Young people from around the world make lasting connections at YMCA Storer Camps
Tucked away in the Southeastern corner of Michigan, USA, surrounded by trees, lakes and green space, is YMCA Storer Camps. Founded in 1918 as the summer camp facility of the YMCA of Greater Toledo, Ohio, the facility provides day and overnight camping services for ages 7-17.
Each summer, YMCA Storer Camps welcome dozens of international youth counsellors. They join American counsellors in guiding 250-300 day and overnight campers each week through outdoor activities like swimming, paddleboarding, horseback riding, crafts, and tree climbing.
Many of our international counsellors come through Interexchange Camp USA and Camp America,” said Melissa Di Fiori, the Vice President of Camping for YMCA Storer Camps. “As part of the job application, we interview them through Zoom to make sure they’d be a good fit and learn more about their interests and skills. Sometimes we travel abroad and do in-person interviews as well.
Storer Camps up close
This summer, the camp includes counsellors from Australia, New Zealand, Jamaica, Colombia, England and more. And a special partnership with YMCA has brought youth workers and 10 campers from across Spain to spend four weeks at camp.
Though the campers get a chance to try most of the activities at camp, they get to pick an activity that they do each day so they can improve their skills. “My favourite is paddleboarding”, said Pablo, a youth leader from Madrid – a sentiment echoed by all the campers in his group.
Ria of England has returned to YMCA Storer Camps for a second year, in part due to the friendships she made. She laughs that she had to travel all the way to the United States to meet Chris – a fellow Brit who lives only one hour away from her at home.
One of her favourite parts of camp, she said, are the quiet moments at night.
“At the campfire devotions, we just sit and talk”, she said. “The campers will just talk about what’s going on in their lives, and it’s really peaceful”.
As a YMCA camp, Christian values play an important role at Storer Camps. Displayed prominently in the Malachi Dining Hall are the words, “I’m Third”.
Said Melissa, “It’s a reminder that it’s God first, others second, and I’m Third”.
Embracing camp life
While the opportunity for summer adventure is a main attraction, international staff say they come to YMCA Storer Camps for many reasons:
Improve language skills: Marcos from Bolivia said he didn’t know about the YMCA before applying, as there is no YMCA near his home, but he was interested in experiencing a new culture. “I wanted to improve my English and try new things”.
Share their culture: The campers also learn about other cultures from their camp counsellors. On a recent sunny summer afternoon, Fish from Australia taught a group – somewhat successfully – how to play Aussie rules football.
Inspire young minds: For Douglas from Jamaica, working with young people has been a rewarding experience. “I like working with kids”, he said. “It’s a good feeling when you connect and know you’ve gotten through to them”.
Through Interexchange and Camp America, the international staff members have 30 days after camp to stay in the United States and travel. “I want to see Central Park in New York”, he said.
Embracing the outdoors: Ella from New Zealand, an outdoor enthusiast, returned for a second year for the chance to spend her days – all day – outdoors. “I have met so many wonderful people here, and some of the best moments have been such simple ones”, she said. “One of my favourite memories is when it was raining. We danced outside in the rain”.