By Joe Michiels, Board of Directors, YMCA of the Pines

As a board member, I am fortunate to have the opportunity to get an inside look at the positive impact that Matollionequay, Ockanickon and Stockwell have on the youth that come here as campers. Some of the activities that I have been able to be part of are meals in the dining halls, morning rituals, going to the fireworks and ceremonies. One of my favorite activities so far, is helping out with the Purple Feather Program during check-out at Ockanickon and Matollionequay. Campers get an opportunity to recognize their counselor(s) who made an impact on them by filling out a cut-out Purple Feather with a personal message while making a donation to the Scholarship Fund in their honor. The counselor who receives the highest number of feathers during each session is recognized in front of their peers and campers during the following session. The excitement that the campers show when they think of the counselor(s) who had the biggest impact on them that week, and watching them think of something to write to them is fantastic.  You really see that the campers are being positively affected by their time here, and that they are being given an opportunity to grow.

As much as I enjoy seeing how excited the campers are to nominate their counselor, my favorite part is something that parents or campers don’t get to see. After the campers leave, every time, the counselors come over and ask if they can see who got nominated, what the campers wrote, and not just to them, but to anyone. They are genuinely excited to see that they, or another counselor did something that was memorable enough to a camper to earn a feather. I’m sure there is a level of competition where each of them want to have the most feathers, but you can see that they truly are proud of every feather that the other counselors get; to the point that they want to donate and nominate each other because they felt that someone did an exceptional job that session. You can see how touched they are when a camper says something specific to them, which shows me that we have an incredible group of young men and women guiding the campers through this stage of their life.


We always talk about how the campers who come here explore, grow and thrive. But we don’t talk about how that is true for the counselors. Some of them were here as campers, and their journey is continuing. Others come from all over the world for a summer where they are inserted into a place they have never been, to help guide children through challenges and to help empower the campers to do great things. Meanwhile, and they may not even realize it, but they too are being empowered, and seeing the comradery at the end of check-out – where the counselors are touched by something a camper said about another counselor – is proof of that. The journey for them has only begun; they’re getting the foundation and learning how to be mentors, leaders, guides, teachers and friends. They are learning how to build relationships, to handle difficult situations, to be there for someone, and to work together as part of a team. They learn how and when to push someone when they need it, while helping build someone’s self-esteem, as well as their own. These are the skills that they will need later in life to be successful, however you quantify success. From what I’ve seen so far this summer, they all deserve purple feathers and I’m thankful that they’re the ones leading our young campers.