Professional camp conferences are back to being held in-person! After two years of virtual conferences – which were fine and educational but not the same – both the American Camp Association (ACA) National Conference and the ACA Tri-State Conference were held in person this year! And it was so refreshing and wonderful to be back with “my people.”
The ACA National Conference was in February in Portland, Oregon this year. I was registered to attend and slated to be a presenter on a panel with some colleagues, but the dates ended up bumping up too closely to a planned family trip to Disney World and Universal Studios, so I ended up backing out. My friends and colleagues had a great time, learned a lot, and confirmed it was wonderful to be back in person.
So that got me super excited for my trip to the ACA Tri-State Conference, an event held annually in Atlantic City, New Jersey, put on by ACA New York-New Jersey. It’s the largest camp conference in the world, with more attendees than any other camp conference. This year they announced that about 3,000 people were in attendance.
At the opening keynote, the president of ACA NY-NJ and the conference chairs made some great opening remarks, one being that we were probably the very last conference on earth held before everything shut down back in 2020 (we arrived home from Tri-State on March 12 of that year!), and one of the first to get back together after a long two years.
And the reunion was spectacular!
This year, our Program Director, Casey Tucker, came along as usual. He learned so much and enjoyed it, as always.
We also included our Head of Family Camp, Stephanie Astley. As it’s our 100th summer, and we have a lot cooking for Family Camp, we thought this would be a great way for her to make some connections in the camp world and get some ideas. Plus, she’s on support staff for much of the summer leading up to Family Camp, so the more ideas we can get for camp, the better! It was Stephanie’s first camp conference and I’m hoping she’ll write her own blog about experience as a first-timer.
On the Ground
This year we decided to stay in an Air BnB a couple miles from the convention center and walk in to the conference every morning. It was nice to have our own place, cook breakfast and pack lunch every day, and have a brisk morning walk near the ocean to start off the day. After a day of listening, learning and networking, it was restorative to have a place to unwind in the evenings.
The sessions were, as always, highly informative and educational. We went to sessions on staff training, hiring, staff morale boosters, parent communication, incorporating wellness at camp, positive leadership strategies, teaching leadership, and much more. These sessions always provide us with tools, tips, and ideas to make camp better, stronger, and even more positive. I always come away with more ideas than I can implement in one season!
The Exhibit Hall is always one of my favorite parts of the conference, with hundreds of vendors representing everything you could ever want in camp. We saw crafts, clothing, mattresses and bedding, tennis courts, water activities, COVID testing companies, camp registration systems, and more.
It was meaningful for us to connect in person with some of our favorite vendors like our food service company Wolfoods, our camp registration system CampMinder, and some of our clothing reps like Everything Summer Camp and Outfit Your Logo (and others!). It’s always great making new connections as well and getting so many new ideas for camp – whether programming, clothing and gear, furniture, and more.
Friends and Colleagues
The networking is also a fantastic piece of these conferences. We meet so many other camp professionals from so many walks of life and from ALL different types of camps – day camps, co-ed camps, science camps, wilderness camps, medical needs camps – you name it, there’s a camp for it. It just proves that there truly is a camp for everyone. I love making connections, talking to other camp professionals, getting ideas, and sharing my own ideas and what works at Alleghany. I’ve gotten so many ideas and tools from those conversations over the years, it’s just invaluable.
And we built in some time to socialize with those we DO know as well!
Many camps from Virginia and West Virginia attend Tri-State, so it was fun to see those camp professionals around the conferences center. We planned in advance a happy hour for all of us to get together. Represented at that happy hour were colleagues and friends from Camp Carysbrook, Camp Twin Creeks, Camp Hidden Meadows, Camp Horizons, Camp Friendship, the Skelton 4-H Educational Center, and Congressional Day Camps. Several of us meet via Zoom on a weekly basis to share ideas, concerns, challenges, and it was fantastic to be in person for once.
I posted several pictures on our social media throughout the week, and one dear camp friend of mine from my Junior Counselor group saw the pictures and messaged me that she lives just 20 minutes away from Atlantic City, so we decided to get together for dinner. We hadn’t seen each other in over 20 years, and it felt like not a day had passed! It’s a truly amazing thing about the deep bonds of camp friendships, and how they last a lifetime.
In It Together
Perhaps one of the best parts of this year’s conference was how affirming it was in the challenges that we faced last year as an organization. It wasn’t just us and our organization, the entire industry faced the same challenges. We all had to deal with COVID policies and procedures of course, staffing shortages and other staff issues, mental health, and more. I was surprised by how many speakers or presenters mentioned very specific challenges that I thought were unique to Alleghany, but were apparently more ubiquitous. A few times I thought, “How does she know that happened to us last summer?!” It was truly affirming in that we’re all in this together. It wasn’t just Alleghany, and we’re not alone in facing many post-pandemic challenges.
Overall, it was such a positive experience on so many levels, and I feel refreshed, energized, and full of ideas for Summer 2022!
— Elizabeth Shreckhise, Director, Camp Alleghany for Girls