Camp Wiltmeet, the YMCA summer recreation day camp, is celebrating its second year back in New Paltz in high style. “There were a lot of advantages to Camp Epworth,” in High Falls, where the rec program was hosted for several years, said veteran YMCA camp director Lee Anne Albritton. “But it’s great to be back in New Paltz. The kids are happy, the parents are very happy and it helps keep it affordable for people.”
To that end, Albritton said that the camp, stationed at Duzine Elementary School, has met and exceeded its enrollment goal. “We wanted 150 campers to make the program succeed — and we’re up to 172!” she said as she high-fived and cheered kids on at their Summer Carnival event this past Friday.
Although the rec program took place at Lenape Elementary School its first year back in New Paltz, due to some interior sprinkler work that was taking place over the summer, it was were moved to Duzine — a change with which Albritton said that she was very happy with. “We have so much more interior space here,” she said, pointing to the various classrooms where kids could put their belongings and lunches, as well as tables for arts and crafts and indoor gaming if the weather was inclement. “Before we moved to Epworth, we spent four summers here, and the layout works so well with our programming. And the staff at Duzine is incredible,” she noted.
It took a group of parents and grandparents to band together to lobby the Town Board and the School District to have Camp Wiltmeet brought back to New Paltz, which they were successful in doing. “Years ago the town asked that the YMCA take over its town recreation program, and in order to keep it affordable, they helped subsidize us with scholarships for town residents,” the director explained. While the camp was successful in terms of attendance, it longed for its own home, and moved around from SUNY-New Paltz to the Villa Baglieri in Highland to Duzine and then Camp Epworth.
Tuition spiked due to the extra travel and cost of Camp Epworth, creating less enrollment. Working parents voiced their concerns, noting that every other town around them had its own rec camp, so why couldn’t New Paltz? Added to those factors was the discovery made by the Town Board that legally, it was not allowed to use taxpayers’ dollars to provide individual scholarships.
A volunteer committee was established several years ago to work with the Town and the recreation department and the YMCA to find a collaborative solution to bringing a summer rec program back to New Paltz with lowered fees. And that was what they did, via “a lot of cooperation and partnering,” said Albritton.
In this second year back, the YMCA is able to get transport to and from the Moriello Pool three times a week, so that campers can enjoy the water, learn some lifesaving swimming skills and get some heat relief. They also go on a field trip once a week to various places like Lake Minnewaska, Wood ’n Wheels, the 90 Miles Off Broadway play Trash and Berean Park in Highland, just to name a few.
While Camp Wiltmeet has bounced around from location to location, one thing that remains a constant is how the program is truly a “family affair,” with counselors who grew up as campers returning, kids of former counselors now enrolled in the program and siblings who either attend the camp together and/or are all counselors. One of these lifelong YMCA camp enthusiasts is 20-year-old Sheri Reid, who hails from Poughkeepsie and at the Summer Carnival was running the “Can You Toss It?” booth with palpable excitement. “I started going to the YMCA summer camp when I was 5 years old, and I’ve been here ever since,” said Reid. “I’ve been with this program for 15 years, which is most of my life, and I love every minute of it.”
Asked what has kept her coming back, Reid, whose brother is now a counselor as well, paused and said, “I just love working with the kids and all of the wonderful energy they have. The counseling staff is so much fun and great, whether its returning counselors or newcomers — they’re just some of the best human beings I know! And here we get to do things you can’t do in the real world, like walk around with aluminum on your head,” she said with a laugh.
When asked what her most memorable moment was this summer, she didn’t hesitate: “When one of my campers, [7-year-old] Ryan McCrory, passed the deep-end test at the Moriello Pool! The look on his face was something I’ll never forget. He’d been practicing so hard, and when he finally did it? There are no words for that.”
Town recreation director Chuck Bordino’s son Vince has also joined the counseling staff, as have almost a dozen returning campers “who recently graduated college,” said Albritton. “I can’t believe how everyone grows up so fast.”
One camp-loving youngster and athlete, Logan Linares, 11, said that what he enjoys about the summer rec program is “meeting all kinds of new people and seeing friends every day that you already know well. I also love all of the sports and games we play.” His favorite? “Cone Chaos,” which is a wild mix of dodgeball, baseball, cone tossing, running and teamwork.
“We have arts and crafts, theme days, challenges, sports, waterslides in the back for the days when we’re not at the pool. We have morning assemblies and treasure hunts,” said Albritton, listing some of the myriad of activities that they incorporate into their day.
The camp is run in two-week sessions costing $190 per camper, and runs from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., with special pre- and post-camp hours for parents who need that extra time to get to and from work. For additional information, call 338-3810.