I wrote this article in May 2012 for the YMCA of Metro Chicago. Because they have failed to publish it in time for the summer camping season, or at all, I have opted to publish it here anyway in thanks to the many participants who made the article possible. There are related articles here and here. — Michael Vitali
Three YMCA of Metro Chicago board members say why they see camping as essential
BENNO FRIEDRICH When I got involved with the Y Guide program we would camp at Camp MacLean, and I always came back having had a great time. When I got more involved with the Y I began to see what camping is and what it does and how much it means to kids and their parents and that relationship. That was what I missed in not going to camp myself as a child.
ART CATRAMBONE All of my camping experience is here at Camp Duncan. I first came here in 1938 when I was 8 years old, and was a camper until 1942. In 1945 I was 15 years old. Pete [Sorenson, camp director from the 40s to the 70s] said, “How old are you?” It was during the war, and I said, “Seventeen.” So I became a counselor for two years.
I feel as passionate about camping now as I did then. Camping changes your life. The things you experience at camp — tolerance for others, learning how to operate in a new environment — teach lifelong lessons.
HARRY CHANDLER Camping also subjects kids to leaders who can be role models. We try to accomplish this at the Y centers, but when you take kids out of their normal area and put them in an entirely different situation at camp, you expose kids to many important things: nature, other kids, discipline, and role models. That’s what got me hooked.
ART CATRAMBONE The mission of the Y is best served in the camping experience. Kids have an opportunity to live with one another for 24 hours a day, and experience the impact of the discipline and leadership Harry was talking about.
Camping shows you that your life is important and you are important.
Medical camp has added a new dimension to camping and to the mission of the Y. When the Camp Independence kids arrive, they don’t want to be left by their parents, but after the week here when parents return to pick them up, they don’t want to go home.
BENNO FRIEDRICH The medical camps have another benefit. For a parent to trust to send a child to camp, knowing that they’re going to be watched and cared for, gives that parent a week where they can unwind after the constant pressure of caring for a child with a serious condition. Here’s a chance for them to decompress.
HARRY CHANDLER I was absolutely amazed at Burn Camp. For many of them, they’ve never taken their clothes off in front of another kid. But here they’re all in the same boat — and it’s a strengthening process for them.
BENNO FRIEDRICH This is what the Y is all about — adapting to the needs of the community. Dollar for dollar, donations made to camp have the greatest impact on a child’s life. One or two weeks at camp will have a longer and more important impact than going to the Y center every day for the same period. Of course, that’s important too — but permanent changes take place in children at camp because of the immersion. Parents see the changes immediately. We got a letter from a camping parent that said something like, “We like the kid we sent you, but we really like the kid we got back.”
ART CATRAMBONE For many kids, especially underprivileged kids, camping is a crossroads. One way can be disaster, and the other is a productive life. Camping shows you that your life is important and you are important.
This is what the Y is all about — adapting to the needs of the community.
Photos by Michael Vitali.
(Sorry about your counselor picture, Art — there was very little light in the building that day.)