Thoughts from a Parent Who Happens to Serve as the Executive Director of the American Camping Association

by Peg Smith

Often in times of threat, if one pauses long enough one can discover that opportunities also abound. That can be said of the camp community in our time of national need. There are numerous ways each camp might respond to the needs of others in a profound and real way.

The Community

Our community neighbors may benefit from our ability to shelter others in a time of need. We have tremendous experience mobilizing the efforts of children and youth to meet community demands for food, labor, as well as joy. We have the talent to contribute to the moral and spiritual foundation of the human spirit through our programs, contributions, and community projects. Bring your staff and campers together to think of ways your camp might add value to all of those in need. Sharing the poetry of the camp experience may be the greatest gift received.

The Staff

Children and youth may have special needs this year, as well. Staff may need additional training to deal with the fears and concerns campers may bring with them to camp. Diversity, tolerance, and sensitivity issues may be heightened and demand special attention. Security and safety measures will require even greater consideration this year. Elements of risk management never entertained before may well need to be considered. Protocols for large delivery vehicles entering your camp property or swift evacuation plans may now need to be included in your pre-planning thinking. These are opportunities, as well, to demonstrate our preparedness and long history of risk management when responsible for America's greatest asset, our children and youth.

The Parents and Campers

We also have an opportunity to increase communication with our number one partner, the parents of those campers attending our camps. We need to consider those special questions parents may need answers for before sending their child to camp. Special communication plans between the parent and child may not only be the expectation but the demand this year. Special packing instructions and transportation alternatives may need to be communicated in a proactive, positive manner.

Regardless of our challenges, we must do two things, protect our campers and protect the character of the camp experience. We must carefully plan and prepare our camp and camp personnel for the new environment in which we live. At the same time, we must preserve the beauty of the camp experience. The camp experience is a strong American tradition that should not be lost due to fear or intimidation.

  • Make a list of critical elements that must be explored: transportation, staff recruitment, staff training, camper and parent communication, and risk management…
  • Review camp safety and security plans for needed revision and updates…
  • Initiate dialogue with other community leaders who must deal with risk management issues…
  • Begin to develop communication materials for campers and parents that anticipate critical information needs…
  • Consider special staff training programs in child development around the issues of separation anxiety, grief, fear, and diversity…
  • Most importantly, concentrate on an assets not a deficit model…and remember…

Camp has always been fun and shall remain so for all of our campers!


Originally published in the 2001 Fall issue of The CampLine.

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