In New Jersey, the YMCA of Metuchen, Edison, Woodbridge and South Amboy offers enrichment, education and a great time
“It’s always the best summer at the Y.”
For nearly three decades, wildly popular summer camps hosted by the YMCA of Metuchen, Edison, Woodbridge and South Amboy have meant fun for kids in central New Jersey.
And more recently, this chapter of the internationally recognized organization has also expanded its early education childcare programming during the school year.
“We have a variety of options to meet working parents’ needs,” says Cindy Shields, Senior Child Care Director at the YMCA of MEWSA. “We have a pretty strong focus on developing healthy habits around physical activities and nutrition—we really just want to see the kids enjoy themselves and have the opportunity to just be children.”
Shields has been with the YMCA for almost as long as it has held summer camps.
Her 29-year tenure has led to a mastery in directing all childcare programs for the chapter—as well as experiencing full-circle moments by seeing many campers return as camp counselors for traditional, junior, specialty, travel and Leaders in Training (LIT) camps.
“It’s nice to see counselors come back to give back,” says Shields. “Their desire to come back and give the same experience to kids that they once had is a good testament to the impact of our programs.”
Like most organizations, the COVID-19 pandemic led to new demands for programming and support.
“Since the pandemic, all of these new needs have popped up with children,” says Shields. “We’ve added a focus on learning loss and helping to close the gap that some students experienced between one and two school years by infusing the curriculum with academics.”
This year, Enbridge gave a $15,000 Fueling Futures grant to the YMCA of MEWSA as part of our commitment to help build vibrant and sustainable communities. Funds are being directed toward the chapter’s annual support campaign, which alleviates the financial burden on families who otherwise may not be able to enroll their children in programs.
Although the worst of the pandemic may be in the rear-view, Shields notes that its effects have left a “whole host” of other issues, including employment stress and inflation.
“The cost of camp is high, and we know families are under so much stress right now,” says Shields. “Being able to receive ongoing partner support and rework our assistance scales has enabled us to extend the financial support offering to more families.”
The 10-week summer camp season runs until Sept. 2 this year, but fundraising for the program is a year-round endeavor to make every summer the best one yet.
“Our goal was always just for the kids to have a safe and healthy summer—but the greater focus on mental wellness, social development and stress management is more important now than ever,” says Shields.