If you read our blog post from yesterday about American Camp Association (ACA) accreditation for Camp Alleghany, you’ll remember that such accreditation is an all-or-nothing prospect: every aspect of camp, and every program at camp, must be accredited if camp as a whole is to be accredited.
For some Family Campers this came as a surprise, and the biggest challenge we had in conveying this concerned the Greenbrier River, namely following the ACA rules in the river.
We understand from feedback that we received that some Family Campers were really bummed that they couldn’t get in the water without a lifeguard on duty. We understand your frustration, of course, as many folks have been confidently swimming for decades. Still, even not at camp, it’s well known that no one should swim alone, or without safety features like a lifeguard.
This is particularly concerning to us since a campful of children take their cues from adults and the example adults set…meaning if a child saw that adults were swimming alone, if that child somehow separated from his or her parents, she might think she could swim alone, too.
And that is a real hazard!
In spite of the common sense rules, we know that some folks were unhappy, even going so far as to ignore the rules, and audibly make fun of or complain about them. This saddened us, as the family-friendly and loving spirit of Family Camp is at risk when gossip or griping takes precedence over necessary boundaries and the shared spirit of the experience as a whole.
All of this has prompted me to want to go over the rules about the river again in the hopes that clarity and further understanding of why such rules are in place will help people feel generous about supporting the safety guidelines, healthy practices, and ACA standards that help make Camp Alleghany great!
(Enjoy this gallery of river life at Camp Alleghany.)
Take me to the river, drop me in the water
So here is the number one, immutable, inviolable rule about river use: the river is only open when a lifeguard is on duty.
If a family wants to get in the water without a lifeguard on duty, they must wear a Personal Floatation Device (PFD=life jacket). We think this is extremely reasonable, since this is even more relaxed than the rule during Mini and Term Camps (our campers, counselors, staff, and even administration can not do the PFD thing at Mini or Term Camp — they must ALWAYS have a lifeguard on duty).
Just to cover all bases, and explore all possibilities, I spoke to the head of the ACA National Standards Committee by phone in the fall, and then emailed her a list of questions. I essentially wanted to ask her about the applicability of some of the standards, given that at Family Camp, all camp minors are there with their guardians, and everyone else is, well, not a minor — all of which makes Family Camp unique and different from Term Camp. We got enough concerned bits of feedback that I thought, “Hey, I’ll just ask; no harm in asking, right?”
Here is what the National Standards Committee sent to me in an email after they discussed my questions at their Board Meeting:
With regards to Family Camp, the NSC felt strongly that the ACA standards apply to your Family Camp program. As the participants access the river from your property and swimming is an activity you offer, the ACA standards are applicable. Should the participants access the river elsewhere (not on your property), that is a different situation.
Many Family Campers also asked, “Can’t I just sign an informed consent?” Or, “Why can’t it be ‘swim-at-your-own-risk?'”
The easy answer to that is: then we wouldn’t be ACA accredited.
Sure, lots of family programs at other camps will do that, but they’re not ACA accredited if they do. The ACA simply won’t allow it. It’s either follow the standards or you’re not accredited.
At Camp Alleghany, we don’t want to be a fly-by-night camp program, completely untethered to any national professional standards for health, safety, and program quality. We want to continue, as we have been for years, to be held to the highest possible standards for camp programs in America. It is a piece of our mission and philosophy in which we take great pride and on which we simply can not compromise.
But in order to clarify when the “But, what if’s…?” come up, here’s an example of still trying to re-work the rules outside of the ACA standards domain: “The Greenbrier River is almost 200 miles long, with lots of public access. Why can’t I do whatever I want in a public river?”
I’ve even asked about that!
I asked our local ACA standards board, the ACA National Standards Board, AND our business lawyer, and what it comes down to is that where the river passes through our property, and we are operating a program with river activity as part of our described offerings, those who are our customers are coming to our camp for our camp programs, including those described river activities. That means that under our auspices, with your registration and participation as Camp Alleghany campers, everyone needs to follow our rules and our governance under ACA standards in order to assure that we retain that ACA accreditation.
And again, all of this goes back to our mission which is, “Always working towards naturally inspiring growth through honor, loyalty and friendship.”
Above all it is children who we ultimately serve. Family Camp itself is loaded with young, eager, impressionable children, including the teens! If something terrible, God forbid, were to happen in the river, we would want — and want our campers to want — a lifeguard present to act quickly to stave off disaster.
We have to model safety, and share a commitment to common sense rules, in order to meet our mission and provide the best and most consistent example for the children — and everyone — in our care at Camp Alleghany.
Family Camp Spirit
We hope that the ultimate spirit of this — a healthy, happy, fair, safe, joyous, and uniquely wonderful time at Family Camp — is the takeaway that all our campers, friends, and supporters see and feel in both the rules and the accreditation of our camp. These are the things that make ‘Ghany special, and make our time together focused and relaxed, safe and adventurous, spirited and connected, enduring and meaningful.
Family Camp is celebrating our 50th Anniversary summer in 2016 and registration opens in four days! We hope you’ll register and that we’ll see you tucked in under the stars in your platform tent, enfolded by the mountains and trees, and sung to by the lap of the Greenbrier River this summer with us!
— Elizabeth Dawson Shreckhise, Assistant Director, Camp Alleghany for Girls