YMCA Camp Kitaki

Cabin Groups: For a Better Us

Cabin Groups: For a Better Us

I got an email the other day. The day before, I heard someone share a sentence. In and of themselves those are both rather mundane occurrences. The fact that they happened isn’t important but the content of those different messages, and the connection between them, is.

The Email: The email was from YMCA of the USA, with a link to a new video put together to help share our mission to the world. You should watch it. It only takes 60 seconds. I think it is a powerful reminder of some of the small things that contribute to differences in our lives that we all too often make into divisions in our world.  If you were born just one zip code away, how would your life be different?

The Sentence: Last week I had the opportunity to attend the YMCA Global Camping Conference held at YMCA of the Rockies near Estes Park, Colorado. Over 570 camping professionals from all around the world (over 100 were international visitors) gathered to learn from one another in that beautiful space. I saw deer, elk, mountains and snow. I spoke with the director of the YMCA of Greece who runs programs in Syrian refugee camps in her country. I heard from Dr. Deborah Gilboa (Dr. G) share the power of chores, and of teaching kids about failure and when (not if) things go wrong. I worked with 9 other YMCA Camps across the country to further inclusion work at overnight camps through the YMCA Inclusion Grant Project. I heard James Edward Mills speak about leading the first group of black climbers to the summit of Mt. Denali. I led a session to a packed room on the successes and challenges of Camp Kitaki. It was a magical experience.

At the conference Kevin Washington, CEO of YMCA of the USA shared one sentence that reaffirms my entire career. His words might sound a little like hyperbole, but know that it comes from the results of a comprehensive national study done on YMCA youth programs. Kevin said:

“YMCA Overnight Camping is by far the most affective and comprehensive youth development program that we do” - Kevin Washington, CEO, YMCA of the USA

The Connection: I can’t help but be moved by both the email and the sentence. If YMCA’s bring people together from all different backgrounds for a better us, and Camp is the most affective youth development program of the YMCA, then what is our special strength? Bringing people together to the same place is powerful. What if, in that space, those people had to learn to create their own community? What if each individual was a critical part of the greater whole? What if you couldn’t turn your back on those who are different, because everyone is right there, not zip codes away? What if we realized the basic needs humans share, and how we as individuals can help meet the needs of others, while meeting our own needs in the process? Overnight Camping does these things every day.

At Kitaki we call it a cabin group. A small community where everyone participates, learns, and grows together. That succeeds because of the differences that exist in it’s members. A microcosm of our neighborhoods, cities, states and countries, made small so that our kids can practice the leadership necessary to make those larger communities better.

It’s our special strength, and we are pretty good at it.

Having seen the power of overnight camping on full display last week, I know it makes our world a better place. That the kids who leave Kitaki at the end of just one week do so with a transformed understanding of creating community. That within the four walls of our cabins are planted the seeds of a future with a greater connection to those just one number different.

For a better us.


Jason Smith
Executive Director
YMCA Camp Kitaki

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