Summer 2017 is one for the record books!

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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.

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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.

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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.