention, just not as highly focused as last year), because we didn’t realize how much was on the line until our re-accreditation summer came around.
While we were dealing with implementing all of this, our Family Campers were also faced with what re-accreditation means.
Now, perhaps because it seemed new or maybe even arbitrary, we found that some Family Campers couldn’t wrap their heads around what the ACA accreditation meant for Camp Alleghany and for their experience there. As guests of camp, naturally visitors experience camp from a different, more relaxed perspective, including one steeped in those nostalgic memories. The nitty-gritty of behind-the-scenes work that camp as a business must contend with seems miles away — as it should! Family Campers are here to relax and enjoy Camp Alleghany, and we want them to!
Unfortunately, that also meant that when we had to share and/or enforce rules, it may have been felt as an unwelcome intrusion, despite our best efforts to explain our reasoning.
We understand that, and we heard some of these concerns on the surveys.
At the same time, as I said previously, we are driven by our mission — “…always working towards naturally inspiring growth through honor, loyalty and friendship” — and by meeting or exceeding the ACA requirements in order to maintain the highest rankings among American camps.
So when we struggled to keep compliance among Family Campers, and saw rules being broken, we naturally wanted to find a way to respond to concerns and pursue an avenue of resolution. (On a side-note, we also heard your feedback about being unhappy about the food and we hope you’ll be thrilled to know we are in the process of hiring a new cook, personal to camp.)
But back to the surveys.
Because of your concerns, I had a day-long meeting this Fall with our local ACA mentor Maile Armstrong, of Armstrong Unlimited, who is also a Co-Chair of the Standards Committee for the ACA Virginias, the combined ACA sub-group for West Virginia and Virginia-based camps.
She and I spent several hours going through every single standard and talking about how it applies to Family Camp, if it applies to Family Camp, and why it applies to Family Camp. And invariably, all the standards do, such as that there MUST be a lifeguard on duty when anyone is in the river (swimming or in a watercraft), or that strict operating procedures must be followed on Rifle and Archery ranges. New standards that we will implement this summer require that there is some sort of accountability system to know who is in the water at all times, (whether it’s a buddy board like we have during Mini & Term Camps, or a sign in/sign out sheet), and that all campers, regardless of age or years at camp must undergo a brief waterfront orientation before using the water.
Your kind cooperation
Of course, given that so many of our Family Campers are alums, or long-time Family Camp attendees, we hope that your deep love and respect for Camp Alleghany and our mission will help make any rules and procedures not only palatable, but something that can be supported enthusiastically both in word and deed! We would certainly appreciate that so much!
There will be a third part to this blog series later this week that speaks particularly to use of the Greenbrier River, so please stay tuned to the blog for that.
Thank you for reading and if you have any further questions or concerns, please don’t hesitate to e-mail me.
And there are just four days until Family Camp registration. With the 50th anniversary we’re expecting vigorous early registration. If you want to secure your spot, mark your calendar or smart phone alerts to get in there and register on the first day!
— Elizabeth Dawson Shreckhise, Assistant Director, Camp Alleghany for Girls