By Debbie Nelson
Camp is a time to have fun and “just be a kid.” It is a time to make new friends and do things that you have never done before. It is a time to explore the great outdoors. The YMCA’s Camp Greenville has a 100-year tradition of providing these life-changing experiences for generations of families.
However, Camp Greenville is much more than a traditional camp. In the words of Cory Harrison, executive director, “At the core of everything we do at Camp Greenville are our values: caring, honesty, respect, and responsibility. From the opening campfire to our closing ceremonies, we honor those who exemplify these qualities. Campers earn pins and are publicly recognized for doing the right thing!”
Building upon these core values, the pervasive culture at Camp Greenville is that every kid is honored. “Our goal is to strip down the barriers that generally exist outside of camp and create a community where campers from different backgrounds live, learn, and play together … a place where everyone is kind to each other. This environment offers the opportunity for all campers to walk away changed,” added Cory.
Diversity, inclusion, and equality are critical to achieving this goal at Camp Greenville and at the YMCA of Greenville’s other branches. To ensure this happens, the YMCA has an annual scholarship campaign. In May, the organization announced raising a record-breaking $1,205,982. 100 percent of these funds will go back into the community as scholarships so anyone can participate in the YMCA’s programs, regardless of their ability to pay. In addition, the YMCA also receives designated funds from donors who want to help specific children, programs, and partner organizations.
This year, $275,000 of the funds raised by Camp Greenville from both the annual campaign and sponsorships will provide financial support for nearly 1,200 boys and girls to attend camp. Last summer, I saw the benefits of the scholarship program first-hand when a family dear to my heart attended camp. This July, they will be returning for their second summer. Words cannot express my gratitude to the donors who have made this possible for the Keith-Daley kids: Isaac (8), Sola (10), Zharyah (11), and Christian (15). Due to their generosity, Camp Greenville has become a tradition for this wonderful family.
The mom, Sam Daley, is brought to tears every time she talks about Camp Greenville and what it means to her family. She explained, “Growing up in a single-parent household can be tough. In particular, my oldest, Christian, has a lot of responsibility and camp is a time for him to just be a kid. All I want is for my kids is to have fun and come home with smiles on their faces.” She concluded, “Some people may say, ‘what difference can camp make’? For my family, Camp Greenville is an opportunity for them to experience things that other children do—so they never give up hope.”
Last year, Sam’s kids were excited about the idea of going to camp, but they were also a little nervous. All four of them wondered, “Will I fit in? Will I make friends?” There is no doubt making new friends came easily when you hear them talk about camp. On the closing day, Isaac shared, “The best part of being here was getting to know my friends. My friends are nice and funny and kind to me.” And Sola shared with me at a recent lunch visit that she is looking forward to reconnecting with the friends she made last summer. This is a true testament to the values that Camp Greenville fosters in its campers.
It was difficult for Sam to send her kids away from home for the first time. She wanted to stay in touch and know what they were doing. While Camp Greenville has a screen-free policy, parents can experience camp with their children. The camp posts daily photos and videos, which families can access through a private web portal. So each day, Sam logged into her page to see the kids’ adventures—and most importantly, the smiles on their faces.
One of my best memories from last summer was seeing the photos and video of Zharyah’s 11th birthday. As you might imagine, it is difficult for a kid to be away from home on her birthday; however, Zharyah was celebrated and honored at every turn by her new camp family. It was a special day for her and one that she will never forget.
As the Keith-Daley kids are counting down the days until camp, they are pulling out their duffle bags. I definitely see a shopping trip on the horizon—once again, thanks to the support of generous donors who want to make their camp experience complete. Last year, I joined the family for their whirlwind Wal-Mart extravaganza. We filled two shopping carts with bathing suits, t-shirts, rain gear, flashlights, bug spray, sun lotion, and more. The excitement was palpable.
While there is no doubt Camp Greenville has been life-changing for the Keith-Daley family, there are virtually hundreds of other kids who are enjoying this experience due to our generous community. As I close, I ask you to think about an experience that changed your life—perhaps a time you made a new friend or tried something new. Please consider donating to Camp Greenville and make it your family (or company) tradition. You will be offering a kid the opportunity to “just be a kid!”
For more information about YMCA Camp Greenville visit www.CampGreenville.org or call Cory Harrison, executive director, at 864-836-3291.