Found My Y: Camp Delivers a Surprise and Lifelong Commitment 

Last updated: January 20, 2022, at 5:25 p.m. PT

Originally published: January 13, 2022, at 9:00 a.m. PT

Youth Development

By. Gwen Ichinose Bagley 

In school we are often asked to write about “what I wanted to be when I grow up.” The question always so definitive; I wanted to be lots of things and could not decide.  

I wanted to be a veterinarian because I love animals, then I wanted to be a travel agent so I could help others with their goals of traveling, but I finally landed on wanting to be a teacher. I had many educators who believed in me and helped me beyond academics and the desire to do the same for others agreed with me.  

I realized if I was going to teach, I first needed to get experience working with children.  I applied at the YMCA of Honolulu for a day camp counselor position right out of high school.  

I had the most fun working with a group of third and fourth graders. One camper, Melissa, was quiet and rarely spoke. I did my best to include her in activities and engage, but nothing seemed to work. I felt as if I had failed Melissa, and she did not have a very good summer.  

On the last day of camp, wondering what I could have done better, Melissa surprised me. She gave me a picture she drew of a bunch of horses with a note that said, “Miss Gwen, thank you for the best summer, love Melissa”.  

I figured out what I wanted to be when I grew up.  

Found My Y Infographic

I wanted to be someone who could help create opportunities with youth to thrive, to celebrate who they are, and foster connections to support them on their journey. The Y’s programs and services are the tools we use to do just that, investing in youth development to allow them to reach their highest potential, giving space to learn life skills and find their own “why”. That is powerful for me, and humbling. It is not a responsibility I take lightly, through my early days at camp, where I first felt a deep responsibility to younger generations, continue to today, over 30 years working in the Y Movement.  

The Y teaches confidence and life skills through our camps, early education, afterschool, youth & government and the list goes on and on.. We foster hope and walk alongside youth who have no home to go to, and we become their home. We create compassionate and nurturing spaces for our youngest while parents are working or attending school and prepare them to be ready for kindergarten. We teach swim lessons that support self-confidence, goal setting, develop healthy habits, and instill critical water safety practices.  

We are a safe space for kids when school is out, where they can play, socialize, and explore. We explore social justice and healing while on backpacking trips. We knock on doors and deliver meals to those who do not have access to food. The Y serves thousands of people and while that number is impressive, I never forget that every number has a name. I give to the Y because I have the benefit of seeing the impact of the work.  

The transformation that happens with youth and families is generational work, and it cannot be done without community financial support. Giving to the Y is a good investment because when everyone has what they need to thrive, we are all better for it.  

The Y relies on the generosity of others because fees do not cover the full cost of operating the programs and services we deliver. Without contributions, we would need to curtail programs and services that so many depend upon and that would be tragic.  

Please join me and invest in the Y, and help us to keep doing the good work that helps so many youth every day. I work at the Y because I believe it is what I was meant to do when I grew up. I give to the Y because I see the transformation every day with youth and families.

Thank you for taking the time to consider joining me and for allowing me to share my story. If you have questions, please come by your nearest Y and connect with us, or email for more information.

Gwen Ichinose Bagley is the Youth Development Officer for the YMCA of Greater Seattle. 

Found My Y is an occasional series of reported stories and personal essays from the people in and around the Y who weave the fabric of our communities. From sharing fun anecdotes of levity to the grand moments when we learn something bigger about ourselves, stories are our history and a gift. Have a story to share, or want to nominate someone for our next installment, e-mail us at with the subject line "Found My Y."