When I was growing up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, I was very involved with the local YMCA. As a child, I went to camp; when I got older, I became a camp counselor. Throughout my youth and teenage years, the Y was like a second home for me. I made many lifelong friends from those experiences.
It was the summer of 2013 and incredibly hot. I’m talking about temperatures of 90 degrees plus – the heat beating up from the sidewalk was absolutely brutal. On this particular day I came across a young girl out on the sidewalk with her Mom, who was handing out flyers. Day after day I saw them, standing in this intense heat, and finally I couldn’t stand it. I asked the Mom why she had her daughter, this little girl, out in these conditions. Why not send her to camp, so she could be having fun out in the country with other kids?
The Mom explained that she was in a tough spot. Even though she was working, she didn’t have the financial resources to send her daughter off to camp, and the child was too young to stay home alone.
That’s when I did something I hadn’t done in ages – I called the YMCA. The operator at the Vanderbilt YMCA very kindly heard me out as I explained about this young girl and the heat and the need to get her to camp. Though it was expressed to me that it was already pretty late in the season, she promised to forward my message along to see if anything could be done.
The YMCA director called me back the very next day. I was thrilled when the director said they’d find a way for the young girl, Julia, to go to camp, adding, “That’s what we’re here for!” That sweltering summer, not only did Julia get to attend camp, but she’s continued to go back for three years now. Her growth, as part of the experience has been amazing to witness.
But it wasn’t only Julia’s life that changed. As a result of this initial exchange, the director said, “You’ve helped this one child. What would you think about helping more?” Today I’m on the Board of Managers for the Vanderbilt YMCA, and have been very actively involved in fundraising for the Y. Last year, I raised $19,000 and was able to help 29 children go to camp.
The Y also partners with the Julia Richmond Education Center, putting social workers into the schools to assist children as they pursue college and trade school education. We’ve held career fairs, and I’ve been able to mentor some teens – it’s been an absolutely fantastic experience and I’d love to do even more.