By: Megan Arnold, Senior Director of Development, YMCA of Austin
About YMCA of Austin: The mission of the YMCA of Austin is to put Christian principles into practice through programs that build healthy spirit, mind and body for all. We live this out through programs that are for youth development, healthy living and social responsibility that promote strong families, character values, youth leadership, community development and international understanding. At the Y, strengthening community is our cause and our programs are always based on the needs and interests of our communities.
Tell us about your most memorable day (so far) in your work at YMCA of Austin.
I really can’t identify just one day; there are so many. The day our board voted to move forward with a capital campaign to build YMCA Camp Moody was pretty special. We had not conducted a capital campaign in 15 years. Because of that, the board required Y staff to complete two years of due diligence before the project ever came up for a vote, so a lot of time and passion had been invested in the project already. Hearing them vote a unanimous ‘yes’ meant they trusted the staff and leadership volunteers to be successful in this project. The day we got our first 7-figure gift was a day I’ll never forget. We originally got a ‘no’ vote but through further education and cultivation, we were able to turn it around to an amazing community collaboration. Lastly, the day we got word about the Moody Foundation gift will always be special to me. I was home on maternity leave with my third daughter and my co-worker called me from the office, and everyone in the office was screaming and dancing. I was speechless, and my eyes filled with tears of joy. I’m never quite sure that the givers of funds know how impactful their investments are to the staff and volunteers of the organizations they give to. Especially with this project, there’s so much support and passion around what we’re doing and what this camp will do for the families in our community. Rarely are things ever just business when you work for a non-profit, but this one specifically is super personal.
How has the community or your peers benefitted from work funded by the Moody Foundation?
Ross Moody and the Moody Foundation have already partnered with us before this leadership gift. The Foundation has been funding a cerebral-palsy sports camp called Camp In Motion through Dell Children’s Hospital for the past three years. Hosted at the Southwest Family YMCA, this program has been a significant partnership for us and has made a huge impact on our staff, volunteers and on the families we serve. While YMCA Camp Moody is still being developed, we do have nature day camps, outdoor education programming, archery and canoeing programs, and monthly family campouts at the site. We’re extremely excited to expand upon this work through the funds provided by the Moody Foundation. The support of such a highly respected Foundation has spurred additional trust and support from other donors in the viability of our raising such a large amount of funds. Currently in the public phase, we still have over $2M to raise before the full Phase 1 buildout can be completed. That said, we’ve begun the permitting process, and soon the natatorium will be built as well as infrastructure, hopefully, followed immediately by the first cabin village, dining hall, and fun activities like the zip line and archery range.
Why did you decide to build a summer camp?
In 1999, George Yonge donated 100 acres of property to the YMCA of Austin. Originally called Rainbow Ranch and then YMCA Camp Cypress, the property is just 15 miles south of downtown Austin, surrounded by Onion Creek and beautiful limestone bluffs. George donated the property to the Y in hopes that we would one day use it to help connect children and families with nature in a meaningful way. While we’ve been taking care of infrastructure needs in town over the past decade, the land was always on the back of our mind. Light programming was occurring on site but nothing too significant. In 2012, a few factors came together that lit the fire to get us to where we are today:
- George approached our leadership wanting to buy back the land if we weren’t going to develop it. Thankfully, the timing was right for us as an association to further explore our vision for camp. About the same time, our leadership team read the book “Last Child in the Woods” by Richard Louv and felt inspired to help reconnect kids with nature for its holistic health benefits.
- Camping has been a cornerstone of YMCA programming since 1885, when the YMCA started Camp Dudley in New York, America’s first known summer camp program. Fast forward to today, the YMCA of Austin is the largest YMCA in the country without our own overnight campus.
- In 2013, we conducted a market study, which showed data supporting the vision and amenities, and a feasibility study showed we were poised to raise the necessary funds. These factors, combined with the fact that we believe there is no more meaningful, life-changing experience for youth development than for a child to spend a week at overnight summer camp, affirmed our vision was on target with the core mission of the YMCA.
How do you hope Camp Moody and its programs will grow in the next several years?
Our vision is for YMCA Camp Moody to be the most accessible camp in the Greater Austin region. For us, that can be summarized by talking about accessibility in three ways: geographically, financially and physically.
- Geographically, YMCA Camp Moody is only 15 miles from downtown Austin. If you use the capitol building as the reference point, there is no single camp that is closer to the city center and open to every community member than YMCA Camp Moody. Additionally, we will provide regional busing to kids that need transportation to participate. Most camps average 1.5-3 hours by car to get to them.
- Financially, YMCA Camp Moody will cost half the average amount of overnight camps. Our goal is for camp to cost around $600-700/child for a week of camp compared to $1,200-1,700 that most other nearby camps are charging. Additionally, just as we are with every YMCA program, we are committed to never turning anyone away from YMCA programs due to an individual’s inability to pay, and we will offer scholarships to campers that have financial barriers to participate.
- Physically, YMCA Camp Moody will provide the only known camp to serve kids that are both able-bodied and special needs side-by-side. The campus is being designed in such a way that we’re utilizing universal design and being mindful of sensory sensitivities, taking it beyond just being ADA-accessible but making it truly ADA-welcoming.
We believe this vision will only happen when we come together as a community and collaborate with our non-profit partners that specialize in this work. Leading up to opening, we are actively seeking community partners to help inform our physical and programmatic design in line with this vision. Once we open, the potential for the site is endless: outdoor education partnering with school districts, family campouts, specialty weekends, overnight camp all summer long, nature therapy and retreats for people needing respite, drowning prevention work through the thousands of kids that will learn to swim in the 10-lane pool that we’re building in partnership with the Hays Consolidated ISD and more.
How many people do you hope to serve with Camp Moody?
In the first 5-years of operation, our pro forma shows we’ll serve nearly 40,000 individuals. After that, our projections are to serve nearly 12,000 people each year through the various programs and events. While YMCA members will receive discounts to participate in most programs, YMCA Camp Moody is open to anyone in the community that is seeking adventure (or peace!) right in Austin’s backyard.