Today, we had our every-fifth-year visit from an inspection team of the American Camp Association (ACA). The ACA is the primary association of camps in the country. With over 2,400 member camps, the ACA’s accreditation process is a rigorous one (not all of the member camps actually become accredited) with approximately 300 separate standards. Without exaggerating, the binder that we use to organize just the written portions of these standards is literally twelve inches thick. The effort has swallowed months of our Joe Briggs’ time. (Really Adam??? Today’s update is going to be a dry recitation and plug for the ACA? That is the best you can do at this late date? Not to worry team…I intend to go somewhere with this.)
The inspection is incredibly thorough. The standards are wide ranging, relating to everything from checking our insurance, to checking the certifications of our lifeguards and wilderness first responders, to verifying that a dietician has reviewed our menus, to ensuring that we have proper erosion controls in camp, to making sure that all balls are kept under lock and key at night! It takes an entire day to tour camp and then wade through the mountains of paperwork.
I will say that, despite the fact that preparing and executing these visits is, admittedly, an incredibly tedious and grueling process, I kind of enjoy it. It is a healthy exercise for us to take a really close look at ourselves from time to time. When an institution is as old and tradition-based as we are, there always exists a danger that things will stagnate and we will not move appropriately forward. The accreditation process forces us to take a hard look at ourselves and ensures that we are doing everything as well as we can.
I was struck though by the reaction of the campers and staff to the inspection. While certainly the staff had been informed about the upcoming inspection, we had not talked to the campers about the accreditation visit until the morning of the inspection. We just figured that the kids wouldn’t care anyways. After all, why should a couple adults with clipboards walking around camp affect them? But, I was mistaken. The announcement seemed almost like a call to arms amongst the camper and staff body. Campers mouths dropped open as if to say, “Who do those guys think they are coming into our camp to tell us if we are doing it right?!?! Don’t they realize that this is Camp Nebagamon??! As if ANYONE from another camp has ANY idea what a real camp is all about. AS IF!!” The kids took it personally……
So, for the entire morning as we walked around, virtually every camper we walked by made a point of saying something. The inspectors were inundated with commentary from the boys. The boys told them what a great camp it was, how much they had learned while they were here, how great the wilderness trips were, and how, despite the fact that he tells terrible jokes, their camp director did a pretty good job! (I promise to work on my stand-up routine in the off-season so that the kids will not be forced to equivocate during the next ACA visit…)
On one level it was a little embarrassing. I mean, the inspectors were here to look at the nitty gritty, not the esoteric touchy feely things that the boys were intent on sharing with them. Still, every time a boy came up, the inspectors politely listened and thanked them for sharing their thoughts. I am betting it lengthened our walk by a full hour!
On another level, it was humbling and moving to hear from all those kids. They clearly felt like camp was something really important and something that they were going to protect. And so they did…..kid after kid after kid after kid.
For those of you keeping score at home: Camp Nebagamon passed every single one of the 300 separate standards. A rare feat in the camping world….
All is well in the North Woods….