Everyone loves holiday break, but it can also be a stressful time for working parents, who have to find care for their kids.

During the 2015 holiday season, the staff of the Richard G. Snyder YMCA Campus along with numerous volunteers offered a day camp for Armstrong School District students in kindergarten through sixth grade.

The three-day camp, from Dec. 28 to Dec. 30, provided children a fun, safe and structured environment, and gave working parents some peace of mind that their children were cared for and engaged.

“The camp was free and open to everyone,” says Joely Beeker, chief executive officer of Richard G. Snyder YMCA Campus. “We didn’t want to have children not coming because of costs.”

Keeping it Local

Hosting a day camp at the YMCA just made sense, Beeker says. It already serves local families and would be open during the district’s holiday break. Staff and volunteers were ready to organize fun games and exercise, and serve up a nutritious meal.

It wasn’t just the YMCA staff who made the day camp possible; the community also played a major role.

“We reached out to local vendors and businesses for help with the food, and to the local community for volunteers. We were overwhelmed with the response,” Beeker says.

A local family, the Martins, volunteered to make the lunches for the children one day, and Allegheny Mariner Restaurant and Mel’s Pizzeria in Kittanning each donated lunch one day. Other local businesses donated snacks and beverages, including Schneider’s Dairy in Pittsburgh, Clarion Fruit and Produce in Knox and J. Krukar Construction in Kittanning.

“Everything food-wise was donated which really helped us with costs,” Beeker says.

The program also wouldn’t have been possible had it not been for the numerous volunteers who signed up to help out. While staff members facilitated much of the programming, community volunteers shared their time and expertise to help organize fun activities, including swimming, reading, Bible trivia, crafting and yoga lessons.

The Armstrong SD football team, led by head coach Frank Fabian, lent a hand and worked with the children each day to play team sports and enjoy fun fitness programming.

“The kids loved the ‘big boys’ and really looked up to them,” Beeker says. “Some of the kids even asked the football players for autographs.”

Adding in parents and students from the district’s two high schools who also pitched in, Beeker says more than 50 volunteers assisted with the camp.

“So many people helped in so many ways. We were really touched with our community’s support,” she says.

Fun Times For All

In total, 137 students attended the day camp, which was from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day. Not only did the kids have a chance to socialize, they also had a chance to try out new games and activities.

“It was fun for them to be exposed to new things,” Beeker says. “Walking in and seeing 20 kids taking yoga for the first time was great.”

Beeker says she got positive feedback and encouragement from all directions.

“Everyone—the volunteers and the participants—kept saying how much fun they had,” she says.

YMCA hopes to offer the camp again, perhaps over other school breaks.

“We really saw the need for the program,” she says. “(Breaks are) hard on parents. So many are working and are single parents. A program like this really helps them.”