A J.O.Y. To Attend
Program geared toward seniors helps to include all YMCA members
By Jackie Rudolph
YMCA Camp Gorham is an overnight camp branch of the YMCA of Greater Rochester located in the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York. Our location makes us a premier tourist destination within a half-day drive for most residents of New York State. The camp operates primarily in the summer season, focusing on a program that serves approximately 1,000 campers. The facility offers cabin accommodations to groups outside the summer-camp program in the winter, fall, and spring. The cabins have bedrooms with bunk beds for two or four, full bathrooms, kitchenettes with eating space, and a common room with a wood stove, and lakefront porches.
The association currently has over 30,000 members past the age of 55, with over 2,100 active participants of the Lifespan partnership. Serving the senior members of the association has long been part of the mission of Gorham. It has not, however, been without challenges. For many years, we offered a full program that included food, housing, and activities. Meeting expectations of adults within the camp context became increasingly difficult, and over the course of several years the program dwindled to the point where it was not only failing to meet members’ wants and needs, but becoming a financial drain on resources.
In order to continue to serve these members, Camp Gorham made the decision to eliminate the program and create an all-new opportunity for seniors to come to camp. Considerations for the new program were cost, activities, and time—both length of stay and time of year.
A Looser Version Of Camp
From this, our version of a Week of J.O.Y. was born. A week for “Just Older Youth” has been offered now in the month of September for three years. Utilizing our cabins, seniors are offered a discounted rental during the prime fall-foliage season when days are warms and nights are cool. September is also back to school for the youth of New York. Our proximity to many tourist activities has allowed us to create a “things to do” list that does not require camp staff, so the week has become a self-guided experience, empowering seniors to create a week that works best for their interests as well as their physical-activity level.
J.O.Y. campers live in shared cabins that utilize only the bottom bunks with bathrooms and cooking facilities. Self-guided activities include on-site and off-site hikes, fishing, pickleball, day trips to nearby towns for golf, boat tours, guided hikes, shopping, and a regional art center and museum. Access to common areas at camp permits campers to interact, meet new people, and enjoy comradery while here. Leaving the itinerary open to guests as suggestions, as opposed to a schedule, has been received well. Many campers are looking to simply sit on a beautiful porch overlooking the lake and read a book. But for those who are looking for more, there is much to do. Making it optional has left them feeling empowered as opposed to obligated to attend an activity that may not be to their liking.
The kitchens in the cabins have allowed seniors to enjoy shared meals with their friends and, when needed, camp assists with coordinating “pot-luck” suppers. Breakfast and lunch seem to be less planned, and many nearby restaurants allow options for those who don’t want to cook.
Further flexibility is provided by permitting participants to select how many nights and which nights they would like to stay during the week set aside for the program. The program is designed for campers to stay from one to five nights, although we’ve had seniors extend their stay because they were having such a great time! Cabins are cleaned daily by custodial staff, and program staff members check in on campers to ensure they are enjoying their stay and have everything they need.
Show Them We’re Listening
Listening to the needs of members and being willing to accommodate such a wide range of abilities and interests has allowed us to create an experience that all can enjoy. The affordable price, combined with the comfort of the cabins and premier time of the year to visit the Adirondacks, has set us up for success. Registration is primarily by phone or a paper form as some of today’s seniors are not ready to embrace registration online. Once in a while we need to remind ourselves that everyone is not as tech-savvy as the overnight camp world has become!
We still send an old-fashioned mailing and follow up with phone calls to potential participants. This personalized contact is most appreciated by seniors and provides us with a way of connecting in advance of their arrival. We must be willing to meet campers where they are if we want them to register, attend, and enjoy our facilities. Happy campers, of course, remain the best advertising for any program!
Jackie Rudolph is the Associate Executive Director for YMCA Camp Gorham. Reach her at jackie.rudolph@RochesterYMCA.org.