YMCA Commitment to Safety and Equity for All at Camps

Last updated: April 19, 2023, at 11:37 a.m. PT

Originally published: December 3, 2021, at 12:03 p.m. PT

By. Loria Yeadon

Since 1906, the Y has proudly brought the benefits of the great outdoors and memorable, life-changing outdoor and camping experiences to youth and families from across our region. In 2020, summer was just not the same for many youth and camp staff, as a residential camp for individual campers was not allowed to operate due to Covid-19. 

During the summer of 2021, despite capacity limitations, staffing challenges, and ongoing battles with Covid-19, we welcomed the return of residential camp for individual campers, recognizing the significant role that camp plays in the development and well-being of our youth and families. 

We operated camps in 2021 in a pandemic environment at 50% capacity. We welcomed more than 3,000 youth and family members to our residential camps, which is a major feat considering that many camp facilities were not able to operate because of Covid-19 and staffing challenges. We celebrate our staff and volunteers who made residential camps possible during challenging circumstances.

In 2020, the YMCA of Greater Seattle made a pledge to become an anti-racist learning organization. This commitment compels us to acknowledge and learn from our history, foster and support the development of equity leaders, identify, analyze, and respond to inequitable and oppressive acts within our own organization and communities, and continue to strive to create a culture where humanity, respect, and inclusion are nurtured and celebrated. A part of becoming an anti-racist learning organization is being transparent in our successes and shortcoming and owning when we fall short of our mission and equity statement.

Through this lens, we will transparently share experiences where we have fallen short in our journey. Throughout a series of articles in the coming year, we will re-examine our programs, procedures, and history, seeking ways to improve, and share our findings as an act of accountability and transparency. We also invite you – our community – to walk alongside us and help us continue to grow and learn. 

Work in Progress

In examining our current practices, the Y recognized some of our camp cabin names have historically used indigenous names and words without written authorization. 

We apologize for this unauthorized use.

The YMCA of Greater Seattle leadership team looks forward to working with the tribal community and other community leaders to define a path forward. We will address this unauthorized use in a way that honors and respects tribal peoples connected to this land, the culture, and history in a sustainable way. We are committed to restorative practices and fostering strong and stable relationships with our tribal communities and neighbors. 

While this work is in progress, we have posted signage to acknowledge and explain the historical harm and work in progress with visitors to camp.

Room for Improvement

In the Summer of 2021, campers and staff at a YGS Camp who identify as female, and some of whom are of color, experienced racially motivated and sexist behaviors. These incidents caused harm and trauma to all involved. Out of privacy for all involved, we will not share details on the incidents. What we can share is that once they were fully brought to our leadership’s attention, we moved swiftly to meet with parents and caregivers to provide context and support, unpack the issue, and re-examine our methods. Will are committed to improving safety and care where possible to create the most just, equitable, safe, and supportive environment for all at the Y.

On behalf of the Y, we are deeply sorry and saddened for all who experienced harm at our camp facility. We acknowledge and own that the Y did not fully live up to our equity and mission statements in these critical moments. We work hard to create a space where all feel welcomed, supported, valued, and safe. We fell short of the belonging experience that we aspire to create for all.

We are grateful to those who spoke up about their lived experiences and the impact these experiences have had on their lives. I and/or other Y executive leaders have personally sat down with campers and staff and listened intently to their experiences to learn and be better. 

We appreciate them for sharing suggestions on how we can be better and create experiences of belonging for all. We also appreciate their engagement and willingness to work alongside us to help us take action and be better. We endeavor to continue to learn from these experiences and through our actions, and we continue to be vigilant in our work and on our journey to become an anti-racist learning organization.

In preparation for next summer, we are engaging in a comprehensive equity audit;  establishing an advisory committee made up of community members and staff who are historically underserved in camp experiences; increasing investments in staff education and training; and continuing outreach to the community and staff to report out about our learnings, our focus, and work, and next steps.  
We take full responsibility for this work, and we invite community to join us and to continue holding us accountable to our mission, equity statement, and commitment to becoming an anti-racist learning organization. We invite you to keep the conversation going. Feel free to reach out to me (ceo@seattleymca.org), Gwen Ichinose-Bagley, Youth Development Officer (gbagley@seattleymca.org), or Indira Bahner, Equity and Justice AVP (ibahner@seattleymca.org).  

Loria Yeadon is the first person of color and the first woman to serve as President and CEO of the YMCA of Greater Seattle. This article is part of an ongoing series focused on the Y’s commitment to equity, justice, and our journey of becoming an anti-racist organization.