What I Learned at the ACA National Conference

I just got back from the ACA National Conference and I’ve got a few things to share with you! But before we get straight into my learning and takeaways, here’s a bit of information about the ACA, what happens at the national conference, and why I was there.

The American Camp Association

You might be wondering what the ACA is and what the big deal is with the organization overall. The American Camp Association (ACA) is the national camp organization in the United States and it serves a lot of functions for summer camps and their directors, as well as campers and their families. A lot of camps are accredited by the ACA, meaning that they have passed a whole bunch of standards of health, safety, and program standards.

The ACA also puts on professional development events for camps, including annual regional and national conferences. These conferences serve as a meet up point for professionals from all over, where they can talk about what’s working at their organization, challenges they’re facing, and learn from a ton of speakers about different topics. This year’s national conference was in San Diego, California, from February 11th-14th.

Why I Attend National Conference

I am a nerd – and I say that with a smile on my face! I love camp and research, and so I brought the two together in a PhD program.I research the camp experience from a variety of different lenses, including working on the ACA funded 5-year Youth Impact and Staff Impact studies. The National Conference hosts a research forum, and this is where we get our research findings out to camp professionals in presentations. Other researchers and academics present their work at this research forum as well. For more information on this (and past years) research forum, check out this link:

Counselors and “Emotion Work”

A super interesting session was presented by Mandi Baker. In her presentation she talked about the “emotion work” of counselors. Basically, being a camp counselor is hard work. Not only do counselors have long days in the sun and heat, which is physically draining, but they also engage with campers on deep emotional levels and truly care for the kids they work with. Overall, working as a camp counselor is an incredibly intense experience, both physically and emotionally, and so camp counselors need the opportunity to rest and recuperate in both domains as well, so that they can continue to be excellent leaders for the campers they serve!

So, What Does This Mean for Camp Staff?

Alright so what does this mean for camp staff? The bottom line is self care. While you can do things to take care of yourself while you’re working, you also need to be smart about your time off. If you work in overnight camp, when you have a day off, consider if going out all afternoon and having a “few” drinks with other staff is the smartest move. Will this help you recuperate physically? What about mentally? What’s your best option for afternoon and evening activities?

It’s especially hard for international participants to get appropriate rest and time away from camp and other staff members when they work at an overnight camp. Many American staff often have their own vehicles and can drive home to take a break from everything that’s happening at camp. International staff don’t get this luxury. So think about what you can do to get away, whether that’s physically, mentally, or emotionally? Are you able to rent a car and visit a nearby city on your own? Can you write in your journal about everything that’s happened that week? Should you call home and talk to a friend that is always there for you? Whatever it is that you do, make sure you are emotionally rested and ready to start a new week with the campers!

By Victoria Povilaitis

Anxiety at Camp – A review of Bob Ditter’s Camping Magazine Article

Anxiety. Just reading the term might bring up feelings of tightness in one’s chest, a quickened heartbeat, and clammy hands. In reality, it’s something we all face, but some just face it a bit more regularly. Many people have techniques for dealing productively with anxiety, while others let it take over and are unable to function productively.

Let’s dig into this term. defines anxiety as “distress or uneasiness of mind caused by fear of danger or misfortune” or “earnest but tense desire; eagerness”. It also includes a definition in relation to psychiatry as “a state of apprehension and psychic tension occurring in some forms of mental disorder.” So, from these definitions you get a broad understanding of the term anxiety as either a negative feeling (fear), a positive feeling (eagerness), or a mental disorder (clinically diagnosed “anxiety disorder”). Positive feelings of anxiety can be good as they might motivate us to act, but when anxiety is a negative feeling, interventions (and preventative techniques) may be needed.

Bob Ditter is quite well known in the summer camp industry. On his profile on the American Camp Association (ACA) (link:, his is listed as a licensed clinical social worker who specialized in child, adolescent and family therapy. He has written countless articles for the ACA and has been a leader on cutting edge topics such as technology and screen use among adolescents and anxiety. He has recently written an article for the ACA’s publication Camping Magazine (link: discussing issues of anxiety among staff. I encourage you to read the entire article as he includes a lot of great information.

For today’s blog, I want to highlight Ditter’s “Staff Self Care Plan” that he includes at the end of his piece. While he explains why some staff may be experiencing feelings of anxiety working at camp, I think the takeaway here is what to do to prevent feeling overly anxious at camp.

1.     Sleep – We all know the importance of sleep, and for any of us who have already worked at camp, we know how hard it can be to come by. Make sure to plan ahead to sleep during time off and to get to bed early as often as you can.

2.     Short breaks: meditate/breathe – Consider different strategies that work for you during your short breaks, including meditation, deep breathing, or even journaling. Find out what works for you.

3.     Light, daily exercise – While it’s not always possible to get a full workout in at camp, think about ways that you can get your body moving, whether it be a brisk walk, using resistance bands, or body weight exercises.

4.     Plan ahead for your time off! – Be smart about what you do during your time off. Linking back to the first point, sleep is essential and using your time off to rest up would be a wise decision. Be careful not to engage in activities that actually make you more tired – that’s not what time off is meant for!

5.     Have trusted allies – talking to people you trust is one of the best ways to alleviate feelings of anxiety. It’s great to have friends and family back home that you can talk to, but sometimes at camp it’s not possible to access them, so find colleagues and leadership staff that you feel comfortable speaking with.

Hopefully these tips and tricks from Bob Ditter (and elaborated on by me!) are helpful for you during your summer camp work experience. Keep in mind that this is just a taster of the types of things we will talk about during our “Get Prepped” course. If you want more, make sure to register for our course, and watch this space for more blogs coming soon! 

The Origin of GetSETraining

If you’re wondering where this idea for GetSETraining came from, its origin is back in the summer of 2010 at a summer camp in Pennsylvania.

This was my first time doing a work-travel opportunity and working on a J1 visa in the USA, while our other co-founder, Renee, had already been working at camp for a few seasons and had some great experience under her belt. During my first few years at camp, Renee was always a strong leader for me. She used her experience and wisdom to not only help myself and others get through personal struggles and challenges working with campers, but she also inspired many to be better people overall. It has been clear that she always wants the best for others, and wants to help them succeed personally and professionally.

In the summer of 2014, I moved into a leadership role at the camp where Renee and I worked. This change meant that we were working quite closely together on a regular basis and got to know each other much better. We found out that our leadership styles and professional interests aligned quite well. While we originally began working in the camp industry to provide campers with a fantastic experience, our focus has now shifted to staff and their success.

Most staff at summer camp are 18-25 years of age, and are currently in a newly recognized life stage called “emerging adulthood”. This stage is incredibly important as it is when many young people are gaining greater independence by having experiences separate from their family lives. During this time, they are really discovering who they are now, and who they want to be in the future. Renee and I have always had a passion to support staff members during this experience.

Over the years we have seen more young people struggle with the experience of being a staff member at summer camp. In this role they are not only responsible for themselves, but also the many campers in their group. They have to negotiate new social relationships and discover who they are as an individual in a group of staff, apart from who they are as a family member or student. It is a challenging time and more emerging adults are struggling with this experience and process of exploration. This is especially true for those who are engaging in a work-travel program and leaving their support network to travel overseas for this incredible experience.

As Renee and I both travelled to a different country to work at a summer camp, we understand the hardships that come with this, but also the life-changing experience that it is. We have personally experienced it and worked with hundreds of emerging adults who take part in the J1 cultural exchange program. We firmly believe in the importance of preparation for this experience. As we want to support summer camp staff ahead of time, we formed GetSETraining to help young people during this work-travel experience. We hope that with our guidance and support, emerging adults will be able to successfully navigate summer camp work and bring their newfound skills and experiences home.

We’re here to help you! Let us know what type of support you’re looking for in this experience!

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