Summer is synonymous with camp. And camp in New York City means the Y.
Each summer more than 14,000 kids attend Y Day and Sleepaway Camps to learn new skills, make new friends, and, quite simply, have the time of their lives. And three of every four children get to enjoy that experience thanks to some form of scholarship assistance. While those numbers are impressive, it’s the individual stories that suggest the importance and impact of programs like the Annual Campaign, which helps families with need and deserving kids.
Juan became a member of the YMCA family 14 years ago. This came after his removal from his parents’ home following the discovery that they were intentionally starving him and subjecting him to physical and verbal abuse. At the time, he weighed just 43 pounds. As Juan eloquently described it in a personal essay:
“I was twelve years old when I finally realized that this wasn’t my home, but a place of neglect. I looked around the room and saw nothing but empty cans, roaches, and smoke. The food that was there was outdated or hidden. Taking a bath was difficult because the water coming out of the pipe was brown. Staying alive was a struggle.” Living in an environment devoid of basic necessities led to difficulties in school and feelings of isolation. “My conduct was poor, along with my grades, because I was frightened that fellow students would harm me because of my differences,” Juan writes. “I stank and they didn’t; I wore torn clothes and they didn’t.”
When Juan first arrived at YMCA Sleepaway Camp, he had never before been outside the city or in a rural environment. The experience proved a revelatory one. “When the foster agency asked if I’d like to attend camp, my first reaction was ‘What is camp?’ I didn’t know what it was all about. But when I arrived at this place, seeing trees, deer, a bunch of stars in the sky, I thought, ‘Wow, this is really nice.’”
Although Juan was scheduled to attend camp for just two weeks, the Annual Campaign enabled him to extend his stay for the entire summer. Juan made such wonderful friendships and showed such eagerness to get involved in every activity that he returned to summer camp the following year and became active in the community service-oriented Leaders Club. A year later, Juan became a Counselor In Training (CIT). In the years since, Juan quickly climbed the summer camp ladder, returning year-after-year as first a Junior Counselor, then full Counselor, and, eventually, Senior Counselor. “You need a lot of patience dealing with little kids,” says Juan, whose brother, Felix, joined him at camp beginning at age eight. “I tried to use what I learned as a young person and put myself in other people’s shoes.”
It is no exaggeration to suggest that YMCA Sleepaway Camp helped restore Juan’s childhood—as it has done for scores of other of our city’s children—and that the Y has served as something of a North Star for him ever since.
Help the Y continue to be a north star for New York City children.
Just as thousands of kids are counting on the YMCA of Greater New York to make their summer dreams come true, we’re counting on you. We need your help to ensure that New York City kids can learn, grow, and thrive. Please make your tax-deductible gift and to provide life-changing opportunities to our City's youth.