Success Stories

YMCA of Hagerstown

YMCA-Pirate ShipFor nearly 100 years, the YMCA of Hagerstown has developed and delivered programs designed to meet the needs of families and individuals living in Washington County. They strive to strengthen families, aid in the development of children and contribute to healthier living in order to create a stronger community.

After a successful pilot program last year, the YMCA expanded their summer camp initiative to provide two camps for children ages 5-12 in low income neighborhoods. Camp Bear Claw took place at Bester Elementary School with 75 kids, and Camp Saber Tooth took place at Salem Elementary School with 40 kids. The camps offered a fun and educational experience to children whose parents could otherwise not afford to give them this opportunity.

The counselors kept the children active and engaged each week with various activities that tried to promote math and reading in the hopes of combatting summer learning loss. According to the website ThinkStretch.com, “Low-income students lose more than two months in reading achievement, more than other income groups.” The campers enjoyed a visit from the Washington County Free Library Bookmobile and listened to guest speakers who discussed topics such as safety and recycling. Other activities included Lego building, arts & crafts, water play and games like Capture the Flag.

Each week included activities relevant to a specific theme, such as “Outer Space,” “Knights, Castles & Dragons,” “Yo, Ho, Ho, Pirates” and “Going Green.” During Pirate Week, the kids ate (gold)fish & chips, had battles in their pirate ships and created their own treasure maps. Counselors made the children a rocket ship, castle and pirate ship to fit that week’s theme. One older camper said, “I thought the rocket ship was the coolest until I saw the castle. The castle was really cool until I saw the pirate ship!”

According to Hazel, a lead counselor, “The kids are having a great time. The older kids love the pirate ship, which is nice to see them engaged in something other than electronics. The parents seem happy too because they keep coming back!”

Hagerstown Ice Amateur Athletic Association, Inc.

Kodiak Sled Hockey-Mike PhillipsGracie, 13, has spina bifida, a birth defect in which her spinal cord failed to develop properly when she was a baby. Because of this, she has not participated in team sports like her brothers…until now. After much persistence from a remarkable man named Michael Barnhart, Gracie now has a team to call her own. According to Gracie’s grandmother, “She has wanted to belong to something for a long time and is so excited to finally be able to do so.”

The new Hagerstown Kodiaks Sled Hockey Team at the Hagerstown Ice & Sports Complex offers a sit-down version of ice hockey for players whose disabilities prevent them from playing stand-up hockey. Players range in age from 5 to 52.  Michael Barnhart has played for the Bennett Blazers in Baltimore for the past three years, but wanted to bring the sled hockey experience closer to home. He said, “There are no adaptability sports in this area. You have to drive to Baltimore, D.C. or Hershey, PA, to find an adaptable sports team, which makes this program the first of its kind in the immediate four-state region.”

Sled hockey began in the early 1960s and became an official event at the Paralympics in 1994. The game follows the same rules as stand-up hockey, but uses a sled and two hockey sticks. For many of the Kodiak players, not only is this their first time on a hockey sled, but their first experience ever on the ice. Team member Mike Phillips said, “I love to watch the Caps play, but have never been on ice before now. I’ve bowled for years with the Washington County Special Olympics and am looking forward to trying something different.”

All of the players give credit to Barnhart for getting the program off the ground and giving them this unique opportunity. Hagerstown Ice Amateur Athletic Association Board Member Pete Low said, “Mike (Barnhart) pushed for more than a year to make this happen. We think this is just the beginning, and hope the program will continue to grow.”