NEW YORK — Summer sleepaway camp didn’t just create lifelong memories for Jeremy Culpepper, it gave him his life’s work.
Culpepper spent 23 summers at YMCA Camp Onyahsa in New York — the first 10 as camper and 13 as staff, moving up the ranks to become program director. His experiences inspired him to earn a bachelor’s degree and master’s degree in recreation studies and pursue a PhD, before Fairview Lake YMCA Camps hired him as director of summer programs in 2014.
“YMCA summer camp creates a safe place for kids to grow, physically and emotionally. I’ve enjoyed being a part of the campers’ lives as they find their place and grow in confidence and self-esteem. ” Culpepper said.
Culpepper will say farewell to Fairview Lake YMCA on June 25 when his family relocates to Ohio. His wife, Rachael, whom he met at summer camp on New York’s Lake Chautauqua, was promoted at a national scouting nonprofit that is based in Cincinnati.
“Jeremy poured tremendous energy into Fairview Lake, creating new programs, expanding the number of families served, and helping to make the 100th anniversary in 2015 a great success,” Fairview Lake YMCA Executive Director Bob Kahle said. “We will miss him, and wish him well in his future endeavors.”
During Culpepper’s tenure, Fairview Lake YMCA’s summer camp program expanded from eight to 11 weeks, and several new options were added. For example, Pioneers Camp, added in 2016, gives children a chance to experience Fairview Lake YMCA as campers in 1915 did. Specialty camps in paddle-boarding, cooking, fishing and guitar playing were also added, as were more one-week camp experiences to allow campers to adapt to sleepaway camp before transitioning to longer stays.
Fairview Lake YMCA, located on 660 acres in Stillwater Township adjoining the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, hosts 1,000 children each summer from New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and beyond. Over the past two years, Fairview Lake YMCA has attracted campers from China, Kahle noted.
Culpepper was instrumental in incorporating the new Minisink Lodge into camp programming. The lodge includes three-story climbing wall, a dedicated candle making room, and a stage for performances (as well as several meeting rooms), Kahle said.
“I just love being able to put energy into something and seeing it prosper,” the father of three said.
He likes to take out his guitar and sing by fireside a few weeks into camp. “It always surprises people,” said Culpepper, who has recorded a few CDs.
A major responsibility of the director of summer programs is to recruit excellent counselors, and Culpepper excelled at that, Kahle said. Culpepper said three-quarters of the 100-member staff are former Fairview Lake Y campers.
Culpepper says that he will miss his Fairview Lake family most. “There aren’t many jobs out there where you are neighbors with your coworkers. You become more than just coworkers. You are a community. A family.” he said. He also said will miss having the gorgeous Fairview Lake YMCA as his backyard. The 40-year-old and his wife live on the grounds with their children, 9-year-old Holden, 4-year-old Maeble, and 2-year-old Oliver.
“It’s hard to leave. I’ve been with the Y my whole life, but I’m excited to try a new adventure,” he said. Culpepper believes the skills he has developed through his YMCA career will allow him to contribute at any organization. “I’m very passionate about serving people,” he added.
As a young child, Culpepper became a YMCA member at the Jamestown Area (N.Y.) YMCA, where his grandmother worked. While living in Ohio, he worked two years at the Toledo YMCA as an after-school program coordinator, he said.
Emily Galbraith, Fairview Lake YMCA’s marketing director, will become its interim summer camp director. Galbraith has experience with resident and day camp and served as a director at the Madison YMCA before joining Fairview Lake YMCA in 2015, Kahle said.