YMCA/APYC Camp Kekoka

This month's business blog features Cassie Leichty, Camp Executive of YMCA/APYC Camp Kekoka in Kilmarnock. I met Cassie years ago when she was the Program Director at the Northern Neck Y and I was a lowly volunteer. :) She is one of the most caring people I've ever met. The love she pours into that camp and the kids who go there is like nothing you've ever seen. Pictured with her is Camp Kekoka Board Chairman, Mat Terry.

Tell me about Camp Kekoka.

Camp Kekoka is an overnight camp for boys & girls 8-16. Our taglines are “Sun, Fun, & Water Sports” and “Get Outside, Grow Inside.” 95% of the time at camp is spent outside doing everything from sailing, windsurfing, kayaking, fishing, crabbing, tubing, swimming, arts & crafts, garden time, games, archery, campfires, and so much more. Camp is a technology free time for kids. It’s back to the basics of face-to-face conversations with no distractions. Campers arrive Sunday afternoon feeling a little shy & nervous and leave Friday feeling more self-confident and independent, having made lifelong friends that they would have never met were it not for Camp Kekoka. But Camp Kekoka isn’t just for kids! Other programs include the Polar Bear Plunge in January, the Father/Son Rocket Retreat, the Mother/Daughter Retreat, Family Camp, the Kekoka Mud Run, and the Kekoka Yoga Retreat (which takes place this month). All of these events use Camp Kekoka’s beautiful waterfront space to bring our community together.

How long has it been there and when did you first become a part of it?

Camp has been in operation since 1947 when the Alexandria Police Department purchased the 97 acres at the end of Boys Camp Road in Kilmarnock. In 2005 the police department partnered with the YMCA. They still own the property but the YMCA manages the programs and facilities. We call the partnership a marriage that no one wants a divorce from. I’ve been a part of the camp since the partnership, but didn’t become the full time Camp Executive until 2009. 

What ignited your passion for this particular line of work?

When I graduated from college I was actually planning to work with older adults, but took a summer job at the Boys & Girls Club in Newport News, VA--the opposite side of the age spectrum. It was then that I realized just how much I loved working with kids. In 1993 I started working at the Peninsula Metropolitan YMCA and fell in love with the mission and everything it stood for. There is nothing better than providing a safe, nurturing place where a child feels physically and emotionally safe.   

How many employees do you have?

I have two part-time year-round staff, but during the summer the staff grows to 18. 

What do you like most about your work?

That’s a tough question… I love working with children but I also love working with young staff and volunteers. I have met some amazing people who share the same passion that I do for changing lives. The view from my office window isn’t so bad either!

Excluding yours, what local business/organization do you admire most and why?

The Rotary. I have been a Rotarian for five years now and I am still amazed that it is a totally volunteer led and run organization. Rotarians are some of the most dedicated people I know. Their “service above self” is evident in everything they do and really resonates with my personal mission. 

What advice would you give to someone who is new to running a business/organization?

Do the mission first and the money will follow. Think “people before paper.” 

What do you do in your non-work time?

I love spending time with my family, traveling, watching movies, and just chilling.

How do you manage stress?

A stiff drink! :)   

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