Meet Melissa, new Summer Camp Director

When Melissa Cartner, our new Summer Camp Director, needed a camp nickname, she turned to her favorite childhood book, Winnie the Pooh. There, she found the character of Kanga--the warm, protective mother to energetic Roo. As the oldest of three who often helped her mother, Melissa felt like the character fit her well. “The name Kanga says that I’m sort of like the camp mom—caring, nurturing and loving…but still stern enough to get the job done.”

And her job is a crucial one. As Summer Camp Director, Melissa is responsible for recruiting, hiring and training summer staff so that camp sessions run smoothly and, ultimately, result in a safe, fun experience for every camper. Her example as a caring, responsible leader sets the tone for the rest of the staff all summer.

When selecting summer staff, Melissa focuses on 3 key traits:  High Energy, Fun and Reliability. “High energy is a must for a counselor”, she explains. In addition, “I want to have a fun staff” because a fun staff will ensure that campers are having a good time. But Melissa knows that fun is only part of the staff equation. “If they can’t handle the many responsibilities of the summer, they won’t be here,” she declares.

Melissa’s background in camping began in upstate New York, where she grew up in the beautiful Finger Lakes region. She first served as a cabin counselor and then as Leadership Director at Camp Y-Owasco. When a former Y-Owasco colleague, Joe Murphy, was looking for a Program Director at Camp Wood last summer, she packed her bags and moved to Kansas—intending to stay for just the season. But when August came around, Melissa wasn’t quite ready to leave. Camp Wood YMCA, its staff and the Flint Hills had won her over.

She signed on as an Intern and after assisting with off-season programming throughout the fall, accepted the Summer Camp Director position in January, when Joe Murphy left the position to be closer to family. Melissa is thankful to Joe, whom she considers a mentor. “He showed me how to take my passion for helping kids and shift it into a camp setting…and for that, I am ever grateful.”

In addition to her commitment to youth development, Melissa brings a passion for service and the outdoors to camp. We feel that these values, along with her commitment to hiring high-quality staff, make Melissa a great fit for Camp Wood YMCA. We hope you will help us welcome her into the Camp Wood YMCA family.

5 Quick Facts about “Kanga”

  1. Favorite Camp Wood Traditions: Mealtime Mockeries. “I absolutely love the energy and the feeling in the dining hall.” And campout night “because it’s a time for cabins to be together and sleep under the stars, something every child should experience.”

  2. Best Campfire Songs: “Flea, Fly, Mosquito” and “The Mushroom Song”

  3. Why Summer 2016 is going to be the best yet: “Brand new cabins are being built, mini-camp is making a comeback and new all-camp games are being created!”

  4. If she could read any book...It would be the Harry Potter series.

  5. A message for parents nervous about their child’s first camp experience: “When you send your children to Camp Wood, they will be taken care of by a hand-selected group of counselors in a safe and fun environment. I can assure you that they will have one of the best summers of their lives!”

Over the next few months, we’ll introduce you to many of the wonderful staff members that Melissa has hired already to make Camp Wood’s 100th summer the best summer yet. Watch our Facebook page for the exciting announcements!

Is your child ready for summer camp?

You know you want your child to go to summer camp. You’ve read how camp builds confidence, teaches valuable social skills, and encourages values like respect and responsibility. And the friendships and memories will last a lifetime! But you may also wonder if your child is ready for camp. Are they mature enough? Will they get homesick?

Camp Wood YMCA understands that the answers to these questions will vary for every child. So we’ve compiled a checklist to help you and your child make the decision together.

Encourage independence. Encourage your child to take charge of their own morning and bedtime routines. Let them brush their teeth, shower, and get dressed on their own. Do they do a (mostly) good job? If so, they’ll be able to handle these everyday tasks at camp.

Practice being away from home. If your child has never spent a night or two at a friend’s house, now is the time to try. If they do well, they’re probably ready for summer camp. A little homesickness is OK, but if they have to talk to you every few hours for reassurance, they may not be ready for residence camp just yet.

Talk it out. Have an open conversation with your child about camp. What are they looking forward to? What are they worried about? Help them to address their fears while encouraging them that camp is a very welcoming place.

Visit camp ahead of time. Often, seeing the cabins they’ll sleep in and getting an idea of the general layout of camp will help relieve much of the anxiety children feel. All families are invited to our Open House and Centennial Celebration on Saturday, May 7th, 2016. Bring your future camper and let them explore a little. Then, when they return this summer, camp will be a familiar place where they feel comfortable.

Trust your instincts. If you really feel that your 6 year-old is ready for camp, they probably are. On the other hand, if you worry that your 8 year-old may need another year, they probably do. Parents know their children best and it’s up to you and your child to decide when they are ready for camp. If either of you still have concerns about a full week of camp, you can try to ease into the experience with one of the following options:

  • Mini-Camp: Designed for children ages 5 to 8, Mini-Camp is a four-day, three night session geared towards the special needs and interests of our youngest campers. This is a great introduction to residence camp, letting children sample a variety of classic summer camp activities, but shortening their stay so that homesickness is less of a factor. Learn more about Mini-Camp.
  • Family Camp: For the first time ever, Camp Wood will be offering summertime family camps. Your family can choose the length of your stay (from 1 to 6 nights) and which activities you do each day. Though family campers are kept separate from regular summer campers for activities, everyone will share meals together in Ritchie Lodge. For both parents and future campers, family camp will give you sneak peek into summer camp and help you feel comfortable with the experience. Learn more about Summer Family Camp.

We know that when and where you send your child for summer camp is an important decision. At Camp Wood YMCA, we want to make that decision as easy as possible so that when you and your child arrive at camp, you BOTH feel comfortable with your decision. If you have any questions or concerns concerning your child’s upcoming camp experience, please call us at (620) 273-8641 or email us at

What's in a name?

Did your daughter come home last summer talking about how Kanga had helped her feel better when she'd been homesick the first night? Or maybe your son couldn't stop laughing about "that one campfire skit with Twist and Random." If so, you were probably left wondering "Are those people?" and "Are those their REAL names?!"

Yes, your children are talking about people but no, those are NOT their real names. Our summer staff members should introduce themselves to parents by their real name but to campers, they are known by their camp name—special nicknames used only at summer camp.

Over the past few years, our summer staff members have begun adopting camp names. Though camp names for staff are common at many summer camps, they are relatively new to Camp Wood YMCA. Here are a few reasons staff and campers love camp names.

  • This is no ordinary place, so we don’t use ordinary names. Camp is a magical place and camp names are a whimsical way to reinforce what is different, and special, about camp. Plus, kids think camp names are just plain fun.

  • Camp names protect staff privacy. In an age when nearly every camper would love to “friend” their counselor online (for which they would need their real name), camp names help maintain a professional distance between camper and staff member.  

  • Camp names are a rite of passage for new staff. We have many summer staff members who were former campers and at Camp Wood, campers always go by their real names. But once they’ve earned the privilege of joining our staff, they get to choose their camp name. Many staff members take the decision seriously. Hundreds of campers every summer will know them by their camp name and it should communicate something about the staff member’s personality and interests.

  • Finally, and perhaps most importantly, quirky camp names send the message that being unique is OK, and even welcome, at camp. Camp is a place where their unique contributions and personalities will be celebrated, not shunned. This is a refreshing message for so many kids who feel pressure to blend in elsewhere.

The Wood Family Legacy Lives

The story of Camp Wood YMCA’s founding is not a well-known one. In fact, most campers only know that there was a family by the last name of Wood and that long ago, they donated some land. But the Wood Family was no ordinary family and their legacy of service to Camp Wood did not end 100 years ago. Their values, well-matched to those of the YMCA, remain at the heart of the Camp Wood YMCA experience even a century after our founding.

A search begins.

Prior to the Wood Family’s involvement, the origins of Camp Wood can be traced to the Chapman, Kansas YMCA, where Hi-Y clubs for teenage boys first began in 1889. The clubs were designed to build Christian character through sportsmanship, scholastic achievement and leadership training. Soon, Hi-Y clubs spread to YMCAs throughout the U.S.

The Hi-Y insignia would have been very familiar to early Camp Wood YMCA campers.

The Hi-Y insignia would have been very familiar to early Camp Wood YMCA campers.

Summer camps began to play an important role in Hi-Y clubs. Young men, (and later, young women) flocked to Hi-Y camps to enjoy not only archery and canoeing, but to listen to speeches on the importance of leadership and values and service. In Kansas, these Hi-Y camps were held at various locations throughout the state and even as far away as Colorado. But in 1914, Hi-Y leaders sought a permanent location for their camps.

A search committee was formed and letters were sent to every YMCA field secretary in Kansas—“Do you know of a site that might be available?”

One of those letters arrived on the desk of field secretary, Clarence Wood. He shared it with his elderly father, a retired stockman and farmer named Stephen.

Social Responsibility

Born in Ohio in 1832 to a Quaker family, Stephen Wood grew up listening to his parents talk about the importance of respect for others. His parents were against slavery and his mother, Esther, was an early advocate of women’s suffrage.

Stephen Wood in his Union Army uniform during the Civil War.

Stephen Wood in his Union Army uniform during the Civil War.

Young Caroline (Breese) Wood stands for a photograph.

Young Caroline (Breese) Wood stands for a photograph.

At the age of 21, Stephen married schoolteacher, Caroline Breese, and the two moved to Iowa where they had two sons. When the Civil War broke out, Stephen joined the Union army. After the war, the young family packed up their belongings and headed to “the frontier” of Chase County, Kansas to join Stephen’s older brother, Samuel, who had worked as an abolitionist during the days of Bleeding Kansas, helping escaped slaves to reach freedom through the Underground Railroad.

The two brothers would go on to be important leaders in the state. Older brother, Samuel, would introduce Kansas’ first resolution in favor of women’s suffrage and when it was rejected, continue to advocate for it through his newspaper, The Chase County Banner. Younger brother, Stephen, twice represented his community in the state legislature and was also elected to the state Senate. In addition, he served as a regent of the nation’s first land grant college, Kansas State Agricultural College (today’s Kansas State University) and “no small part of the progress of the college in those eventful days was due to the clear insight…of Mr. Wood” according to historian J.D. Walters.

But for all their public involvement in political and civic affairs of the state, Stephen and Caroline were also well-known for their personal integrity and a commitment to living their values at home in Chase County. From nearly the moment they arrived in Kansas, their home (which at that time was just a small homesteader’s log cabin) was a center of hospitality and culture in the community. They welcomed everyone from traveling ministers to politicians to Native Americans in need of food or shelter. They were very involved in their church and were always ready to help those in need.

Stephen and Caroline Wood, pictured in their Elmdale, Kansas home. The couple donated the original 40 acres of land for a YMCA camp "for the young people of Kansas". In their honor, it was named Camp Wood YMCA.

Stephen and Caroline Wood, pictured in their Elmdale, Kansas home. The couple donated the original 40 acres of land for a YMCA camp "for the young people of Kansas". In their honor, it was named Camp Wood YMCA.

In fact, the two were so well-loved by the community, that for their 58th wedding anniversary a ceremony and reception were organized in their honor. On that May day in 1911, more than 200 people gathered to watch 77 year-old Caroline, clasping a bouquet of white roses, and 78 year-old Stephen, renew their vows under an arbor of rose garlands. Afterward, everyone gathered over fried chicken and wedding cake to celebrate the much-loved couple.

Shared values.

It was just 3 years later when Stephen’s son, Clarence, shared the search committee letter. The work of the YMCA and Hi-Y camps were already well-known to 82 year-old Stephen. Clarence was currently a field secretary for the local YMCA and Stephen’s grandson, Howard, had attended Hi-Y camps. The YMCA mission—to put Christian principles into practice through programs that build healthy spirit, mind and body for all—must have resonated with Stephen, a man who had spent his entire life living out his faith in service and respect for others.

What’s more, it was 1914 and Stephen recognized the sounds of war escalating in Europe. Young people like his grandson, Howard, would need skills and values like those taught at Hi-Y camps to solve the world’s problems. Stephen told Clarence to offer three different parcels of land to the search committee.

The perfect site.

The day that the YMCA search committee arrived to tour the land offered, they met Stephen’s grandson, teenaged Howard, who was out delivering mail on his motorcycle. Howard immediately recognized committee member, Lawrence K. Hall, who had been on the staff at Hi-Y Camp the summer before. He offered to show the men his grandfather’s land.

Of the three options available, the committee quickly found their favorite in a 40 acre parcel containing some wooded bottomland and a large hilltop. It had easy railroad access (for supplies and campers to arrive), a creek that could be dammed to form a lake and beautiful views of the Cottonwood River Valley. After a polite glance at additional options offered by landowners in Peabody and Marion, the search committee unanimously chose Stephen Wood’s land as the site for their camp.

On December 7, 1915 Stephen officially signed over the land with the requirement that it always remain a YMCA camp “for the young people of Kansas”. Six months later, the first group of Hi-Y campers arrived and on June 4th, 1916, Camp Wood YMCA was dedicated at a ceremony with more than 1,500 people in attendance. Kansas Governor, Arthur Capper, was the keynote speaker.

The first of many gifts.

Just five years later, on Christmas Eve, Stephen would pass away, joining his beloved wife who had died earlier that year. The success of Camp Wood—a destination for young people from across the state every summer—brought Stephen “one of the greatest joys of his declining years” according to his son, Clarence.

A photo from Camp Wood YMCA in 1921, the summer after Stephen Wood passed away.

A photo from Camp Wood YMCA in 1921, the summer after Stephen Wood passed away.

The vision of a place “for the young people of Kansas” became a reality due in great part to the generosity of Stephen and Caroline. But their gift of 40 acres was just the beginning for the Wood Family.

In 1916, Caroline’s relatives, C.M. and Julia Breese, offered an additional 20 acres of land.

In 1944, Gracia Wood donated 40 more acres to camp.

Ten years later, Carrie Wood, daughter of Stephen and Caroline, left 40 acres to Camp Wood in her will.

And then in 1980, the Wood Family joined Don Coldsmith and others to save Camp Wood YMCA from closing its doors by chartering it as an independent YMCA. That August, they were the first to use the newly independent camp for the annual Wood Family Reunion.

These family reunions served as an important tie between the Wood Family and camp. Pauline “Polly” Ferrell (Clarence Wood’s granddaughter and Stephen’s great-granddaughter) described camp as “an extension of our family…where we often picnicked, played tennis, swam in the lake and held family reunions.” She remembers her son, Andy, and his cousin, Wade, who spent many family reunions in Cabin #1, “They did very little sleeping, but rather stayed up most of the night having fun,” she recalled.

Over the years, members of the Wood Family, including Polly, served on the camp Board of Directors, volunteered countless hours to do everything from painting buildings to fundraising, and of course, the entire family continues to gather at camp for family reunions. Currently, three descendants of Stephen and Caroline Wood serve on the Board of Directors—Margie Dyck, Ginny Braden and David Thurston. They carry on a proud family legacy of service to Camp Wood YMCA.

Margie Dyck, current Camp Wood YMCA board member and descendant of Stephen and Caroline Wood, helps with a Christmas card mailing earlier this December.

Margie Dyck, current Camp Wood YMCA board member and descendant of Stephen and Caroline Wood, helps with a Christmas card mailing earlier this December.

The Camp Wood YMCA Family

Today’s campers are heirs to the Wood Family legacy—a legacy that encompasses far more than land. It is a legacy of social responsibility, faith, respect for diversity, service to others and leadership. These values are hallmarks of the Camp Wood YMCA community—now a worldwide family of campers, parents, staff, volunteers and community members.

This December, as camp celebrates a century of service, we honor Stephen and Caroline Wood--the original Camp Wood YMCA family. We want to thank them for generously donating land, but we also want to honor the values that their family continues to ensure are a part of the Camp Wood YMCA experience. May their legacy live on for another 100 years!

Favorite book brought to life at Camp Wood YMCA

Though Camp Wood YMCA is primarily known for summer camps, we are also proud to offer a variety of outdoor education programs from August through May. Learn more about bringing your class to Camp Wood YMCA and then read about a lucky group of students who combined the magic of a beloved book with the magic of the outdoors for a very special field trip.

How a book built a fire in the hearts of young readers.

Since it was first written by Jean Craighead-George in 1959, young readers have imagined themselves as My Side of the Mountain’s main character Sam Gribley, a teenage boy who leaves his family’s noisy city existence for a life of solitude and survival in the Catskill Mountains. Sam learns to rely on his creativity and determination (as well as survival books at the local public library) to turn the tests of wilderness living into triumphs of independence and self-reliance. The story quickly engages young readers and inspires them to wonder, “Could I live like Sam Gribley?”

Sam Gribley Day is born.

At nearby Chase County Elementary School, 5th grade students were asking themselves that very question after reading the book in class. Could they do what Sam Gribley had done? What would it be like—to rely entirely on nature and your own skills to survive alone in the woods? Their teachers, Tammy Jirak and Rachel Matile, wanted to give them an opportunity to find out.

On Friday, October 16th students left their classrooms behind and boarded a bus to nearby Camp Wood YMCA. They had planned the day in collaboration with their teachers and camp staff. Together, they set 5 goals for the students.

  • Build a fire without using matches.

  • Cook over an open fire.

  • Form their own cup, plate or pot out of clay.

  • Catch fish on homemade poles.

  • Build a shelter using only natural materials from the woods.

Throughout the day, the students threw themselves into the challenges, tackling each task in teams and learning as they went about the risks and rewards of living like Sam Gribley.

Students were also thrilled to meet Cowboy, a trained falcon brought to camp by Doug Burt. They enjoyed learning the basics of falconry, a skill that Sam Gribley mastered during the course of training his companion, Frightful, in the book.

Goals-accomplished and lessons learned

Throughout the day, students reflected on meeting each of their survival goals with varying degrees of success.

Pleased with the fishing challenge which involved simple dowels for poles, string for line, and safety pins as hooks, Kaleb was happy to announce, “I didn’t know it was going to be that easy. I was surprised that all we had to do was drop our line in the water.” Marveling at the many fish caught that day, Ashlee offered, “I was surprised because they weren’t like regular poles and they worked better!”.

In contrast, shelter building yielded mixed results for students. When asked about her favorite part of creating a shelter from leaves and sticks, Mayah mentioned “working together”. When asked for challenges that the process presented, another student, Grace, was sure to mention “being careful not to knock it over!”.

Lunch was a highlight of the day as students used their newly acquired fire-building skills to cook their own healthy lunch. They added vegetables, biscuits and “turtle” (ok, it was just chicken since Sam Gribley’s meat of choice was hard to come by) to a dutch oven and used the fire’s heat to cook everything well. Working and playing all day in the “wilderness” had made everyone hungry and they quickly gobbled up their lunches—vegetables and all!

Outdoor adventure teaches safety

While students were encouraged to explore the 5 survival challenges for themselves, Camp Wood YMCA staff also ensured that the desire to live like fictional character Sam Gribley didn’t overpower good judgement about real-life wilderness safety and respect for nature.

When asked what they should always remember when cooking over a fire, students quickly offered, “Make sure you’re being safe!” Students were reminded to only start fires with a parent’s permission and to always have a bucket of water nearby. They also learned several fire-building techniques—just in case they ever do find themselves in a situation like Sam Gribley’s.

Independence gained

Students returned home after their day at Camp Wood and were asked to reflect on the experience in general. What had they learned about Sam Gribley? What had they learned about themselves?

“I was actually capable of making my own shelter!” declared student Emily Miser. Later, another student, Chayla Owen, shared how the day’s lessons stayed with her even after she left camp, “When I went home that night, I built my own shelter!”

Their enthusiasm was matched with new wisdom about wilderness living in general.

“We learned how to make a fire, what kinds of fire to make, and how to make a fishing pole to survive,” reflected Leaya Francis. “Also, surviving in the wild is hard!,”

Student Jade Tracy shared “Be really safe in nature--a snake might bite you!”—but then also offered “I learned that I really like the woods and I had a good time!”.

Thank you, Chase County 5th grade students and teachers, for making Camp Wood YMCA a part of Sam Gribley Day! We think he would be proud of all you accomplished and all you learned. Nice work!