A Journey of Inspiration and Connection: Mid-America Camping Conference (MACC)

By Viktor Iliev

I will begin with my profound gratitude to the YMCA of the USA for extending an invitation to join an international cohort at the Mid-America Camping Conference (MACC). This gathering transcended conventional expectations, evolving into an immersive experience alongside my colleagues from Kosovo, Romania, Spain, Ukraine, Aruba, Puerto Rico, Colombia, and Brazil. The YMCA of the USA’s commendable approach not only showcased their exemplary camp culture but also facilitated a global exchange of best practices. This collaborative endeavor added a distinctive international perspective, fostering connections across the Atlantic for the betterment of all engaged in youth development through outdoor education and camping.

My trip began with a day delay due to flight cancellations, but I arrived in Omaha, Nebraska, and spent the night at Camp Kitaki. Although I missed the official camp tour, the next day’s exploration left an indelible impression of Camp Kitaki as a transformative outdoor haven, dedicated to youth development and experiential learning. The Camp Director, Jason, at a recent event eloquently captured the power of camp in a compelling video, encapsulating the essence of outdoor education.

Our journey continued to Des Moines Y Camp in Iowa, where the entrance gate proclaimed, “The Closest Place to Heaven on Earth.” We were welcomed by the Camp Director Alex who took us to the camp tour. This camp had so many things to present and so many aspects of camp operations that almost left me speechless. Witnessing the camp’s extensive history, Alex’s remarkable projects, and the overwhelming support from Camp Alumni spoke volumes about the camp’s impact.

At our next stop, Camp Duncan located in the State of Illinois hosted by one of our amazing hosts, the Camp Director Bobby, I felt with a sense that we go to pre-known place. The reason for that is that as we traveled from one state to another, after the long talks while traveling so we had insights into camp operations that were seamlessly intertwined with a sense of familiarity. Amazingly to see, but he and several of the camp staff lived at the campsite. With a picturesque lake and diverse outdoor activities, Camp Duncan stood as a testament to the multifaceted experiences it offer.

A special interlude from camp activities led us to Chicago Downtown, culminating in a visit to the headquarters of the YMCA of the USA. Meeting the dedicated team, led by the hospitable Adriana, reinforced our view of the organization’s impact and commitment to its core values. By the end of our journey, we witnessed how she and her team members of this amazing pre-conference tour don’t just talk about the YMCA core values (Respect, Responsibility, Honesty and Caring), but incorporate them in their own lives and act upon them. For a random organization is easy to state whatever mission and vision, but we were not at a random organization. YMCA of the USA is an organization like no other. Giving kids a great start. Helping families stay healthy. Inspiring communities to work together. That’s the YMCA.

Our journey reached its pinnacle in Michigan at the Sherman Lake YMCA , where the MACC unfolded as the main event. The conference hosting about 250 camp professionals from across the United States and worldwide, showcased a unique blend of individuals at various stages of their camping careers. Experience, knowledge, and passion are abundant at this conference.

With three exceptional keynote speakers, diverse interest sessions selected according to our personal preferences, round tables, reflections, recreation and networking opportunities, the conference left an indelible mark on me. I must admit that I was blown by the generous offer of interest sessions and struggled to decide what to prioritize. One thing that here is done in a unique way from what I have been used to and seen before, is the unique opportunity to create a customized personal interest session schedule. The way to value people’s time is this!

One of the core areas of impact of the YMCA of the USA is Social Responsibility. These are not just two fancy words, but words to which YMCA gives them an essence by demonstration. In addition to each MACC conference, there is a fundraising event for a cause selected every year that receives all the funds raised. This year MACC Service Auction is in supporting the Maui Family YMCA’s ongoing efforts to rebuild and uplift the community after the Lahaina fires. I was amazed to experience the culture of philanthropy and social responsibility via the silent auction and service live auction where people donate items from their own YMCA or country such as branded materials, t-shirts, products or artwork from children’s camps, etc. to contribute to the auction and people bid for best offers. Philanthropy and entertainment at the same time. And the best part at the end – the conference was supported by many corporate donors. When people step in and contribute to a cause, you create a community. We have a lot to learn from this!

And what a nice way to finish our journey by visiting our supportive host Thomas who along with the dedicated team at the Flint YMCA warmly welcomed us. We explored the place and its programs and discussed its best practices, the opportunities it offers so they are a truly community organization where people feel they belong. The final stop was at YMCA Camp Copneconic where despite the snowy and cold weather offered a captivating tour and an afternoon reflection on our collective experiences.

Our group covered a distance of 1180 km, roughly the distance from Bitola to Vienna. I extend my best wishes to all fellow travelers in implementing the invaluable insights gained during this remarkable journey.