YMCA camp offers major discount for Reedley area kids

Donations to YMCA Camp Sequoia Lake help send kids from from Reedley, Orange Cove, Dinuba, Sanger and Parlier to camp

A group of campers gathered around the campfire at YMCA Camp Sequoia Lake. (Via the YMCA Camp Sequoia Lake Instagram page.)
Serena Bettis
Published June 1, 2024  • 
9:00 am

REEDLEY – Although the local branch of the YMCA disbanded about two years ago, the board of directors for the Golden State YMCA is still making sure that kids from Reedley, Orange Cove and surrounding Valley cities can attend sleepaway camp this summer. 

Thanks to thousands of dollars in donations raised by Golden State YMCA — which also operates under the name YMCA Camp Sequoia Lake — kids ages 8 to 14 from Reedley, Orange Cove, Sanger, Dinuba and Parlier can attend a week-long youth camp at Sequoia Lake for $300, a steep discount from the typical price of $995. Philip Dixon, a Reedley optometrist who serves on the Golden State YMCA Board of Directors, said that the organization’s main mission is to send as many kids to camp as possible.

“COVID did them in, but they still had some monies, so we took the monies and we said, ‘we just want to send kids from the Reedley area to camp with the monies,’” Dixon said, referring to the disbanded Reedley branch. 

Dixon said that while the YMCA doesn’t always reach its goal of raising $100,000 a year to send kids to camp, they typically bring in around $50,000 to $60,000 in donations that are dedicated to subsidizing the cost of camp for kids who need it. 

“We have a lot of donors who understand that’s their mission and who understand every penny we give these kids goes to send disadvantaged kids to camp,” Dixon said. 

Camp Sequoia Lake is a private, man-made reservoir in the Sierra Nevada owned by the YMCA since the 1920s. Located about 40 miles northeast of Reedley off Highway 180, the YMCA utilizes the lake for youth camp, teen camp, skate camp and family camps throughout the summer months. Dixon said that the camp has no TV, no internet and is “just kids being kids.” 

At Camp Sequoia Lake, kids receive the traditional YMCA camping experience that their parents may be familiar with. During the week-long youth camp, eight to 10 kids will stay in a cabin together and spend their time engaging in classic camp activities like archery, swimming, boating, arts and crafts and putting on talent shows, Golden State YMCA CEO Simon Helyer said.

Depending on age, kids also have the chance to go hiking to the Giant Sequoias, learn outdoor living skills and participate in the YMCA Ragger Program, which allows kids to set and achieve personal goals for growth, Helyer said. 

In addition to spending time outdoors, learning new skills and engaging in personal growth, Helyer said that one of the most important things kids can take away from attending camp is a sense of community that the YMCA works to “consciously create.” Campers sleep, eat and do activities with their cabins and their camp counselors to form a community during their time at camp. 

Further, Helyer said they work to make sure there is a diverse population of kids at each session, including both Spanish and English speakers, kids who have never left the Central Valley and kids who are from the Los Angeles, San Diego or San Francisco areas. 

“We do a tiered system, we do financial assistance, so there’s multiple people up there that have paid a different amount to get there,” Helyer said. “Money should never be a barrier, and I feel like that creates a community because there’s no kid up there with a sticker on saying, ‘Hey, I paid this much to come.’ Everybody’s treated the same, everybody gets the same.” 

To expose kids to different people and cultures, the YMCA also hires international staff members from all over the world, including Colombia, Turkey, Ireland and Mexico, “so the kids that don’t get a chance to leave (their home) at least experience some cultures from different areas because they’re bringing them to the camp,” Helyer said.

Dixon said that for some kids, the staff and camp counselors they meet — who are typically young adults ages 18-21 — may be some of the best role models they have ever had, so the camp works to create an environment that the kids will remember for the rest of their lives.

“I always like to tell the staff we have the biggest amount of impact in the smallest amount of time,” Helyer said. “If you think about a child’s life nowadays, they’re at school all day, so their parents are only seeing them at night, … teachers are focused on making them learn and they spend some time with them, but nobody spends as much time in one day with them as their camp counselor.”

Camp registration can be completed online at the YMCA Camp Sequoia Lake website. Residents of Reedley, Dinuba, Sanger, Orange Cove and Parlier can use the discount code “YMCA2024” to reduce the cost of camp to $300. Residents of surrounding areas who cannot afford the full camp rate can also apply for financial assistance, which the YMCA offers in multiple tiers.

Camp Sequoia Lake’s youth camp has five week-long sessions this summer. Sessions run from Sunday through Friday, with the first session kicking off on June 16 and the final session beginning on July 14.

“Spots are filling up; this has come into our lap, so we encourage people to take advantage of it sooner rather than later to make sure that they can get into a spot that they want them to go to,” Helyer said.

Serena Bettis
General Assignment Reporter