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

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