A makeshift rocket shoots above a group of young campers during "Out of This World” week at the Bellevue Family YMCA.
The children are among more than 2,000 across Middle Tennessee having the best summer ever at YMCA Day Camps.
“You’ll see small kids. You’ll see big kids. You’ll see children with special needs. There are kids whose families are homeless. When they’re at the Y, and they’re swimming, none of that matters,” says Scott Clinton, executive director at Bellevue.
Learning to swim
Swimming ranks as a favorite for most campers, but it is an extra special opportunity for those who rarely have access to a pool. Through recent partnerships with Safe Haven Family Shelter and the HERO Program of Metro Nashville Public Schools, the Bellevue Y provides camp scholarships for children from homeless families.
Eight-year-old Peyton, one of the HERO campers, fell in love with swimming this summer. When he first arrived, he didn’t pass the swim test. Determined, he practiced with counselors in the camp’s water safety course. Then he tried again.
“I passed the swimming test,” he says, showing off his green bracelet to prove it.
“He is so excited,” says camp director Jamey Rutschilling. “That’s probably his favorite part of the day. He’s in the lap pool swimming laps back and forth, which has become very popular with a lot of our camp kids.”
Victories like Peyton’s are Jamey’s favorite part of the job.
“Those unique opportunities where we are making a difference in a child’s life are some of the things I like to hold onto–the nuggets that show this is extremely important for our community,” he says.
“We are making small differences, but those small differences can be ripples that will hopefully change that child and change his trajectory in the future.”
Making new friends
Kids emerge from their shells every week at camp, as they have the opportunity to discover who they are and what they can achieve.
Michael, 7, acts shy at first, but then starts to open up about his experience.
“I have a lot of funs at this camp. One of them is standing right in front of me right now. His name is Jesse,” he says, pointing to the boy in the hat next to him.
Michael then chats nonstop about several of his new friends and their favorite games to play, until it is time for a presentation from the guest astronomer.
The campers join in with interactive props including a telescope and a big sun and moon. The astronomer asks space questions like, “What is the hottest planet?”
“Venus!” Michael yells out. He is right.
It takes patience and skill to keep the attention of dozens of young campers for even a short presentation. The Y counselors help to nurture each child’s potential all summer long.
“It’s a huge opportunity for our counselors to make a difference and to help these children grow in life skills—whether it’s interpersonal relationships, swimming skills, or learning about rockets,” Jamey says.
“I hope that they have a world of fun. It should be the best summer ever for them because of our camp.”