WEST CHICAGO – When Blythe Garma was asked to speak at the B.R. Ryall YMCA's annual golf outing fundraiser, the decision to talk about her experiences as a counselor at Camp Hope in West Chicago was an easy one.
"It's been a blessing to be a part of a really special camp like Camp Hope because these kids – as much as they have so much fun just being here – I just love being around them, and they just give me a good end to my summer," said Garma, 20, of Wheaton.
This summer marked Garma's third time working at the free week-long camp, which provides children living in low-income housing in West Chicago the opportunity to enjoy activities they may not otherwise experience.
"To be a part of that for the first time with these kids is something really special," Garma said.
This year, the YMCA's golf outing funded the majority of camp costs, with help from other donors and sponsors and the Y's annual community support campaign. At the outing, children's camp fees were offered as auction items.
About 75 children entering first through ninth grade attended Camp Hope, which was held Aug. 5 through 9 at Pioneer Park in West Chicago.
Activities throughout the week included traditional outdoor camp games, as well as a mix of recreational and educational field trips and presentations. Campers toured the College of DuPage campus, DuPage County Courthouse and West Chicago Police and Fire departments and visited a local movie theater and mini-golf course.
The selection of camp activities combined education, fun and the development of positive behaviors to impact health and lifestyle, said Dee Dee McDevitt, vice president of membership and marketing.
Many field trips were designed to show campers possible paths they could take in their own education or career, McDevitt said.
Camp Hope began in 2011 after the B.R. Ryall YMCA of Northwestern DuPage County received a diversity inclusion grant from the national YMCA organization.
B.R. Ryall YMCA officials decided a summer camp was the best way to increase their impact and landed on West Chicago as the town in their service area that both met the requirements of the grant and would most benefit from a camp, said Erin White, director of camps and before- and after- school programs for the Y.
Although the camp is currently only available for West Chicago families, McDevitt said similar camps may be offered in other communities serviced by the B.R. Ryall YMCA.
For Max Sanchez, 10, one of the best parts of his camp experience was when Mr. Freeze from Fermilab dropped by to teach campers about the effects of extreme cold on various materials.
This was Max's first summer at Camp Hope, and he hopes to come back next year.
Some of the older students became leaders at the camp, making sure the younger campers crossed the street safely and teaching them right from wrong, said campers Devonte Pascal, 15, and Marquise Johnson, 14, who have participated in Camp Hope for two years.
With the help of older campers and community members who spoke with children during the various field trips and presentations, YMCA staff hope to have a positive impact on participants' futures.
"It's putting heroes in the lives of children every day, so they can be successful in the choices they make tomorrow," McDevitt said.