YMCA Camp Kitaki

The Phone Rings

The Phone Rings

The phone rings.  I know the question that will be asked before the first ring quiets.  Not from whom, but certainly the what.   It’s not telepathy, just the law of averages.  I glance towards the clock as I become aware of the Pavlovian response of my stomach, a sinking feeling brought about by a cheery bright ring tone.   It’s 2:33pm on a Tuesday in late March.  A deep breath.  The phone rings again and I pick up the receiver sliding easily into the greeting “Thank you for calling YMCA Camp Kitaki, this is Jason, how can I help you?”  The voice on the other end of the line introduces himself, and tells me that he is a Camp Kitaki staff alumnus who is returning to the area.  We talk about all the wonderful memories he has of camp as a kid and staff member, and how, now that his family is moving back to the area, he wants to share Kitaki with his kids so that they can have those same experiences.  It is a beautiful conversation on the power and lasting effect of camp.  The sinking feeling falls deeper.  

Here it comes.

“I was looking at your website and it seems like camp is full, is that true?”  The question is asked like so many before, and so many since.  My mind flashes to that day years ago which, although we didn’t know it then, would became a turning point.  

Four years ago my full time staff and I were leaving the Mid America Camping Conference.  During the conference we had the fortune of attending a session by Jen Feltz, who at that time was the director of a YMCA camp in Wisconsin.  In it she shared all sorts of ideas we found inspirational on marketing and engagement with families.  She also shared something that would become a mantra of sorts for us over the next few years.  “You always have a choice.  You can operate and make decisions from a place of fear of scarcity, or a place of faith in abundance.  I choose faith in abundance.”  I vividly remember driving the long distance home from Michigan, discussing all these new ideas, making plans for our future as a camp.  Most importantly we made a conscious decision to choose faith in abundance.

Since that day we’ve changed 1,000s of things about Kitaki.  Some worked, and some didn’t, and 100s of ideas we haven’t even gotten to.  Yet here we are, 4 years later, with a new reality.  Camp has gone from ending the summer with open beds, to selling out in May, then selling out in April, to this year selling out the majority of our camps in February.  

Back to the present. “Unfortunately it is true; camp is sold out for the summer for your kids’ age group.” I say, cringing as I deliver the now familiarly disappointing news.  

I hate it that has to be my answer.   I passionately believe that kids need experiences like summer camp.  Turning even one kid away is hard, and there are so many kids who aren’t having a camp experience in the world.  This same conversation has been had by all of us at Kitaki so many heart breaking times over the last few weeks.  Campers who were waiting on figuring out other schedules, campers who would earn their 5 year award this summer, campers whose parents simply forgot, and whose children “will never forgive them”, campers who are calling for the first time because they have heard so many great things.  

My own nephew was considering summer camp for the first time this year, and I can’t fit him in.

“Well it’s a good problem to have” the alum says as our conversation draws to an end.  He is right.  It IS a good problem to have, and I am immensely proud of the hard work that got us here.  It is an honor to run a camp that so many people feel so connected to, so bought in to the values and outcome of the experience.    Sometimes I get so wrapped up in getting to see the magic of camp unfold as kids grow and learn and develop in this community that is full of so many wonderful humans.  Other times I feel the unforgiveable disappointment of having to turn away a camper.  

For now we are at the limits of what our infrastructure can handle.  As crushing as that is, I have to accept it, and focus on making the impact on all kids who will be joining us this summer stronger than ever.  I also want to say thank you.  Thank you to each and every person reading this for supporting camp, believing in our mission, and trusting us as stewards of this life changing place.  

We are constantly looking at the next steps, focusing on how to grow the impact of camp for all.  As I look to the future I see the challenges of running a camp that is over capacity looming.  The need for more lodging space, larger dining space, more indoor program space, more horses, more parking, more, more, more.  Each one of those is daunting, scary, and comes with 1,000s of questions of how we are going to fund, maintain, and staff any growth.  While I have no idea what the future holds for us, as we plan for the days that come at Kitaki I keep coming back to one goal.  

Every kid deserves camp.  

Faith in abundance, right?


Family Day Programs:  Sunday May 13th or Sunday May 21st from 1-5PM.  All Ages!

Women's Wellness Weekend:  May 19-20