Caring for children is not a one-size-fits-all endeavor. Every individual who enters the doors of the YMCA has a story to tell and something they need to learn from us. Our job is to create an environment of acceptance, structure, and respect while helping kids have fun. This is what initially caught the eye of Dr. Willis as she sought a last-minute place for her nephew to attend Leadership Camp this summer.
“I needed a place where he’d not just be safe, he would be engaged in positive activities and perhaps improve his leadership skills,” shared Dr. Willis. “We were a little late in signing up, but the staff were wonderful. He was initially not too excited about it, but as he attended Leadership Camp, I started to hear more and more about activities and the staff.”
Leadership Camp helps youth and teens develop their social and emotional skills to emerge as leaders within their peer groups. Mentoring is an important part of the program, and a very special mentor for Aiden was Mr. Wilson. Franklin Wilson Jr. has been on staff at the Camp Curtin YMCA for about four years. As a Prevention Specialist, he helps young people navigate the challenges that come with growing up.
“Making a difference in my community makes me feel like I’m helping others,” shared Wilson Jr. His efforts did not go unnoticed by Dr. Willis who shared, “I kept hearing about Mr. Wilson this, Mr. Wilson that. The staff here held all of the youth to a high standard and that helped Aiden to feel comfortable.”
What no one knew is that Aiden struggles with social cues. Typically, when Dr. Willis had taken him to participate in activities, she would notify the staff, but in this case, she chose not to do so. “I just wanted him to feel like he was any other kid,” she said. “Ever since he came to live with me, it’s been hard to help others understand Aiden. But the Y was different. They just accepted him, held him to a high standard, and helped him grow. It was incredible.”
By the end of the summer, Aiden had run to be Vice President of Leadership Camp and has established a positive rapport with the entire staff of the Camp Curtin YMCA. At the end-of-camp celebration, Dr. Willis cheered as Aiden received the “Most Improved Camper” award from his favorite staff member, Mr. Wilson.
“This is a special place,” said Dr. Willis. “The staff here are exceptional. I am so grateful that Aiden and I found the YMCA.”