“By nearly every measure, American youths are in distress.” — Mara Gay, “Summer Camp for All,” The New York Times, May 28, 2022.  

I am the immediate past chair of the board of directors of the YMCA of Montclair, where I served on the board for a decade. I read with great interest the recent New York Times article by Mara Gay titled “Summer Camp for All.” In particular, she wrote,  

“‘Play is powerful medicine,’ said Deborah Vilas, an expert in child-centered play at Bank Street College in Manhattan. ‘I want grown-ups to know that play is necessary. It is not frivolous. It is not in place of learning. It is learning.’ Much of the concern around the pandemic has centered, understandably, on learning loss. But robust academic research suggests play is also an essential part of child development, aiding in empathy, healthy relationships, survival skills, and self-regulation. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child considers play an intrinsic right.”  

Summer camp has always been the backbone of our Y’s programming. For countless children, attending Y camp has been a place for character development and growth. Our camps are one of the leading sources of requests for financial assistance and we remain committed to making the camp experience available for all.

The pandemic reemphasized how critical it is to get children outside, into nature where they are away from screens, able to breathe fresh air and simply be kids. There is no place more perfect than the Y’s Camp at the Lake, a 32-acre day camp in West Milford.   

The Y has run Camp at the Lake for 50 years, and the campus has remained essentially unchanged. The pandemic has helped us look at this space with a new and broadened perspective.  

Camp at the Lake has so much more potential to offer youth enrichment programming, and outings for families, year-round instead of just the summer season. But to do so, we need to make some significant renovations to this space.   

Last fall, my husband, Dave, and I hosted the YMCA of Montclair’s launch event for a major fundraising effort to reimagine Camp at the Lake. I am proud to be an early supporter of this effort, which will bring many improvements, including the Hara-Koschik Family Amphitheatre, the Turgeon Family Junior Pavilion, and the Fette Family Environmental Center. Additionally, the new Constable Family Lodge will provide a year-round facility that will have gathering spaces, a kitchen, a nurse’s station, accessible restrooms, and more.  

I am excited about the impact this campaign will have on the children and families in our community. You can learn more and see a great (short) video at montclairymca.org/reimagine. If you would like to learn more, or visit camp, please just let us know!  

As Mara’s article states, “The kind of experiences summer camp can provide — a safe, healthy space to play with children who are different from them and to build confidence in the great outdoors — can change children’s lives.”  

Izumi Hara 
Immediate past Board Chair and Chief Volunteer Officer 
YMCA of Montclair