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The New Y

The YMCA will now be known as the Y.

Is nothing sacred?  Must I be forced to think in acronyms?  Kentucky Fried Chicken is KFC.  National Public Radio is now only known as NPR (if you missed that one, listen to your next local broadcast).  The truth is, we’ve all called it the Y for decades.  Perhaps nothing has been lost. 

As a YMCA CEO, I have been privy to the internal roll-out of this new brand over the last 8 months.  It was, at times, painful.  Of the beautiful things that grew out of this process, our renewed organizational focus sits at the top of the list.  As the Y, we are for:

  1. Youth Development
  2. Healthy Living
  3. Social Responsibility

It’s tough to argue that.  Having worked in both facility YMCAs (with pools, gyms, childcare, etc.) and Camps, I feel that the Y does these three things pretty well.  What we have struggled with has been how to articulate the good we do in the community – and this process should allow us to better communicate our local impact.  This is, of course, the entire point of a brand.  In that effort, the YMCA of the USA has been successful in their rebranding process.

As a “Y Guy” for 15 years now, a change in branding is more than ordering a new name tag and changing some signage – it has become a part of my identity.  But as a Gen-Xer, CHANGE has become my primary operating system.  I was born into a world without cell phones and now live on my Blackberry.  I went to college as the commercial internet was born and now write this blog.  I’ll make it through a new look for the Y.

Please take the time to visit the website of the YMCA of the USA at  It will provide far more information on the this process, and you’ll see the new look first hand.  For other reactions to the Y’s rebranding work, visit the Consumerist at, the New York Times at, or the National Post at

Goodbye to the Y I grew up in.  Welcome to the new Y.  May it live up to its promise.

We’ll see you at Camp!


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For the past 15-20 years, I have heard creative managers, professors, directors, teachers and writers tell us that we need to “get out of the box” to find better solutions.  As a Gen-Xer, I think “out-of-the-box-thinking” may be my generation’s’ credo.  If that is the case, I will spend the rest of this post arguing against the prevailing zeitgeist.  My sainted mother has always believed me to be a contrary soul, and I would hate to disappoint her now.  I’d like to argue that you, and those your are responsible for developing, must get back in the box.

Get Back in the Box!

Walk with me on this one.

It seems to me that the moment a thought becomes cliché, it becomes unmoored from the shipyard that built it in the first place.  Take the phrase in question:  “Think outside the box.”  According to Paul Muchinsky, this phrase was coined by a funeral director when suggesting to a grieving widow that she consider cremation and an urn for her husband’s remains over traditional burial and coffin (  Let’s spend a moment thinking about “the box” in question.  In this case, we’re considering a coffin.  Without the traditional  solution (i.e. a coffin), the new solution (the urn) makes no sense.  We need the traditional solution to launch the new idea.  In some ways, our thinking requires a framework from which to launch the original, or groundbreaking idea.

Now consider how we encourage out-of-the-box thinking in our children and those we work with.  In the last few years, I have watched intelligent leaders fail to train those that work for them in the name of letting their staff think-outside-the-box or “make a program their own.”  This doesn’t end well.  And how could it?  Without some structure, framework, skeleton, or history to use as a foundation, an individual has nothing to build upon – no means of launching a new idea.  There is no reference point.  No context in which the new idea can be planted.  The cliché has taken over.  It overwhelms its own history making it irrelevant.

So how does this apply to kids and summer?  After all, that is what I write about.  Thanks for traveling this far with me, we are almost home.

Kids need structure (another cliché, I know).  More broadly, most people thrive in a situation that provides some amount of structure.  I believe that in order for an individual to reach her potential, she must begin with a framework – a grid of understanding.  As she masters the frame, her development requires that we show her which boxes to break in that framework.   Eventually, she will choose which boxes to break and which to retain to find unique and creative solutions to our world’s problems.

If you want your child to succeed, begin by building him a box.  Share your values, encouraging traditional learning (reading, writing, etc.), and then allow for opportunities to break that box.  Summer is a great time to give your children a chance to pursue new ideas, creative projects, and new boxes to break.  But don’t forget to build the box!

We’ll see you at Camp!


So your kids have been pestering you to have a campout out in the backyard?  Mine have – and they are only 2 and 4.  My wife got them a ladybug tent a year ago.  My mother got them sleeping bags.  I have been promising to build a fire and roast marshmallows since April.  Pretty soon I will have to give in. 

Get Outside, Do "The Great American Campout"


But I don’t have to do it alone.  The National Wildlife Federation is promoting its annaul “Great American Backyard Campout”  ( again this year.  I don’t care if you live in Center City, Philadelphia or Grinnell, Iowa.  There is a Campout event being hosted in a park near year.  Visit the website I included above and get yourself registered.  After you sign up, a world of activities to do with your kids will be yours for the taking.  Do something different with your kids this summer.  Get outside with your family.  Camp. 

Camp – but start small.  Please don’t go to a box store and buy two backpacks with the intent of hitting the Appalachian Trail with your 7 year-old.  Build up to that kind of campout.  Start small with an experience you know will be successful.  Start in your backyard. 

Why is this so important?  And if you’re a concrete kid yourself who did not have a lot of exposure to the great outdoors, this is a legitimate question.  Last month I posted a blog on why your kids, and you, need the great outdoors (  Instead of rehashing that, I wanted to share a couple of points that the National Wildlife Federation included on their site promoting the Campout event. 

Beyond the obvious benefit of spending time with your kids, the National Wildlife Federation points to the following benefits: 

  1. Creativity:  Kids who spend time outdoors are more likely to use their imagination.
  2. Eyesight:  Kids who spend time outdoors have less nearsightedness
  3. Friendships:  Outdoor kids do better relating directly to one another
  4. Healthy:  More sun = more vitamin D.  More outdoor play (1 hour a day) = less obesity.  Greater health = better grades in school.  Good Stuff!

Do you need more convincing?  I hope not.  Campout in the backyard with your kids this summer.  Tell stories.  Roast marshmallows.  Look at stars.  Build a stronger family.  You’ll be happy that you did. 

We’ll see you at Camp! 


Be sure to visit Nathan’s camp, The South Mountain YMCA Camps, at

Thank you for participating in the poll that made this post possible. 

As the camping industry has grown more sophisticated (and it has, check our websites), we have realized that there is a disparity between what our families perceive as risks in our summer programs and what we perceive as our actual risks.  In preparing this post, I expected that gap.  What I did not expect was that my own perception of the risks associated with summer camp would be different from folks in the insurance industry.

In the last two weeks, I have had the opportunity to talk with two very helpful insurance professionals.  Many thanks to Morris Gold of Sobel Affiliates, A Division of Brown & Brown, whose company specializes in summer camp among other things.  I also need to thank Howard Longino (@h2lifesaver for those of you in Twitterland) who works with the Redwoods Group, a company specializing in camps, YMCAs, JCCs, and other organizations.  In the interest of disclosure, Sobel Affiliates is my insurance provider with the South Mountain YMCA and Camp Conrad Weiser.  The Redwoods Group insured the Akron YMCA and Camp Y-Noah when I worked with those organizations in Ohio.

In the poll I placed on my LinkedIn page for parents, I asked the following question:

Assuming all equipment is in good repair and staff are well-trained, identify the riskiest activity for a child.

  1. High Ropes / Climbing Towers
  2. Swimming (in a pool)
  3. Horseback Riding
  4. Field Games
  5. Swimming (in “open” water like a river, lake, or ocean)

Parents responded by saying that they perceived Open Water Swimming as the most risky activity on the list (50%), followed by Horseback Riding (23%), High Ropes/Climbing Towers (13%), Swimming in Pools (6%), and Field Games (6%).  For those of you that participated in the poll, congratulations!  You correctly identified the number one concern of both camping programs and those that insure them. 

For both of the insurance industry professionals I spoke to, Aquatics is the #1 risk in summer camp programs.  Surprising to me (and apparently to those who responded to the poll), the industry does not generally draw a distinction between open water scenarios and pools.  As Howard Longino put it, aquatic programs and camper transportation are both huge areas of exposure because they “provide a significant potential for fatality.”  When you take a step back, this shouldn’t surprise you.  While we, as Americans, have accepted the risks associated with automobile travel, we are still aware of the possible consequences.  Likewise, I think we understand that there is rarely a minor injury associated with water.  The good new is that your camp is aware of these risks, too.

Keeping your Kids Safe this Summer:  If your camp is accredited by the American Camp Association (ACA), they spend a lot of time training and testing staff for both transportation and aquatics programs. They know how to keep children safe in these areas.  The same can be said for high ropes and climbing tower programs.

Horses.  Anyone who works extensively with horses has a healthy respect for programs that mix people and large animals.  Your camps believe this is a program with real risk – and they respond accordingly.  In my conversations with insurance industry professionals, neither mentioned equestrian activities as an area of concern. 

Keeping your Kids Safe this Summer:  If your camp is providing equestrian programs, make sure they are ACA and Certified Horsemanship Association (CHA) accredited.  Again, accreditation by these organizations means the staff has been trained and the facility and program have been reviewed by someone other than the camp staff.

Field Games.  Brace yourself.  According to industry experts, this is where your child is most likely to be injured this summer.  No kidding.  The most common injuries in camping are foot and knee problems that occur in court and field sports.  But, PLEASE, don’t keep your child off the playing field this summer – childhood obesity as a result of inactivity is a far greater, life-changing problem than a sprained ankle.  Keep your kids active.

Keeping your Kids Safe this SummerAs Howard Longino points out, “it’s an issue of hazards to the activity like improper footwear.”  Your kids want flip-flops, and that will be fine at the pool, but send them to camp in sneakers so they are prepared to play.

Both Morris and Howard stressed a risk that did not appear on my original poll – bullying & abuse.  Your summer camp is aware of these risks, and they screen, background check, and train their staff accordingly.  Next week I’ll share some resources that can help you talk to your child about these problems.  Often the best thing we can do for our kids is keep open lines of communication.

Please remember that each day we choose to step outside our doors and wander into the wider world, we are exposed to risk.  I think that Camp can help.  I think a good camp program can teach your child how to identify and manage risk.  Those skills are essential to raising an independent, creative child in today’s world – and camps are good at it.

We’ll see you at Camp!


Be sure to visit Nathan’s camp, The South Mountain YMCA Camps, at

It’s a summer tradition and a rite of passage, but why do send our children into the woods each summer armed with their sleeping bags, sunscreen, and two extra pairs of socks?

In 1979, my parents took me to a little YMCA camp on the South Mountain in Pennsylvania. They were well-adjusted, happily married, middle-class people who loved their 3 children, but they dropped their oldest son off at a camp at the tender age of 7. They had never visited the camp, had not gone to it themselves, and knew none of the staff working in the program. What were they thinking?

I hated my first camp experience. I was slow to make friends as a child – particularly that first summer – and had not benefited from watching an older sibling make his or her way through the world. I didn’t understand that every family, school, or house of worship had their own traditions and customs that were different from mine. It was intimidating. I won’t even get into the camp food. I left on Saturday morning with an awful case of poison ivy swearing I would never return. To my parents’ credit, they just smiled and said “we’ll talk about it later.” The next summer, they pushed me to go back. Their philosophy was that any experience could go wrong once – give it a second try and then make your decision on whether or not to return.

As an adult now working in camping, I asked my parents why they sent me, and in later summers my brother and sister, to Camp Thompson. In various ways, they told me that they hoped we would get a better “sense of ourselves”. They felt a sleep-away camp offered us the opportunity to grow as individuals while learning about others in an intimate setting that can only be created by living with 8-10 other children for a week. 30 years later, are we different from our parents?

Recently I posted a poll on LinkedIn that asked parents what they hoped their children would get from their summer camp experience. 47% of the parents responding indicated that they wanted their campers to Gain Independence. 30% responded with the hope their children would Gain Self-Esteem. 15% wanted their campers to Make New Friends. Only 5% indicated that they wanted their children to Learn Traditional Values or a New Skill.

Perhaps our reasons for sending our children away to camp have not changed that much in 30 years, even as society and technology have rapidly evolved. Perhaps we all hope our children will make their annual summer sojourn into the woods and return knowing a little more about themselves.

We’ll see you at Camp!


Summer Camp Source: Nathan Scott Brant