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Director’s Corner

NYC's YMCA Camps — August 25, 2017

Camp will be 100-years-old in 2018!

It was 1918 when the generosity and forethought of donors made this land a permanent home away from home in the woods for New York City’s children. An exciting milestone to say the least. Think about this–The YMCA of Greater New York has been serving children up in ‘these here woods’ for a century.  Generations of campers have been skipping stones into the lakes and pulling fish out of them.  Tens of thousands of children have been hiking up and down the hills.  Thousands of families have sent their youngsters away with no experience in the wilderness, and we’ve returned them full of lifelong memories of songs, games, adventure, and new friends.

As we began been planning for our Camp Centennial (let’s call it our “Camptennial”) it became obvious that we really needed to gather more historical information.  We know most of the important dates and events that might go into a traditional historical account of the camp, but we felt that we needed the social history as it were – the stories of camp—the anecdotes from the campers, families and staff over the years that could bring all those years of camp to life (at least all the years we could!)

We began to get excited about how fun it will be to hear these stories – how they related to each other, how they provide a window into the evolution of the camp, and – of course – what kind of impact camp had on folk’s lives. How would we collect those stories?  How could we tell those stories?

This, in turn, led to the realization that the process of collecting and curating these stories should be the main event – the way to celebrate the Camptennial.  Why not? Camp is like a family that has passed through the generations.  At all family holidays and events you spend time telling and listening to old family stories.  It’s how we celebrate heritage.

So for our Camptennial, we are going to spend the year telling stories to celebrate – a Tell-ebration.  This is not a brand new idea certainly.  There are whole organizations dedicated to sharing and disseminating stories–think “StoryCorps” or “The Moth Story Hour” for instance–but, it is a great time in our history to launch this initiative.  The internet in general and social media in particular will facilitate the project.  We are building a page on our website for collecting video, audio, and text files.  We will use other social media sites to solicit stories and photos.  We are planning a virtual reunion or two to help our alumni abroad to participate.  At the end of it all, however, we plan to bring it all back to the Y.  At the end of 2018 we will host a live story-telling event with real live people sharing their own stories.

I am excited about this.  One of the coolest perks of my job is that there is a steady stream of past and current campers, staff, and parents that swing by my office to tell me about what an amazing impact camp has had for them.  They share stories that are sometimes inspiring, sometimes hilarious, occasionally bittersweet, but always meaningful.  2018 promises to turn that stream into a flood. I hope you’ll join in.

-Thad

Thad Gifford-Smith
Executive Director