RapidChat: Kelley Freridge on developing leadership skills in children through summer camp

From a very young age, Kelley Freridge had a knack for the great outdoors. "My parents always said that when I was six, I announced that I was going to camp. That's where I learned that 1+1=3." After a decade of working within the outdoor industry, Kelley finds herself back within the space that once brought her such joy — operating as Chief Marketing Officer at the American Camping Association.
 
From a very young age, Kelley Freridge had a knack for the great outdoors. "My parents always said that when I was six, I announced that I was going to camp. That's where I learned that 1+1=3." After a decade of working within the outdoor industry, Kelley finds herself back within the space that once brought her such joy — operating as Chief Marketing Officer at the American Camping Association.
Rapid Growth: What first sparked your passion for the great outdoors?

Kelley Freridge: My parents always said that when I was six, I announced that I was going to camp — so I attended Van Buren Youth Camp. That’s where I learned that 1+1= 3. 

RG: Why Van Buren Youth Camp?

KF: VanBuren is a classic Americana Camp — with archery, bonfires, and folks dancing every Sunday night. It’s also an incredibly approachable program. They keep pricing within a range that is affordable. They can do that because donors continue to invest in the program so that kids from every background can attend.

RG: What about summer camp was so special?

KF: Summer camp is a magical experience. They really focus in on developing a leadership skill set in children — in addition to teaching communication skills and encouraging them to explore ideas outside of their comfort zone. As a kid, it’s a really exceptional experience. I cannot recommend summer camps enough.

RG: How did you begin to find your passion within this space?

KF: I went to school for human geography, but I have a minor in outdoor education. Before I committed to this path, I mentioned to my family “Mom, Dad, I think I need to do this.” They said it was like the same thing — when I was six and announced I was going to camp. 

A lot of college students do their semester programs, but I did a full semester at The National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) while I was in college at Utah. I was outdoors for just under five months. It was an education that has been incredibly beneficial throughout my career. If you are pursuing a career in this industry… I can't recommend NOLS enough. They are a great educator in this.

RG: What was your first job within the outdoor industry?

KF: After I wrapped up with NOLS, I walked into the the old Eastern Outdoor store on 28th street. I was a sales person that quickly moved into management; it was a really rewarding experience. I was in person, helping families with the planning of a trip. I really enjoyed getting to know the people who walked through our doors. Folks that get outside regularly are really happy people.

RG: How much truth is there to the “gender gap” within the outdoor industry?

KF: It is real and the disparity is shown. Camber Outdoors launched research in January 2019 around workplace discrimination and sexual harassment within outdoor industries.

From the study, we know about five areas that represent potential hurdles: workplace values; leadership and advancement opportunities; balancing family and career; equity in compensation; and discrimination and sexual harassment. 

RG: Why do you believe that outdoor experience is an essential part of developing tomorrow’s leaders?

KF: The American Camping Association (ACA) just wrapped up phase two of the research on our Camper Impact Study. Within the preliminary findings, we found that relationship skills, appreciation for living in the moment, and the willingness to try new things are the most lasting skills campers develop after attending a summer session. We found that 74 percent of campers did things that they were afraid to do at first!

RG: What led you to your newest role with the ACA?

KF: I have been on the American Camping Association’s National Board of Directors for the past few years. When the opportunity for the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) came about, I took one of my friends to lunch to pitch the opportunity to him. At the end of the lunch, the tables ended up being turned; he said that I need to apply for the job. “I never heard you talk about something so passionately.” 

The reality is, I would never work for a non-profit; I consider myself a brand builder. Now I am just building the brand for an organization. The ACA opportunity brought my career full circle.

RG: If parents are curious about sending their children to summer camp, what’s your recommended first step?

KF: First you need to address what you looking for your child to get out of an experience in camp — because there are a million different types of camps. Ask your kid what they’re interested in; a lot of parents don't know about the opportunities. A big part of my role is to bring awareness to what’s available. 

The ACA has a really great ‘find-a-camp’ tool where you can find the best camps in your area. Find the place best suited. Get them signed up. It’s an amazing opportunity. The investment will make a difference in the lifetime of child. 

Jenna K. Morton is the RapidChat correspondent for Rapid Growth Media.

Images courtesy Kelley Freridge.
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