A smile and a helping hand at Camp Jewell YMCA

A Living Our Cause story about Peter Gove, our Property Manager
Peter pic
There’s a big service component at camp—it’s a matter of what we teach the campers when they’re here, but it’s also a big part of our job. That’s how I like to think about my job in maintenance. When someone is at camp and they have a problem they can always count on the maintenance staff to come and fix it. I enjoy that, I enjoy helping people. And, I love my job.

I didn’t always start off working in maintenance; I came to Camp Jewell from South Africa in 2003 as a Ranch counselor. My brother Grant had come over the summer before and based on what he’d said I wanted to give it a go. I thought I had an idea of what I was getting myself into, but I wouldn’t have guessed my stay would run more than a decade, that I’d find my career path, and that I’d meet my future wife, Jodi, here.

We have summer camps in South Africa and I had worked at two of them before coming to Jewell. It was there that I learned about horseback riding, surfing, breakdancing, working with kids, and even fire poi-it’s been awhile, but I can still do it, it’s kind of like riding a bike. Grant, my sister, and I all worked at one of the camps together. One of the coolest experiences I had there was seeing Grant in a different light. He’d always been a really likeable guy, but also a bit proper. So to see him crawling on the ground with a group of kids pretending to be a bug was funny, it showed me a different side of him. Camp often brings out different sides of people, perhaps sometimes sides we didn’t even realize we had.

That’s a bit of what happened for me here. After working three summers at Ranch camp, the last as a CIT counselor there, Jodi and I got married. I considered a job working for a tiling company where I would have trained to become a skilled laborer, but I wasn’t sure that’s what I wanted to do and though I was looking for a change I knew the camp bug hadn’t left me. Ray suggested I talk to Mario, the property manager at the time, so I did and Mario offered me a job in maintenance. Immediately it felt like the perfect fit. It was the best of both worlds: I got to work with my hands and learn new skills, and I got to work at camp.

Mario was a great teacher. At that time he had already been at Jewell for 20 years; he knew so much and he was very patient. I didn’t have any official maintenance training prior to working for him, but he taught me a little bit of everything so I had the tools to do the job. I’m grateful for that and I’ll always consider him a good friend.

What I like about working in maintenance is that I get to build things but also that I get to serve the people who come to camp. Knowing that I can be there to help people and make their stay more comfortable and enjoyable—even when there’s a problem in their cabin in the middle of the night— is a cool feeling. I like to think of myself as not-your-typical-maintenance-guy. I want to be approachable and I want people to know they can come to me for help with anything. I also hope to show kids it can be cool to work in maintenance, to build things, to work with tools, and to operate machinery. We do a lot of hard work, but we have a lot of fun as well.

The kid I’m most excited to teach about the inner workings of camp’s maintenance department is my own. Jodi and I are expecting our first child in late June (I’ve taken to referring to him as Batman, but I promise that won’t be his given name). I can’t wait to show him all the awesome stuff we do, to teach him the value of hard work, to ride on the tractor with him, and to instill in him that jobs requiring manual labor are just as important as other jobs. I have a passion for maintenance and I’m really looking forward to sharing it with him.

Impacting the lives, one phone call at a time…

Camp season is right under all of our noses and everyone is getting calls and questions about registration, about the programs and more! This past week the West Hartford YMCA had their first open house and have been getting many calls about our summer program offerings for camp. Getting phone call after phone call asking the same questions may seem like a lot, but this week getting those phone calls and helping out new and old members with questions has been great! Hearing new families calling the office asking questions about our camp programs has got me quite excited for the camp season ahead, but when I get previous camp families calling and asking about the new and exciting things that camp has to offer this year has given me the best feeling of excitement, joy, enthusiasm, passion and more about every part about camp. I may have a conversation with someone for 5 minutes or 50 minutes about camp, but all the information and interaction with them has been a great impact on them, but most importantly myself. I know that being apart of an organization like the Greater Hartford YMCA  has given me the chance to impact more and more individual on many level. I am so happy to be apart of something that gives back to each and every individual we serve.

I can not wait to meet more and more new friends at camp this summer and see more and more friends return to the West Hartford YMCA camp of 2013! Get ready it’s going to be an AWESOME SUMMER! 🙂

Anne Fisher Ice Cream Party

It is with great pleasure that I congratulate The Annie Fisher Aftercare Program for winning the 2013 Strong Kids Campaign Coins for a Cause. This is the first year that all 3 sites competed. All sites did a wonderful job and this year the SACD program raised over $175.00. The winning site, Annie Fisher won an ice cream and pizza party. Congratulations Kids!!!

Downtown Celebrates Healthy Kids Day!!

This past Saturday, Downtown held it’s Healthy Kids Day at the East Hartford YMCA. Although we didn’t have a big turn out, the children who attended had a fantastic time!   The kids had a chance to make some Mother’s Day presents, play games and make some healthy snacks!

I know one of the highlights for me was being “shown how it is done” on the basketball court by a 4 year old named Elijah!!!!  I was never really a basketball player…but this kid was unbelievable and he kept challenging me!!

Courtney did a fabulous job entertaining the really young ones with blowing bubbles and card making for moms!! Also, while she was an engaging a 7 year old in making a card for his mom, she was amazed at his creativity and intelligence. His penmanship and spelling were perfect!!!

It was such a fun day! The kids had a fantastic time and so did we! FOOD

We made yogurt parfaits and our own trail mix!


Sue vs Elijah at basketball!!


Courtney helping some of our friends to paint flower pots for their moms 🙂

I love camp. I believe in camp. I know camp changes lives.

A story about our assistant office manager Becky Barton–she’s spent literally a lifetime in YMCA camping.
Galilee family pic

I was three months old when I first started going to a YMCA camp. My parents worked at YMCA Camp Becket-Chimney Corners in Massachusetts so that’s where I spent my summers growing up. And yes, it’s where the name Becky came from. I’ve spent literally every summer but three at one Y camp or another, I met my husband, Mo, at Jewell, and I’ve travelled to a lot of different countries as a volunteer or employee of the Y. I’ve held multiple director positions here at Jewell, and today I work as the assistant office manager. Sometimes it’s tough to get my arms around my YMCA story, because there’s just so much to it. In my heart I really value the Y camping experience and I feel lucky to have had the opportunities that I’ve been given.

My time at Camp Jewell started in 1992 when I came as an outdoor education instructor for Nature’s Classroom. I had spent four months volunteering with the Y in Uruguay before that and settled in here quickly, meeting Mo only two weeks after arriving. For the next few years I jumped back and forth between jobs at Jewell and Chimney Corners, and spent four months with Mo in Australia where we worked for the Y together. Over the years at Jewell I’ve worked as a Village Coordinator, Teambuilding Director, Trips Director, and Outdoor Center Director. I love the people I work with, the work that we do, and the place where we do it.

In addition to camp programs, the international component of the Y has always inspired and excited me. My first experience was travelling to Sweden as a camper when I was 15. Since then, I have been blessed to be involved with YMCA programs in England, Northern Ireland, Uruguay, Argentina, Brazil, the Dominican Republic, and Australia. What we’re doing here at camp is happening in 120+ other countries around the world and that’s really powerful.

When I applied to be the teambuilding director at Jewell, I taught the committee a song I learned when I was at a Y camp in Uruguay. The cool thing is that I learned it from a Brazilian friend who had learned it from an American she met while working with the YMCA in South Korea. So that song has literally travelled around the world! Camp has always been an invigorating and exciting experience for me and I love that it’s happening for so many other people in so many other places. I like to think about all the kids who’ve had Y experiences here and internationally; they are all part of our larger Y community, and really, they’re our future.

I believe in the impact Y camping programs have on all of us. What camp offers is a gift; it is truly the gift of spending quality time together. It pulls us away from outside distractions so we can focus on the people around us and the moment we’re in, while we’re in it. That’s a really powerful way to experience the world, to learn life lessons, and to feel supported in trying new things. Camp creates that for people, and if you walk away after being here for a day, or a month, or a year, you walk away having learned a lot about yourself and the people who shared that time with you. That’s how I see the mission of the Y intensely embedded in camping and I’m proud to say that mission has made me the person I am today!

Give a Compliment

Do you even realize how one simple compliment to a friend, co-worker, family member or acquaintance can make them feel? A member and friend posted this on her Facebook page:

“One of my greatest joys is witnessing how a compliment to a teammate ignites an amber already in them…… turning it into a flame……….the flame is fed by oxygen expelled by their performance…….as a result their performance improves……..which turns the flame into a steady burning fire within themselves……….a fire that is now fed by their own confidence.”

Your teammates give you the confidence. They give me the confidence all year. -LeBron James-

Give a compliment today!

“I want to be an Olympic Gold Medalist”

GS BPD small group

Three troups of local Girl Scouts are wrapping up the year with a swim/Zumba party here at the Indian Valley YMCA. To get the party started, they participated in a Big Picture Deck activity. Each girl was asked to select a picture that represented a cherished memory and one that represented a hope for the future.
It was a pleasure to listen in and hear one girl exclaim that she hopes to be an Olympic gold medal gymnast! You go Girl….Scout!

Silver Sneakers Spotlight

Recently we started our Silver Sneakers program at Wilson Gray. The Silver Sneakers program is a group exercise program specifically geared towards older adults. One of our super seniors is making a tremendous impact. Reggie Bigelow is 63, but don’t let his age fool you. He is one of the fittest member’s in the building. Reggie is in the gym every morning at 9 am on the dot, ready to get a good lift, to run a few miles or just to chat. He’s become an inspiration to many.  So much so that he’s been selected for the Member Spotlight award of the month. Thank you Reggie for pushing both members and staff and our community to stay healthy!!!  


Changing Lives One Meal at a Time

Here’s how Lisa Coyne, Camp Jewell YMCA Dining Services Director, is living our cause and changing lives, one meal at a time.
Lisa Coyne pic

Food is the one thing every person who comes to camp has in common, whether you’re here for a conference, family camp, or summer camp. Sometimes we have 100 guests, other times we have upwards of 600 served at two dining halls. Can you even imagine the logistics of feeding three meals a day to 600 people? It takes a significant amount of coordination, planning and hard work day in and day out and thanks to Lisa Coyne, our Dining Services Director, not only do it we do it, we do it well and with really good food.

Lisa came to camp a dozen years ago to work part-time with the afterschool program. She was running her own restaurant in Southwick, Mass. at the time and after she closed it she took a position in the kitchen as head cook. She was classically trained in French and Italian cuisine, where it takes a lot of time to prepare food, and at first she found the transition to cooking at camp just short of insane. But she figured it out pretty quickly and it grew on her—four years ago she took over as the kitchen’s director and she’s made lots of improvements since then.

Gone are the days of fried food, mashed potatoes from a box, and juice loaded with extra sugar. Instead, she uses unprocessed foods and makes as much from scratch as she can. You’ll find an impressive salad bar, fresh fruit, healthier yogurts and muffins, and homemade soups, mac ‘n cheese, and French toast among a lot of other options. That’s not to say there aren’t some other treats and comfort foods thrown in from time to time, but they’re not as prevalent as they once were.

She’s not alone in the kitchen, where she has several people who work alongside her, including some who’ve been here for more than a decade. It’s hard work and it’s long hours, but there’s a reason they stick with it. It’s the kids and the relationships they make here—with guests and with each other—that motivate them.

Camp has also become a family affair for Lisa, whose four kids grew up coming to work with her and playing around camp, coming to summer camp once they were old enough. Today her daughters work here, Katie in the kitchen and Kelley at Sunrise Mountain Children’s Center, as well as Kelley’s boyfriend, Connor McManamy, who is the assistant dining manager and kitchen roundsman. Gordon Gregory, Dining Hall Manager, is like a stepson to her.

And her three-year-old grandson is the next generation of her family to reap the benefits of having camp as his own playground. He calls it “his camp,” which makes us smile, but the truth is maybe he’s onto something. After all, most of us claim at least a piece of camp as our own, too.

LiveStrong Graduation at Downtown






livestrong cake


livestrong hands

livestrong        livestrong family

My name is Emily Callison and in January, I first started working for the Downtown YMCA of Greater Hartford. I had just moved here from Omaha, Nebraska where I recently completed the course to become a trainer for the LiveStrong program at the YMCA, and I knew immediately I wanted to be part of this program.  Lucky for me, I got hired just as a new session of the LiveStrong program at the Downtown Y was starting.  I was so excited to be part of the 12-week journey that helped survivors improve their strength, flexibility, and endurance. Graduation was such a special night; after people ate and socialized, I helped Tiffany, our Senior Director of Health and Wellness present each survivor with their award and a paper that had results of their pre and post-test assessments.  These assessments tested their strength, endurance, flexibility and balance. We then picked two areas in which they showed the most improvement and had everyone who came to graduation guess the amount of improvement that was made.  I loved this because as soon as I unveiled their results, the survivor, as well as the rest of the room smiled and cheered in excitement. Seeing the smile and amazement on everyone’s faces was so fulfilling, and I will have those memories forever.  I had no idea the emotional journey it would take me on as well being part of this program.  Listening to our survivor’s tell their stories on day one, then watching them become stronger and more confident as the weeks progressed was very uplifting and gratifying. Then, to watch everyone come together in the end and celebrate each of their accomplishments was priceless.  I can’t wait to be involved with the new session that starts next week as well as participate and coordinate more sessions and more graduations; this program is truly one of a kind.

-Emily Callison- Wellness Attendant and Program Instructor -Advanced