My earliest memory of the YMCA is not an altogether pleasant one. I cannot be sure how old I was, but apparently my mom and dad thought I was old enough to accompany my brother on an overnight camping trip to Camp Lou Ann. Sounds harmless enough. It was a long time ago and some of the details have now been filtered through my fuzzy brain. I do remember that the day started out well enough. We sang songs. (I specifically remember many rounds of Where is Thumbkin?). We swam in the murky lake with our stiff orange life jackets that nearly swallowed us whole and smelled vaguely of mold. I remember the highlight of that day (and maybe any day after that) being the giant chocolate pudding tug-o-war tournament. Thinking about this as a mom makes me cringe as I imagine having to throw away my child’s perfectly good pair of shorts and t-shirt. At the time, though, I thought that life really couldn’t be any better than the moment my team fell face first in the goopy, delicious pudding pit. I think the extent of our cleaning up from that last activity was just rinsing off in the now murkier lake. Then it was time for a blazing bonfire, toasted marshmallows, and ghost stories. My father had already trained me to be good and scared of many a ghost story, so I promptly sought out the lap of a friendly and accommodating counselor. That counselor was probably all of fifteen years old, but she was the bravest fifteen year old I had thus encountered in my short life. She smelled like suntan lotion and chewing gum. When it got good and dark, things took a turn for the terrifying. One of the ring leaders started telling what I refer to now as the Mother of all Ghost Stories. I think my brother will still back me up on this claim. This is where some of the details get fuzzy because my brain shut down to protect me out of sheer fright. I remember something about a boy, some wild dogs, a broken chain link fence, and a maniac whose name was something like “Creeeeee!” because that’s the sound he made when he plodded across the gravel road with only one leg. (The hair on my arms are instinctively raising even now.) Anyway, the Mother of all Ghost Stories ended for good when one of the counselors hiding in the deep, dark woods popped out and steadily lurched toward the crowd of terrified grade schoolers while loudly whispering, “Creeeeee!”. I promise you have never seen a group of young people scream hysterically and run around in frantic circles like that unless you have recently been to a Justin Bieber concert. It was seriously out of control. The counselors must have realized fairly quickly that this was a good idea gone very, very bad when, one by one, they had to call the parents of each panic-stricken, scarred-for-life camper. Every light in the recreation hall remained on and we huddled together for what seemed like hours before we saw the comforting sight of headlights bobbing up and down the unpaved driveway. Camp became a ghost town. I cannot be certain of all of these details, but this is definitely the way I remember it.
Luckily, my relationship with the YMCA was recoverable. Now, I can’t imagine not being a devoted member. What’s not to love really? Soccer camp for the rambunctious ones, kettlebells for those of us who need 30 minutes away from the rambunctious ones, a nursery for the baby, and a summer camp program that we will be taking advantage of from June to August. (I checked. There will be no overnights. And there will definitely be no ghost stories.) Our local Y is in the middle of a fundraising campaign called Open Doors. The money raised goes toward helping members of our community take advantage of programs at the facility they would not be able to afford otherwise. Dozens of children were able to attend afterschool care programs and summer camps this year because of the campaign.
“At the Y, no child, family or adult is turned away. We recognize that for communities to succeed, everyone must be given the opportunity to be healthy, confident, connected and secure.”
At work today, I sent out an e-mail to my team asking each person for their “couch cushion money”. It doesn’t seem like such a burden to ask folks to donate what might end up on the floorboard of the car by the time they get home anyway. I got several weighty donations and filled up my Ziploc bag by the time I left to pick up the possums from day camp. When I walked up to reception and plunked down the loot on the counter, it felt solid. Team efforts usually do.
I have only just now realized that I may have awakened “Creeeee!” from my slumbering subconscious. Mom and Dad, you might be getting a phone call tonight.