As much as Jennie Griffin loved teaching, she quickly realized the classroom wasn’t for her.
“I didn’t like being indoors,’’ said Griffin, who graduated from New York University and briefly taught in a public school after graduating. At the NYU career center, she learned of an opening for an environmental education instructor at Fairview Lake YMCA Camps.
The Manhattan native had never driven on a highway, but she got behind the wheel and made the 65-mile trek to Stillwater, landing a job that would be the start of a 20-plus-year career at the Fairview Lake Y.
“Name a job title and I did it,’’ said Griffin, rattling off a list of more than a dozen positions she has held at the Fairview Lake Y since the early 1990s. (The only areas she hasn’t worked in are food services and maintenance).
Griffin recently added a new title: associate executive director.
“This is such an exciting time to be at the Fairview Lake Y, celebrating 100 years and thinking about all the people whose lives have been touched by it,’’ Griffin said.
World War I was already a year underway when the Y got its start in 1915. A group of boys from West Orange spent two weeks living in tents along the nearly mile-long Fairview Lake.
In the ensuing years, the camp expanded and grew to serve children from all over New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania – and far beyond. Between the summer camps, environmental education programs and weekend conferences, the 600-acre Y now attracts more than 24,000 visitors a year from at least 12 states and other countries, including Spain, France and Hong Kong.
Last year, the Fairview Lake Y opened the new 8,000-square-foot Minisink Lodge complete with a three-story indoor rock wall, ski lodge and theater. It replaces the lodge that was destroyed by a lighting strike in 2012.
While Griffin’s immediate focus is on making The Centennial weekend, June 12-14, spectacular for the estimated 275 alumni and family members, she is looking to expand the Fairview Lake Y’s draw as a state-of-the art environmental learning center with new opportunities for individuals, families and groups to unplug and play in the great outdoors.
“The way we have to grow is to dream big – we can do anything at camp we can think up that people would enjoy,’’ Griffin said.
Griffin said she is amazed by the camaraderie between people attending different conferences held on the same weekend. “Building community. That’s my favorite thing about camp,’’ Griffin said. “These are the connections that make the world better."
“Jennie leads with passion, and that’s what is so important when you’re serving others,’’ said Fairview Lake Y Executive Director Bob Kahle. And Griffin “has the skills and personality to motivate staff to hit the goals that will keep the Y growing,” he said. “We expect great things from Jennie.’’
Griffin grew up spending summers at sleep-away camp. As a kid with dyslexia, school could be a struggle, but at camp, learning about nature came easily. “I understood everything that was going on, because I could see it. I could touch it,’’ the 45-year-old said. “Kids who don’t necessarily thrive in a classroom, here, they thrive.’’
Griffin was senior program director in late 2012 when she left Fairview lake YMCA Camps to move to Australia with her partner of 18 years, whose U.S. Visa had expired. But she kept her ties with the Y, even returning in the summer of 2013 as waterfront director of the Sussex County YMCA’s Blue Mountain Day Camp, located at Fairview Lake.
“When I heard the associate executive position was available, I had to take the job; I have such a strong connection to our past and I can see how much further we can go,’’ she said.
A change in U.S. law will allow Griffin to sponsor her partner, Sarah Trehearn, for U.S. citizenship.