It is an honor to share an experience of mine with everyone.
I have been working at the YMCA since I finished University and can boldly say it has made me a better person. I have worked summer camps, ran basketball and hockey programs, kitchen kids programs as well as working at an elementary school where I ran a Before and After School Program. I made my own little YMCA inside the school which furthered our connection with the community. Currently I am working as a coordinator at the Quinte West branch and I cannot begin to tell you how welcoming the families of Quinte West have been with me. It has been my pleasure to provide programs for all of the very thankful and gracious families of this great community.
This past summer Sarah Turner and I co-directed CampAbility. We ran the camp out of a high-school in Belleville although children from across the region attend. We created our own little YMCA in the facility so that like camps at the Quinte West YMCA children participated in themed days and weeks, weekly trips, swimming, games, sports and activities; the difference was at CampAbility we have the company of people with physical and developmental special needs.
The message that I would like to deliver today is about friendship and companionship. I felt privileged to be able to be a companion to every one of our participants at CampAbility - each of the relationships was special in their own way. I would like to share a story about one such friend from CampAbility: Walker.
Walker has been coming to the YMCA for 20 years; he began swimming lessons with Sandy Boyle at the Belleville Branch at 5 years old. He has been going to CampAbility since he was 9 years old. Now he is 25 years old and still going to CampAbility. Walker enjoyed the gym activities, the crafts, the trips and everything that has to do with camp, but he is NOT at camp because of the activities. He is NOT there for the crazy hair days, or wacky hat days. He loves the splash pad as much as the next guy but that is NOT why he is at camp either. Walker is at camp at 25 years of age because he loves the companionship it brings. Walker helped me make hot dogs, he helped me lead circle games, and he also set up our scavenger hunt.
Walker’s no angel however. He once played a secret admirer joke on one of the counselors. He put stickers all over another counselor’s bike helmet he even toilet papered one of the counselor’s cars! I found out later he wanted to do it to mine, but he knew I would toilet paper his chair in retaliation. Walker knows more about summer camp than I will ever know; he remembers the name of every counselor that has been there as well as directors. Walker has shared memories with me he will never forget. I know this past summer both he and I made memories that neither of us will forget.
I will always remember building a huge water slide with Walker for the entire camp. We found a fairly steep hill near our camp and we put a plastic tarp down it. We used 6 or 7 bottles of baby shampoo and a steady stream of water on the slide so the kids could fly down. It wasn’t only the kids that flew down the tarp. I put Walker on the tarp and slid him down the hill. He screamed the entire time. He sounded like a 6 year old girl going down but when I went down to ask him how it went; he was full of smiles and asked me to go again.
That experience is one of the many reasons, and defining moments for me about what the Y does and why I love being part of the YMCA family.
Walker, along with many of the Camp Ability campers continue to swim at the YMCA here in Quinte West so I still get to socialize with them. And it’s really interesting despite all the challenges these kids have I’ve never spoken to one of them who hasn’t told me how excited they were for next year’s CampAbility to start. Just yesterday I was asked when sign up is and camp doesn’t start for another four months!
The word companionship is defined as a pleasant association among people or a fellowship. These children cherish the companionship that goes hand-in-hand with CampAbility, as I do – it’s one of the most meaningful experiences of my life.
My goal in telling this story is to spread the word in our community about the Strong Kids Campaign. Without the fundraising effort of the Strong Kids Campaign kids who couldn’t afford to attend camp, would never have that experience. At the YMCA we subsidize kids whose families can’t afford camp fees, so even more kids in our community can have a camp experience and build relationships like the one Walker and I have- and experience the satisfaction that comes from participation, succeeding at challenges, joining in on activities, working with others to create something and learning new skills or ways to cope. But most of all have some good old-fashioned fun.
Please help spread the awareness of our Strong Kids Campaign. Hopefully you will join us on our mission to help more kids attend camp and provide an opportunity to experience the kind of friendship and companionship Walker and I developed last summer, by making your own donation. Thanks for reading my story.