The Y Summer Camp Matters (Letter to the Editor)

“By almost any measure, young Americans are in distress.” — Mara Gay, “Summer Camp for All,” The New York Times, May 28, 2022.

I am the past chair of the board of directors of the YMCA of Montclair, where I served on the board for a decade. I read with great interest Mara Gay’s recent New York Times article “Summer Camp for All”. She wrote, among other things,

“Play is powerful medicine,” said Deborah Vilas, an expert in child-centered games at Bank Street College in Manhattan. “I want adults to know that play is necessary. It’s not frivolous. It is not a place of learning. It is to learn. Much of the concern over the pandemic has centered, understandably, on learning loss. But strong academic research suggests that play is also an essential part of child development, contributing to empathy, healthy relationships, survival skills and self-regulation. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child regards play as an intrinsic right.

Summer camp has always been the backbone of our Y programming. For countless children, attending Y camp has been a place of character development and growth. Our camps are one of the top sources of requests for financial assistance and we remain committed to making the camp experience accessible to everyone.

The pandemic has re-emphasized how essential it is to get children outside, into nature, away from screens, able to breathe fresh air and just be children. There’s no place more perfect than Y’s Camp at the Lake, a 32-acre day camp in West Milford.

The Y has operated Camp at the Lake for 50 years, and the campus has remained virtually unchanged. The pandemic has helped us look at this space with a new and expanded perspective.

Camp at the Lake has so much more potential to offer youth enrichment programs and family outings year-round instead of just the summer season. But to do that, we need to make some major renovations to this space.

Last fall, my husband, Dave, and I hosted the YMCA of Montclair’s kick-off event for a major fundraising campaign to reinvent Camp at the Lake. I am proud to be an early supporter of this effort, which will see many improvements including the Hara-Koschik Family Amphitheater, the Turgeon Family Junior Pavilion, and the Fette Family Environmental Center. Additionally, the new Constable Family Lodge will provide a year-round facility that will include gathering spaces, kitchen, nurse’s station, accessible restrooms, and more.

I am thrilled with the impact this campaign will have on children and families in our community. You can find out more and watch a great (short) video at montclairymca.org/reimagine. If you want to know more or visit the camp, let us know!

As Mara’s article says, “The kind of experiences summer camp can provide – a safe, healthy space to play with children who are different from them and to build confidence in the great outdoors – can be life-changing for children.”

Izumi Hara
Past Chairman of the Board of Directors and Head of Volunteers
Montclair YMCA

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