West Suburban YMCA | West Suburban YMCA

Friends for Life

Ben Kaloupek

Nov 12, 2019

Camp Chickami is a place where everyone is welcome and accepted.  This allows the campers to feel comfortable being their most authentic selves. Campers are all different, so encourage campers to be themselves and no matter what their personality. I want to share a wonderful example of the Chickami community embracing all who enter from this past summer. 

The story begins in February, when I received a call from a prospective Chickami parent who told me all about her son; I’ll call him “Jimmy”. Jimmy was struggling to navigate his school’s social scene. Jimmy and his family had moved to the Boston-area from northern Maine during the previous summer. She told me that Jimmy is the type of kid that “beats to his own drum,”.

As the school year began, Jimmy’s mother noticed that he seemed upset after school. After many attempts, Jimmy finally told his mother the other children in his class were not accepting him.  He felt alone and missed his home in Maine. She was looking for a summer experience where he could be free to be exactly who he was, rather than pretending to be the way others thought he should be. I was able to convince Jimmy’s mother to give YMCA Camp Chickami a try.

Soon enough, it was time for Jimmy’s first day at camp. He arrived at camp with his babysitter but was refusing to leave the babysitter’s side. I sat with Jimmy for about 5 minutes and we talked all about his feelings towards camp. It was clear that Jimmy was nervous about his first day.  After a few jokes Jimmy seemed to be feeling better. Soon, his babysitter departed, and I took Jimmy to meet his Unit Leader. Jimmy quickly clicked with his Unit Leader and before long, they were off to join Jimmy’s group. When I checked in with the Unit Leader a short while later, she said that Jimmy was off to a fantastic start! Jimmy had almost instantly hit it off with one of the other campers in his group (I’ll call him “Greg”).

I checked in on Jimmy several times throughout the rest of the week. Each time, he was engaged in some sort of activity, often with his new friend Greg and most importantly, each time with a big smile on his face.  During Family Night I met Jimmy’s mother.  She excitedly told me all about the amazing experience Jimmy had been having at Chickami. She said Jimmy came home every day so happy and excited while non-stop talking about his day at camp until he fell asleep. She told me that he was already planning out the group that he would have when he was a Chickami counselor someday, the activities he would run, and how kind he would be to all the campers…”just like my counselors have been to me.”  By a stroke of luck, Jimmy’s mother met Greg’s parents at the Family Night. It turned out that the boys attended the same school and would be classmates during the upcoming school year! They had planned a playdate for the end of summer and both boys talked all about being friends for life.

I was ecstatic to hear that Jimmy had so enjoyed camp, and I believe that stories like these really hit on what truly is the magic of YMCA camps.  Jimmy didn’t have to pretend to be someone else to gain acceptance from his group or Chickami community at large. He was himself, exactly who he wanted to be, and the other campers and staff opened their arms to adopt him as one their own.