YMCA Teen Leaders from all five branches of the Metropolitan YMCA of the Oranges came together for a special one-week program at the Fairview Lake YMCA Camps to tackle everything from conquering fears to creating a cleaner community.

The Fairview Lake YMCA Camp experience offers the YMCA Teen Leaders a chance to develop a new program to bring back to their Y branches. It’s a comprehensive effort that gets all the branches working together as part of the largest YMCA program in New Jersey. In addition to learning teamwork and leadership, the teens have a chance to practice their public speaking and presentation skills.

“This is a program that has been built to be great,” said Emma Chin, a Fairview Lake YMCA Unit Leader who is in her fourth year as a staff member. “They’ve all exhibited leadership qualities of some kind, and part of our program is to build on that.”

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Fourteen campers, ages 12-15, completed a rigorous application process in order to be selected for the program. For one week in August, the teens collaborated with their fellow YMCA campers, developed new programs and presented their final projects to board members, executives and their parents.

“They have that ear-to-the-ground,” Chin said about the Teen Leaders. “It will help introduce new programs that benefit teens.

The Teen Leaders also had the chance to participate in a number of fun teambuilding exercises and camp activities amid the bucolic backdrop of the Fairview Lake YMCA Camps, which sits on 660 acres and includes a mile-long lake with breathtaking views.

The teens ziplined along the camp’s high ropes course suspended over 30 feet above the ground from treetop platforms. The campers also had a chance to kayak, swim and sail – some for the very first time. Activities like this are designed to foster leadership, cooperation and teambuilding skills, Chin said.

The campers stayed in overnight cabins, sharing the space and keeping it clean, which also built a sense of community and responsibility.

“They would’ve never met each other if they weren’t here,” said Metro YMCA, Senior VP and COO Larry Lev. “They’re all on the same level, they’re all equal… They’ll take these skills back to their branches.”

The teens put in at least two to three hours of work each day into their presentations, Chin said. When the time came to present their ideas, the Teen Leaders took to the Chapel stage that overlooks Fairview Lake.

West Essex YMCA Teen Leaders presented a program called “Colorful Cans” which is meant to encourage their fellow campers to pick up litter and throw away their trash in “aesthetically pleasing” decorated cans.

Teen Leader Isabella Bar, 13, said that the idea began with a plan to keep their branch clean, but soon grew into something more.

“We decided, ‘Why not do it for the whole community?’” she said, and added that the “Colorful Cans” would be distributed by YMCA members throughout the neighborhood.

South Mountain YMCA campers Spencer Melee and Dylan Jones, both 14, proposed a “multicultural night” for their branch in effort to promote tolerance and an appreciation for cultural diversity.

“Campers will bring some type of food, an object or even a visitor that will represent their culture,” said Melee. “It will help all the other kids learn about different cultures because our generation is becoming more and more diverse.”

“And it will also help people become more comfortable with accepting different people in their community,” Jones added. 

South Mountain YMCA Executive Director James Goodger was receptive to their idea.

“It’s really getting them to look at their community,” he said. “We are diverse, and there are so many different things to learn about different people.”

“I’ll do my best to make sure we can guide them,” Goodger added. “These guys will be driven. We’ll make sure it happens.”

Jamari Gordon, 13, a Teen Leader from the East Orange YMCA branch, presented his idea for a movie night which would “bring more teens and kids to the Y.” He suggested hosting a movie night in the local park on a weekly basis. Selling snacks and tickets would raise money to buy sports equipment, games and supplies that the branch needs, he said.

“It would be an awesome idea to bring more kids, more opportunities and better equipment” to the Y, he said.

Bob Kahle, Executive Director of Fairview Lake YMCA Camps, declared the week a great success.

“It was a fun group of kids,” he said. “All week they were reaching out, welcoming people.”

“I love the values that we stand on, the fact that we’re an intentional program, we don’t fall into things accidentally,” Kahle added. “This is their home away from home. This becomes yours.”