Exciting changes coming this summer!

By B.J. Murray, Senior Operations Director

In looking at this upcoming summer, we wanted to make the best use of our schedule so campers can get the most out of camp and so we can make a positive impact in camper lives. We also want to maximize the skills of our staff and allow them to share their interests and enthusiasm with campers in their care. Therefore, we decided to make a few changes to the summer schedule. Below is a quick list of some of the changes, as well as a quick explanation of each.

  • Check-in is more welcoming. Before a camper gets to their cabin, they will interact with at least seven staff, including year-round, full-time staff. This gives both campers and parents the chance to meet staff and feel comfortable with them. It also sets the tone for the engaged, enthusiastic staff interactions we want each camper to experience every day they’re here at camp. Plus, more staff helping get campers checked-in, means a shorter, smoother check-in process.
  • Sundays are more active. Instead of orientation (i.e. sitting), we’ll kick off the week with all-camp games on Sunday. Don’t worry, campers will still learn all the rules and traditions—just in a more interactive way. We’ve also built in more friendship-building time through cabin activities and getting-to-know-you games. Another change…we’ve moved swim tests to Monday morning--because who wants to get into a swimsuit and take a test first thing Sunday?! Ultimately, we want kids to have fun and get to know one another so that they expend any nervous energy and feel more comfortable on the first day at camp.
  • Skillbuilders are getting a makeover. We really looked over our Skillbuilders (morning programs, like archery or canoeing, that campers focus on for the week), and have added to or reworked the curriculum. By doing so, campers will have more fun, feel a greater level of achievement and will feel like they can learn something new in that skill area year after year.

  • Afternoons are more open. Each week, every cabin is scheduled for daily swim time, a horse ride and a chance to climb the tower. Beyond those activities, each cabin schedules their afternoons themselves. This allows for creativity and flexibility of the cabin staff and their campers to build the experiences they want into each day. So, if you have a group of young campers who love Arts & Crafts, their counselor can sign them up to go more than just once. Or, if you have an especially adventurous group, they can go climbing more than once. Or, if you have a cabin of teens, they and their counselors can go exploring the creeks and hills, doing what teens love best (talking and having adventures).

Another new feature is a “free-play” session before dinner. During this time, campers can play Gaga, Frisbee, soccer, basketball or a selection of other quad-based activities together. It’s a chance for them to visit with their new friends and decide what they want to do for themselves. Staff will be around to supervise all the activities and keep everyone safe—but campers will be free to move from one activity to the next as they choose.

  • We'll engage with parents more during the week. We understand it can be hard to leave your child in the trust of someone else and not see them for a week. You usually end up missing them quite a bit! Therefore, we want to fill that hole through more communication. So, a small selection of daily photos will be posted for you to see, e-mails will let you know what’s happening at camp (if there was a storm or we have an especially great story to share), and we’ll give you access to camp through a strong presence on social media (Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter). We can’t guarantee a picture of your child will be posted every day (afterall, we want them playing, not worrying about pictures) but, we can guarantee you’ll feel like you know what’s going on at camp between drop-off Sunday and pick-up Saturday.

We are excited about these changes for Summer 2016 and although it may seem like a lot of changes, they are really just tweaks to our already strong line-up of summer programs. We continue to hire only the very best staff and train them to be the best versions of themselves. We continue to offer strong programs and make every activity fun and engaging for our campers. We continue to be known as a place to build strong friendships, grow in confidence and try new things. Camp Wood YMCA will always be these things. We just want to be sure our 100th summer is the best one yet!  

Meet: B.J. Murray, new Senior Operations Director at camp

I am very excited to have found someone with so much experience and who has a heart for YMCA camping. Camp Wood YMCA will benefit from B.J.’s heart and his knowledge.
— Ken Wold, Executive Director

Camp Wood YMCA is growing—what a blessing as we enter our 100th summer! Camp’s growth means that our year-round staff team is growing as well.

This year, we are happy to welcome B.J. Murray into the newly created Senior Operations Director position. B.J. and will oversee the complex logistics of Camp Wood’s summer camps and year-round retreat programs, ensuring that they all run smoothly and meet the needs of our campers and families. He will work closely with Executive Director, Ken Wold, and other staff to make sure Camp Wood starts its second century of service just as strong as it began its first.  

We are excited about the experience and enthusiasm he brings to this position. B.J. brings with him his wife, Stephanie, and their two children, Callen and Will. When you see them this summer, be sure to welcome them to the Camp Wood YMCA family!

Welcome to Camp Wood YMCA! What do you think of your new home and workplace so far?

Camp Wood is beautiful. I am very impressed with the facilities and with the sense of joy I find on camp. In meeting the full-time staff team, I have found them to be warm, kind, and inviting and am very excited to join them in continuing the tradition of Camp Wood excellence. The landscape is very different than previous camps I have been involved with, but it may also be one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. 

Tell us about your background in camping and how summer camp has impacted your life.

My entire adult life has been spent in camping.  I started as a summer camp counselor in 1999 and never really left camping. I moved from Camp Counselor to Program Director, to Summer Camp Program Director and even three summers as an Executive Director. I have done just about everything in camping from plunging toilets to wrangling horses to building climbing towers to writing budgets and running annual campaigns.

I love camping. Camp has never been a job for me, but a way of life. I have grown my family through camp, and have gained some of my greatest mentors and friends through camping. Camp has made me want to strive to be a better person on a daily basis and to live out the virtues and character values of camp in every part of my life.

What do you think the Camp Wood YMCA experience offers children and teens today?

Children can find themselves and be themselves while at camp. Outside of camp, they may be the super sporty kid, but at camp they become the artsy kid, or vice versa. Also, at camp it doesn’t matter if your family is well-off or if you are on a full scholarship, those same two kids will share a bunk. It is awesome to see how you can take total strangers and create a family. I have seen alumni from camps who are still friends after 10, 20, even 50 plus years because of the experiences they shared at camp together. Camp does that like no other institution out there.

We're not only welcoming you to camp--your family has moved here with you. Tell us a bit about them.

My family is a camp family. We love the outdoors, and love being a part of camp. Our 2 kids love the freedom of camp and of not having fences. They also love that they find friends from all over the world. My wife loves that we are in a place surrounded by role models who we want our own children to grow up to be just like. 

Tell us a few more things about yourself.

Best Movies…Cinderella Man, Braveheart or Good Will Hunting

Favorite Books…The Bible

Hobbies…Time with family and friends; reading; movies; golf; exercising; taking out the kayak; just being outdoors. 

Good quotes…”Doing the impossible is kind of fun.” – Walt Disney


Is there anything else you want to say to Camp Wood campers, families and supporters?

There are few things in life I believe in more than the power of camp. Camp is a special place for children and families, and I cannot wait to be a part of the Camp Wood YMCA family and culture. 

Thanks, B.J.! We're excited to welcome you to camp!

Making time for summer camp

When we called 11 year-old, Lucia, she was very excited to talk to us about her experiences at Camp Wood YMCA. She is returning this summer for 4 weeks and we’re thrilled to have her enthusiasm back at camp! We also spoke with her mother, Noelle, about why they make camp a priority each summer.

Lucia (2nd from left) and her cabin mates waiting for evening campfire to start.

Lucia (2nd from left) and her cabin mates waiting for evening campfire to start.

Lucia’s first year as a camper

Lucia’s mother, Noelle, initially chose to send her daughter to Camp Wood YMCA because she knew the YMCA’s reputation and trusted that it would be a good, safe camp for her young daughter. She was right. “During her first year, she got really attached,” reflects Noelle. When Lucia returned home after her first camp session, she couldn’t stop talking about the experience. The next year she signed up for 2 weeks at camp.

What keeps Lucia coming back each year?

Lucia shares that her favorite things about camp, the things that keep her coming back year after year, include “new friends, good counselors and all the fun activities!” Friendship especially has become an important reason to return. During her second summer, she became good friends with two girls in her cabin. After summer ended, Noelle shared that the girls all wrote letters back and forth to stay in touch. Later, they worked with their parents to choose which sessions they would all attend the following year. The girls look forward to reuniting as friends at camp each year.

Waiting for summer

For kids who love camp, waiting for summer to arrive can be difficult. “Lucia talks all year about it,” shares her mother, Noelle, “and keeps asking to come back.” This year, Lucia is excited to build her horsemanship skills during several sessions of Basic Horse Camp. Her final session of summer, Advanced Horse Camp, will be the culmination of all her hard work and learning during the 3 previous weeks spent up at the barn. In addition to friendships, this skill-building and increased confidence are what summer camp is all about.  

Many thanks to Lucia and her mother, Noelle, for sharing their Camp Wood story. We’re so glad Lucia is coming back for another summer! Returning campers always bring a special enthusiasm and spirit to their sessions.

Are you a returning campers who hasn’t registered yet? Sessions are filling up fast—especially horse and leadership camps. Sign up soon to guarantee your place in 2016!

Building friendships that last

Kat and Becca first met as young girls at Camp Wood YMCA. Their friendship grew every summer as cabin-mates and later, as college roommates at the University of Kansas. This summer, they’ll work alongside one another as staff members—mentoring young campers and encouraging friendships to blossom--just like theirs did so many years ago. Below, Kat shares some of her memories and thoughts about this special camp friendship.

A shared cabin turns strangers into friends

In an age when most children don’t have to share a bedroom with even one sibling, the summer camp experience of sharing sleeping space with 9 other people is often a totally new and challenging experience. But it’s an experience that lends itself well to engaging face to face with fellow campers and often results in the bonds of friendship. For Kat and Becca, the friendship they forged in camp’s little red cabins as young campers is still going strong today.

“Our first year in a cabin together was extra special, we were a crazy group of girls and we all had an amazing time together--although I have no idea how my counselor was able to handle us because we really were little energizer bunnies. The girls in that cabin were probably the coolest people I have ever met,” remembers Kat. “I had no idea what my next cabin would be like without them, but much to our surprise, Becca and I were put in the same cabin yet again the following year.”

The following summer, worried that a change in her summer schedule had ruined the girls’ chances of sharing a cabin again, Kat arrived at camp thinking she had missed her chance to see Becca. “But by some miracle from the camp gods, who was sitting on their bunk when I walked in?” recalls Kat, “none other than Becca!”

That week, the girls attended Horse Camp together and bonded during buddy checks down at the waterfront. “From that summer on we were inseparable. It started out as just two little girls who just knew how to make each other laugh and it was like that for a while, and then somewhere along the way, we realized that we had become best friends and there was no going back.”

Taking their “camp friendship” to college.

The challenge of many camp friendships is separation during the school year. Most campers in a cabin don’t attend the same schools or even live in the same cities. This was true for Kat and Becca. “Over the years we didn’t really talk that much outside of camp. But every summer when we were reunited it was as if we never left each other.”  When both girls decided to attend KU their senior year of high school, they realized that since they’d gotten along so well sharing a camp cabin through the years, they would probably be pretty good college roommates. They were right.

In their dorm room at KU, the two friends pushed their bunkbeds together—just like they’d been at camp. “She is my person,” declares Kat. “I have other friends that I have known for equally as long, if not longer, but somehow our relationship is still nothing in comparison to that with Bex [Becca].” Reflecting on why this “camp friendship” is so strong, Kat added, “I think that maybe it is because people really are who they want to be at camp and we got to help each other figure out who that person was for each of us.” 

Passing friendship on to the next generation of campers

In 2016, Kat and Becca will both return to Camp Wood YMCA as members of our summer staff. Kat, as Program Director, and Becca as Assistant Program Director. Kat is excited to help this year's campers forge their own special friendships. “As staff members now, it is fun to look at the friendships that arise between the kids and it warms my heart to think that they are currently finding their very own 'Beccas' and maybe someday they will be in our same position.”

At Camp Wood YMCA, friendships like Kat and Becca’s are not uncommon. Many alumni remain in contact with their camp friends long after they age out of camp or move away. In fact, every spring, alumni return to camp for an Alumni Reunion during which they get a chance to visit with old camp friends and relive happy memories together. This year, the Alumni Reunion coincides with our Centennial Celebration and Open House on Saturday, May 7th from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Everyone is welcome to this event, even if you’ve never been to Camp Wood before. Come and make a new friend or two! Learn more about the Centennial Celebration and Open House.

Campers come to camp as strangers and they leave as a family with memories and experiences they will always share.
— Kat, former camper and 2016 Program Director

Why I come back to camp: to find my favorite self

As a staff member, now I go back for my kids because in every Camp Wood kiddo there’s a “Kat” and I want to help them find their favorite self and learn to not be afraid to express it.

When we asked returning staff member, “Kat”, why she keeps coming back to Camp Wood, she offered some touching insights on why summer camp has been important to her since she was only 6 years-old.

I began my days at Camp Wood YMCA when I was six years old and by the end of my first week I knew I would never be able to stay away. I came back at first for silly things like the horses and the mud hikes but it wasn’t until my third year when I came back and campers and staff started recognizing me that I realized that I had created a name for myself…literally. I had decided to try out a nickname one summer when there were multiple “Katies” in my cabin and so I had to go by “Kat” to make it less confusing and it stuck-- really well.

There was a nice ring to it and I began to see that “Kat” could be whoever she wanted. No one knew me at camp. They didn’t know where I came from or what I was like at school.  I got to reinvent myself and find the things that really made me happy. It was out in the middle of the Flint Hills, away from the pressures of friends, family, and school that I found myself--and every summer when I returned, “Kat” was there and I uncovered something new about her. She was so cool, she ate spaghetti with her face and climbed up to the top of a 50 foot tower without batting an eyelash, and she held snakes and horn toads and she laughed….boy did she laugh all the time. Every minute at camp was giggles and laughter and silliness and it was true happiness. Camp gave me confidence in my own skin, which is something that is hard to find sometimes, and for that I will be forever grateful.

When I finished my last summer as a camper I felt that camp had given me everything it could and it was now my turn to give back.  Little did I know that camp never ceases to change you and inspire you. As a staff member, now I go back for my kids because in every Camp Wood kiddo there’s a “Kat” and I want to help them find their favorite self and learn to not be afraid to express it. 

Thank you for sharing your Camp Wood story with us Kat! We are so excited to welcome you back this summer as our Program Director. Our campers are so lucky to enjoy the programs you're planning--programs that will help them find their "favorite selves".