Don’t we all wish it could be an endless summer? Yet for parents who have to work while school is out, a new set of challenges arises to ensure that kids are active and engaged during summer months. Through the Rockland County YMCA’s Send a Kid to Camp program, the Nyack-based nonprofit helps to fill a need for many families seeking activities for their children during June, July, and August.
“There are a lot of kids who live in Rockland County who can’t afford to go to camp, and the parents really need them to go somewhere safe,” said Rockland YMCA interim CEO Phillip Donnelly. “We scholarship kids to go to the camp for free or at a significant discount.”
The Rockland Y raised $20,000 for the program last year through various fundraising efforts, helping offset the $425-a-week cost of camp. Those children attend weekly day camps at the organization’s iconic Nyack location on South Broadway and at Krucker’s in Pomona. Each program serves about 30 and 125 kids per week, respectively.
“The most important thing that I want people to understand about the YMCA is that we are inclusive, and we are here to serve the community and their needs,” said Donnelly. “We’re passionate about youth development, social responsibility, and healthy living. Youth development is really what the YMCA’s mission is all about.”
During camp, the kids explore nature, find new talents, and try new activities, according to organizers, all while making new friends. “The fact that they can come here with 100-plus kids and have an experience like this throughout the summer, it really has a lasting impression on them,” said John Dillon, youth and teen camps director.
Last year, a 10-year-old girl from Ukraine came to stay with her aunt in Rockland while the child’s parents remained home. During the weeks that her aunt needed help, the camp funded the child’s enrollment through the scholarship program. Despite not speaking a lick of English, the girl enjoyed the experience so much, she ended up extending camp an extra week. “The way that the campers were able to accommodate her,” Dillon recalls, “they even went as far as to take out their phones and use Google Translate to say different sentences to her, or just use hand gestures and things like that.”
And with a mix of kids from many backgrounds attending the camps, such stories are far from rare. “We’re glad that we can help accommodate for all these different people are in our community,” Dillon said. “We pride ourselves on that.”
Camp activities include arts and crafts, organized sports, cooperative games, recreational swim, outdoor play, swim lessons, themed weeks, and weekly trips, providing kids a social environment to learn and grow rather than sit in front of screens.
During the year, Rockland YMCA offers before- and after-school care to about 800 kids per week at 21 locations, making it the largest child care provider in the county. Founded in 1888 in Nyack, the Rockland County YMCA’s mission is “to welcome all people to programs that enhance their health and well-being, strengthen their personal and family relationships and enrich their spirits, minds and bodies.”
Rockland YMCA has over 5,000 members and serves 1,200 children a day at many locations throughout the county. “Throughout our summer camps, young individuals are given the opportunity to thrive physically, socially, creatively and emotionally,” the Y writes. “The best part is witnessing the children’s smiling faces as they learn new skills or build new friendships.”
For Dillon, the continuity is especially gratifying. This year he’s hiring one of his former camper,s whose family was funded by the scholarship program since kindergarten, to work in the program. “It’s really nice that we have this opportunity to raise these funds,” he said, “to be able to give this opportunity to all these families in our community.”
This year, a golf outing on June 8 at Philip J. Rotella Memorial Golf Course will help raise funds to send kids to camp. To learn more about the organization, or to make a donation, visit: rocklandymca.org/main/send-a-kid-to-camp