It's pretty hard to top Disneyland in the eyes of a child.
That's how Bruce Robinson knew he had stumbled onto something great—when he took his children to YMCA Camp Sequioa Lake for the first time, and they said it was even better than Disneyland.
That first trip was more than 20 years ago now, but Robinson will never forget it. While his children came away singing camp songs, Robinson walked away with the idea that he wanted other kids to have the same opportunity to experience the camp.
“The Y is more than just a place to take swim lessons, play basketball, lift weights and work out,” he said. “It’s a place that has a lot of wonderful programs that have a very positive impact in the community.”
Not long after that first fateful trip, Robinson found himself volunteering as a Palo Alto Family YMCA campaigner.
"Campaigners" are volunteers who go out into the community and spread the word about the programs the Palo Alto Family YMCA offers. They seek donations so the Y can provide assistance to families unable to pay the full cost of attending camp, joining the YMCA or taking swim lessons.
“The YMCA has a basic philosophy that we won’t turn anybody away because they can’t afford to pay,” said Scott Glissmeyer, Palo Alto Family YMCA executive director.
On Wednesday night, Robinson joined nearly 100 other campaigners and Palo Alto Family YMCA staff members at Tesla Motors in Menlo Park for the kickoff of this year’s Annual Giving Campaign. The Palo Alto Family YMCA hopes to raise $200,000 during the Annual Giving Campaign, which ends March 9.
Money raised by Robinson and the other 112 campaigners will also be used to cover the cost of the YMCA Cooper Scholarship Program, which awards college scholarships to high school students in the Palo Alto area; as well as help pay for the Y’s Ventura Teen Center, where teens can get help with homework and take part in extracurricular activities.
Robinson has been active in Palo Alto Family YMCA activities for more than 18 years, coaching sports teams and volunteering at camps. He said the experience of watching kids jump up and down when they make their first bulls-eye in archery, or seeing how proud they are when they swim across the lake, is powerful.
Such scenes, he said, are too hard to watch without being moved.
Robinson recalled one such experience in which a camper walked up to his camp counselor on the last day of camp and, with tears streaming down his face, told the counselor the week at camp was the best of his life.
“I saw first-hand how wonderful the programs were, how much they helped,” he said.
Robinson said many of the nearly 100 people he contacts agree to donate year after year, because they realize how important it is to give children and families in the community an opportunity to take part in the YMCA's programs.
Glissmeyer said the Palo Alto Family YMCA is able to offer financial assistance to around 700 local families each year, thanks to the fundraising efforts of the campaigners and the generous people who donate.
“This is one of the most important things the YMCA does, because this is kind of what defines us as a community, nonprofit charity,” Glissmeyer added.