Meet Emily Walden, Outdoor Education and Events Director

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Help us welcome Emily Walden to Camp Wood YMCA. Emily began as our Events and Outdoor Education Director in September and has been working hard to meet the needs of our special groups, schools and visitors this fall. Learn a little more about Emily below.

What are your experiences with Camp Wood YMCA so far? What made you want to join the Camp Wood family after having attended and worked at Iowa’s YMCA Camp Foster?

The staff at Camp Wood has been very friendly and very willing to help me feel at home here. Camp Wood puts a lot of effort into making sure everyone--campers, guest and staff alike--are all receiving the best experience they can while at camp.

(Regarding YMCA Camp Foster…) I wanted to get out of my comfort zone both in proximity to home and the type of summer programming that I am used to. Camp Wood seemed like a good fit for where I was in my life.

What impact has the outdoors and camping made on your life?

Summer camp gave me the confidence to be the person I never thought I could be. My passion, my drive, and my sense of humor is all thanks to the experience I got while attending camp as a child.

What experience with outdoor education and events do you bring to Camp Wood YMCA? How will this help you in your new position as Outdoor Education and Events Director here?

I went to school to be a teacher and have spent the past six summers in the camping world. I know that my love for camp and wanting to spread my passion to others will help me serve our groups here at Camp Wood. Also, I am someone that is open to new experiences and always thinking of ways to make things better for everyone involved.

Why is outdoor education important for kids today?

In outdoor education, we have the opportunity to educate kids in a way they are not used to. Taking kids out of the classroom and letting them experience nature hands-on is so important. I feel like kids learn more when they are having fun and don’t realize that they are learning. At camp, we have the ability to show kids how amazing the outdoors is, and in turn, hopefully inspire them to help to take care of where we live.

How does the group season and the experiences Camp Wood offers support our mission?

We have the opportunity to bring in not only kids, but adults and families, from all different organizations and places and provide them with programming within our values. Our group season is a great way to provide programming for both those in our surrounding community and those beyond it.

When not working, what are some of your hobbies or interests?

My family is very important to me, so traveling to visit them or just catching up with them is important to me. I also enjoy exploring towns around me. Every place you are, there are always hidden treasures, and I love finding them. Also, I grew up as an avid runner and I still enjoy doing that.

We asked Emily for some of her favorite quotes and says she believes we can learn a lot about ourselves from passages or quotes or poems. Explore a few of her favorites below.

Thanks, Emily! We're so excited to have you as a part of the Camp Wood YMCA family. If you'd like to talk with Emily about Camp Wood's outdoor education or event needs, give her a call at (620) 273-8641 or email her at

Summer 2017 is one for the record books!


What a great summer at Camp Wood YMCA! As we say goodbye to summer and gear up for our fall outdoor education season, enjoy this reflection by BJ Murray, our Senior Operations Director, on all the ways 2017 was a special year at Camp Wood YMCA.

This summer was certainly one for the books. In just Traditional Camp sessions alone, we grew by over 100 campers since last summer! If you include weeks like Camp Corral and special groups that joined us this summer, we served 260 more campers. In fact, a quick look at our camper numbers shows 2017 may have been Camp Wood YMCA’s best year in history.

It felt great to be so busy and welcome so many new and returning faces. We had waiting lists for every session this summer but one and if we thought this summer was a great one, next summer is already showing signs that it will be an even bigger year. At this point, we have more than twice the pre-registrations we had last year—with nearly 300 families who have already reserved their child’s spot for 2018. If you haven’t pre-registered your child yet, we strongly encourage you to do so by October 1, 2017. Learn more about the benefits of pre-registration.


Of course, record camper numbers are exciting because it means we’re sharing the magic of summer camp with more kids. But this summer was impressive in ways beyond mere numbers. Our amazing staff worked really hard to make a bigger-than-ever impact on the lives of our campers through well-designed programs and supportive relationships. And every week at closing campfire, the fruits of our labor were on display. We’ve added a “hug circle” to the closing ceremony during which the staff take a moment to hug each camper and tell them how special they are.  It’s a nice chance to cement the confidence and friendships gained through the week, but it also serves as a very visible measure of the impact we had on each camper. The emotions and tears on display show us whether or not we reached this particular group of campers. Most Friday night hug circles were drenched in tears and the faces of campers revealed how much they’d gained during the camp experience. Good-byes between campers and counselors on Saturdays were similarly emotional. These staff and campers changed one another’s lives and it’s a beautiful thing to witness.

Some may assume that the impressive numbers and emotional good-byes were all due to some incredible new program or amazing facilities that we built here at camp. But, the truth is, it came from focusing on something less glamourous and expensive, it came from a commitment to foster good, old-fashioned friendships. We committed to teaching our campers how to make and keep authentic, supportive relationships with other kids. It’s a skill often left behind in today’s ironically social media-focused world. It is these friendships that formed the foundation for this summer’s success. This focus on friendships is a long-term goal here at camp and one we hope to make gains towards each summer. I’m happy to report that virtually every 2017 camper reported on their evaluations that they made new friends.


In addition to the new and stronger friendships our campers built together, they also shared some really important insights into why camp is a special place for so many of them. Comments like “I can be my true self” or “At school, I often get bullied--but at camp I have people that care for me” surfaced on camper surveys again and again. For the kids in our program this summer, camp offered a model for how the world should be. It showed that character and caring for one another is more important than race, creed, financial status, grades, athletic abilities, artistic talent or any other label. What a lovely seed to plant in the hearts of these young people as they look to create a future for us all.

With the impressive growth we experienced this summer, we now face a new challenge. How do we continue to grow, yet maintain the small and intimate summer camp experience that Camp Wood YMCA is known for? This is one of the first questions we are tackling this fall. Of course, we will continue to focus on friendship building in the years to come. We will also continue to develop our programming so that no matter how many campers join us each week, they’ll have fun, learn new skills and build character. It’s an exciting challenge and one we’re thankful to have as we begin our second century of camping. Indeed, the 2017 summer season was a great one, but it is just the beginning for Camp Wood YMCA and the children and families we serve. Thank you so much for sharing in this adventure with us and making 2017 such a banner year. We look forward to many more to come. 

A re-vamped camp store!

We are excited to announce the launch of our re-vamped Camp Wood Store! Our mission is to provide a choice of merchandise and snacks for campers and families to purchase while staying with us. We want to support children in learning to manage funds and make positive choices when purchasing items.

Campers will be able to visit the store at several times during the day. The store will typically be open before lunch (Brunch Crunch) and before dinner (Grub Club). Also, campers may visit the store with their cabin groups during the afternoon activity period.

Our snack choices are in line with the YMCA mission of healthy living. Typical choices are: 100% juice boxes, string cheese, pretzels, fruit snacks, and goldfish crackers. We also want to offer some special treats so most afternoons will have an additional offering such as popcorn or sno-cones. Snack prices vary from $0.25 to $1.00. We suggest $5-$15 for the week for snacks.

Our merchandise includes Camp Wood YMCA swag such as shirts, sweatshirts, Nalgene water bottles and pennants. We also carry an assortment of items useful to have at camp such as flashlights, toothbrushes, journals, stuffed animals, hacky sacks and sunglasses. Most merchandise ranges from $3.00-$10.00. Camp shirts and sweatshirts range in price from $15-$30.  If you would like your child to purchase merchandise while they are here, we suggest placing $15-$30 on your child’s account.

At check in on Sunday you may place funds on your camper’s account. Money not spent will not be returned but will be rolled over to future 2017 weeks. Any unspent funds at the end of the summer will be donated to our scholarship account, which helps kids attend camp who could otherwise not afford to go. The camp store will be open during check out on so you may use the remaining funds on your child’s account at that point. Campers may not carry cash with them while at camp.

If you have questions about the camp store, please feel free to contact us at (620) 273-8641 or

"Homesick and Happy": how experiencing and overcoming homesickness can empower your child

BJ Murray, Senior Operations Director, and his wife, Stephanie, are raising their daughter and son at Camp Wood YMCA. Despite living at camp, they still worried about homesickness with their kids' first experience as summer campers in 2016.

BJ Murray, Senior Operations Director, and his wife, Stephanie, are raising their daughter and son at Camp Wood YMCA. Despite living at camp, they still worried about homesickness with their kids' first experience as summer campers in 2016.

By BJ Murray

BJ Murray, Senior Operations Director at Camp Wood YMCA, shares a few tips for parents worried about how homesickness may affect their child’s summer camp experience.

Sending your child to camp can be hard. Believe me, I get it. I have two young children of my own that I sent them to overnight camp for the first time last year. And even though it was here at Camp Wood YMCA, it was really hard. Their mother and I were nervous and we missed them.

The thing is, I live on-site. Our kids’ cabins were only three hundred yards from where they sleep every night. What’s more, I know all of the staff really well. I even helped train them myself. I walk camp every day and have intimate knowledge of every program. I even certify all of our ropes staff. But, to be honest, I was never really worried about our kids’ safety or how the staff were going to act. I was more worried about homesickness.

I worried about my little boy and how he would do sleeping in a place that was not just across the house from his mother and I. I worried about my daughter feeling lonely since she deals with a certain level of social anxiety. Even as kids growing up at camp, we were worried they would still get homesick (even if they were staying close to home). In fact, we feared being able to see our family home from their cabins could actually make homesickness worse than if they were from some distant town.

So, when their session ended, I asked them if they’d been homesick. They both admitted that they had. They missed their mother, they missed Einstein the dog, Elfaba the cat, and they even missed me. They had times where they felt uncomfortable, where they were having to step out of their comfort zones to meet and live with totally new people. To tell you the truth, I am glad they missed me. Afterall, homesickness means they love and long for their family. However, despite being homesick, I was so proud that they made it through those tough feelings. I was thankful they had a chance to grow up some and become more independent. I was glad that they had the chance to work through the emotions of homesickness and to find out for themselves that at the end of the day, they can do things without mom and dad there. Many campers grow through the experience of homesickness just like ours did. It ends up being one of the best things you can do for your child as a parent--letting them go away for a bit to learn to do life on their own.

“Homesick and Happy”—a good read for anxious parents

I recently read a book all about homesickness called “Homesick and Happy” by Michael Thompson. I highly recommend it for parents who are thinking about sending their child to camp. I will warn you, there are some parts that he uses some not so camp-friendly words (but does so in context) and takes on some subjects that are more than I expected. But the book is excellent. Thompson talks about many of the benefits of camp, but mainly focuses how being away from home can be good for both camper AND parent. As a camp professional, I loved what he had to say. But as a parent, there were parts that made me take a hard look at how I raise my kids.

Throughout the book, Thompson focuses on how one of most important benefits of camp is independence.

 “Every child has to practice being independent and every parent has to practice letting his or her child be independent. Independence is like high jumping. You can’t clear the bar from a standing position. You have to run and jump and sometimes fail, then move the bar up and run and jump again. Over and over. As the parent, you have to watch them do it; you wince when they hit the bar, but you cannot do it for them and, unlike the SATs, you can’t arrange to have a tutor suddenly make it happen. Only the child can do it.”

In my experience at camps over the years, this is so true! It’s hard for parents to know their child may become homesick, but in the end, camp builds independence better than nearly any institution or experience out there. It allows them to face difficult feelings like homesickness or discomfort, and work through them in a completely safe environment. In fact 97% of camp children will report feeling homesick at some point during their stay (and my guess is the 3% who don’t are not being completely honest).

Don't worry about us, mom and dad! We're having fun and making friends!

Don't worry about us, mom and dad! We're having fun and making friends!

Preparing for homesickness and beating it.

Knowing how many campers will deal with homesickness, our staff work really hard to help our campers through it. Sometimes, the homesickness gets overwhelming and a deeply homesick child will begin to affect other campers in their cabin. In that case, the child may not quite be ready for camp and they may return home at some point during the week.  But this happens very rarely. In fact, most kids experience a brief bout of homesickness in the first day or so and then overcome it as they form friendships, have fun and begin to feel comfortable. The kids who stick it out despite feeling a little homesick are proud of beating it by the end of the week. They’ve learned that they can turn difficult feelings around and have a good time—growing in confidence and independence in the process.

Is your child going experience homesickness at camp? Probably. So what is a parent to do? Here is what Thompson recommends:

Have confidence in your camper’s ability to handle the challenge of being away.

  • If your child sees doubt in your face or in your words, they will increase the doubts they may already be feeling. Let them share their worries but reassure them of your confidence that they are capable of overcoming those fears.

Talk to your child about the possibility of homesickness.

  • Remain positive. Homesickness is just a sign they love and miss their family. It’s completely natural!

  • If you avoid talking about homesickness, your child won’t know that others have dealt with it and overcome it.

Arrange for your child to practice being away from home before camp starts.

  • Friends, aunts, grandparents – give them small steps to try being away from you. They’ll experience homesickness and learn how to push through it.

Let your child be a part of pre-camp preparations so they feel in control of the process.

  • Fill out paperwork with them and let them tell camp about themselves--what they like, what they don’t. This information is not only useful to camp staff as we prepare to welcome your child, it’s helpful for your child to think about how they will need to communicate their needs on their own during their time at camp.

  • Go through the list of skill builders (electives offered each week) and let them choose which ones they’re interested in. It may change when they get here, but at least they’ve thought through making their own choices and what skills they’d like to learn while at camp.

Visit the camp together.

  • Go to the camp’s Open House (Ours is Saturday, May 6th from 1-5 pm!). If you can’t attend the Open House, arrange a visit for just your family. We love to meet the campers and we have staff onsite at all times, so we are more than happy to give you a tour. Seeing the cabins, restrooms and dining hall help to relive a lot of camper concerns (where will I sleep, get dressed, shower, etc.).

These tips will all help to prepare your child for camp and the inevitable homesickness. But the biggest thing you can do for your child is let them overcome it. Give your child the chance to experience homesickness, to try something new even when they are nervous, to feel difficult feelings and to beat those feelings. Tell them how much you believe in them, giving them encouragement to attend and enjoy camp. It may be a new experience for you both—but it’s a valuable one. Your child will grow in confidence and independence and as a parent, you’ll get the joy of watching them grow new wings and soar.

So, one last question. What to do for the parent who is “kidsick” while the child is away? It’s a real thing, I promise. Of course, missing your child is a very good sign—we love them and love being witness to their adventures and triumphs. But while they’re at camp, we don’t get a daily check-in beyond spotting them in the daily photos posted to camp’s Facebook page.

I’d suggest that you enjoy your child’s time away. They are likely having a blast at camp and are in safe hands. Take time for yourself so when your child returns home, you’re refreshed and excited to hear about their adventures. Go on a date, catch up on Netflix, sleep in, go to a movie, relish the quiet. That freedom while your child is at camp, can be as beneficial to you as it is for your child. Enjoy it!

If you have any more questions about homesickness and how we work with children to conquer it, give us a call anytime. Our staff will be happy to answer your questions and help you take the important step of encouraging your child’s independence at summer camp. (620) 273-8641

Fire in the Flint Hills

Every spring, Camp Wood YMCA sets as much of our land on fire as possible. And yes, it's on purpose. This spring tradition of burning is vital to the health and preservation of the Tallgrass Prairie that covers camp's property in the Flint Hills. Our Outdoor Education and Events Director, Katey, created this short video to show what a prairie burn looks like. (Note: We don't usually burn at night unless it's absolutely necessary, but when a night burn happens, it's especially impressive to watch the flames move across the hills!)

The video does a great job illustrating that though fire seems like a harsh treatment of the land, it actually sets the stage for improved spring growth of native grasses and flowers. The fire also kills invasive woody species, like cedars. You can see the extent of the burning at camp in the aerial photos below, taken by board member, Ivan Moore.

From the hill to your left as you drive into camp, to the land beyond the horse barn and surrounding the new Preston Outdoor Education Station, to the hill across the lake where you can still see the names of campers' towns put there in stone early in camp's history--we burn a lot of camp's property. The areas closest to most of our buildings are not burned (for obvious reasons) but we do mow those areas.

From the hill to your left as you drive into camp, to the land beyond the horse barn and surrounding the new Preston Outdoor Education Station, to the hill across the lake where you can still see the names of campers' towns put there in stone early in camp's history--we burn a lot of camp's property. The areas closest to most of our buildings are not burned (for obvious reasons) but we do mow those areas.

From this angle, you can see the hillsides facing the lake that were burned, revealing the rocky underlayment that the Flint Hills are known for.

From this angle, you can see the hillsides facing the lake that were burned, revealing the rocky underlayment that the Flint Hills are known for.

Want to learn more about how the Tallgrass Prairie landscape and the forces that shape it affect the camper experience? Read about the Tallgrass Prairie and Camp Wood YMCA.