Fourteen years ago when Kara Dugan and her husband Mark Detgen joined the Madison Area YMCA, Kara said it was for one reason: “To get buff for our wedding.” 

Shortly after, they started their family and “didn’t see the inside of that gym for a long time,” said Kara—but they did take advantage of other Y programs for their two young sons such as the sports offerings and hip hop classes in The School of Performing Arts at the Family Center and child care, preschool and summer day camp at the F.M. Kirby Children’s Center. 

Brandon, now 13, and Colin, 11, are still involved with the Y—the Madison Junior School rising 8th grader and 6th grader continue to attend the Y’s summer camp program. Kara said, “When I asked the boys why they liked the Y, Brandon said, ‘The counselors. They really care.’ Colin said, ‘Everything.’” 

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As a guest speaker during the dinner reception at the Y’s recent annual charity golf outing, which raises money to help send kids to camp whose families can’t afford it, Kara said, “When I grew up, my mom was home during the summer—so camp meant ‘Go play outside and come home when the street lights come on.’ But with Mark and I both working full time, we needed camp where our kids would have fun from 7:00 a.m.-6:00 p.m. For a lot of parents finding the perfect summer camp is easy. But for us it was a little trickier because our youngest son has autism. Finding the right school for Colin, the right therapists and the right camp takes a lot of research,” she said, sharing their concerns: “Will he be welcomed by the staff, will he make friends, will he be able to participate in the activities and will he want to go back every day?” 


Pointing to the welcoming feeling and inclusive nature that the Y is known for, Kara said, “When I called the Y to ask these questions, they asked what they could do to accommodate him. I knew, then, the Y was the right place,” she said, adding that going somewhere new can be difficult for Colin so Kara especially appreciates the Y’s knowledge of how to handle any situation. “The staff is always accommodating, flexible, never judgmental—and comfortable with working with kids of all abilities.”  


Sitting at the Y sorting through her sons’ camp paperwork a few days after the golf event, Kara said, “The biggest indicator of the right choice? Colin is happy when he arrives at camp and runs up to the counselors—he has a connection. We could see he felt comfortable. And if we had any lingering doubts they were squashed when we saw pictures of Colin making friends, participating in all the activities and being welcomed by the incredible camp counselors. And as for wanting to go back, he’s entering his sixth year.”


Hoping that Brandon, a sports enthusiast, would be happy at camp, too, Kara had been concerned that he might be bored if there weren’t enough sports choices with challenge. Not only was that expectation fulfilled, Kara said that Brandon learned he loved other activities too—like hiking and, from his favorite Y camp trip, surfing. Additionally, he looks forward to seeing his “summer time” friends. “Brandon also has had leadership opportunities at camp,” said Kara, explaining that he had approached the counselors with thoughts on a particular situation and, after discussion it was changed. “The counselors are attentive and always listen to the kids’ opinions.”


At the conclusion of her speech at the golf outing’s dinner reception, Kara had wrapped up everything beautifully: “I feel so fortunate to be able to send my kids to the Y camp every week. I’m so thrilled to be here to help other kids enjoy the camp experience who otherwise couldn’t. And when those kids come to the Y because of your generosity, I promise you, the counselors and my sons will welcome them and ask them if they want to play a game.”