By Dawn Wolfe Gutterman
BURT LAKE – They’ve faced anti-LGBT discrimination, hopelessness and the stresses of inner-city life. And this Memorial Day weekend, 30 young people from the Ruth Ellis Center will face challenges they’ve probably never dreamed of before.
Challenges like how to paddle a canoe. Or hit a bull’s-eye in archery. Or what to do when there’s a huge, hairy spider in your tent.
This Memorial Day weekend, REC’s kids are going to Camp Al-Gon-Quian in northern Michigan courtesy of a partnership between the YMCA of Ann Arbor, the Rowan Education Network and, of course, the Ruth Ellis Center.
According to Cathi Duchon, CEO and president of the Ann Arbor YMCA, the collaboration was the brainchild of Antonio David Garcia, a Y staff member and Rowan’s founding director.
“Dave asked how I felt about setting aside a weekend at camp for a specific target group,” Duchon said. “He talked to the camp director and they put it in motion after that.”
“All of the credit should go to him and the camp director, Rebecca Schnetzer,” Duchon added.
Funds to pay for the camp, which will be free for the youth, will be raised via the Y’s Strong Kids Campaign, Duchon said.
Next, Garcia spoke with Grace McClelland, the Center’s executive director, and found a very receptive audience.
“We had looked into camping the last two summers and really had a difficult time finding a camp,” McClelland said. “Some said absolutely not, others said yes if we staffed the entire thing. Just the camping stuff wouldn’t be hard, but what are we going to do with our young people once we’re there?”
“I had already done a few camps up there for the Y, was familiar with the space and it’s perfect. We decided to jump on it. I had lunch with Grace, she got really excited and it’s just grown from there,” Garcia said.
Making sure the young campers will be well-supervised and well-instructed on camp activities will be a diverse staff of YMCA employees, Rowan board members and REC staff.
“A lot of the board members from Rowan work at the Ginsburg Center for Community Service Learning through UofM, and also we have a few board members that work for UofM’s recreation department, and they have a lot of camping experience as well,” Garcia said.
“The cool thing is they’re going to be up North, and most of them haven’t even been out of the city,” McClelland said. “It’s going to be so much fun! They don’t have a clue about sitting on the water in a canoe, or archery, or what a campfire feels like. It’s going to be an amazing trip.”
Garcia, who said that to the best of his knowledge that this will be the first camp specifically for LGBT kids, hopes to expand the program.
“The goal is … to expand this in the future, get grant moneys – so it won’t just be Ruth Ellis Center,” but include kids from Gay/Straight Alliance groups, children of LGBTs and others, Garcia said.
Both Garcia and McClelland had high praise for the Ann Arbor YMCA for stepping up to host the Center’s young people.
“They’re all going for free because of the Strong Kids program of the YMCA,” Garcia said. “I think it’s a real honorable thing for the YMCA to do.”
“We are so grateful to the Ann Arbor Y for the opportunity,” McClelland said. “They’re really stepping out of the box to help these kids.”