The Ruehs family
Mar 13, 2024

YMCA Summer Camps Offer Fun and Flexibility for Kids and Families Alike

If there's one thing busy parents know, it's the juggling act of parenting when school isn’t in session! With lively 7-year-old triplets — Harper, Collins, and Emmett — life for Justin Ruehs and his husband, Dr. Adam Smeets, is a whirlwind of activity, schedules, and the occasional curveball. When their nanny unexpectedly resigned two years back, the Smeets-Ruehs family turned to the YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago for their summer child activity needs. What was originally a camp chosen out of necessity for the working parents became a summer tradition the triplets looked forward to when school doors close for the academic year.  

Justin and his family were initially drawn to Day Camp at the Elmhurst YMCA, a YMCA of Metro Chicago community hub, was the promise of a fun, safe, flexible environment for their triplets during the summer while Justin and Dr. Smeets worked full-time. 

“The YMCA in the summer gives us the flexibility to drop off as early as 7 a.m.,” Justin shared. “It actually gives us a better work-life balance [than during the school year]."   

For parents and caregivers, the ability to extend the camp day from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. means fewer interruptions, longer periods of flexibility, and ultimately, a smoother transition between work and family life. Yet, it's not just about convenience; it's about the quality of experiences offered. The YMCA caters to diverse interests, ensuring that each youth finds their niche over the summer. More importantly, each of Justin’s three unique children feels that the programs are personalized to each of them and their different interests. 

"What drew us to the Y was the level of activity, and the variability of the activity," Justin explained. “[My kids] are running on the same genetic program, and they have the same environment around them, but they are completely different kids.”  

Each of his three triplets gravitates towards a different special interest that Y has cultivated programming to celebrate. 

"Our kids are like a mixed bag of tricks," Justin said. "One week it's all about art, the next it's sports galore. And the best part is that they're not glued to screens all day. They're out in nature, exploring, learning, and growing."  

Harper loves art and gets to continue pushing that skill outside of her elementary school art room at camp. Collins loves cooking, and Y trusts them to use real kitchen utensils, where they can follow real recipes in which procedure and self-discipline are important. Emmett loves sports, and at the Y Day Camps, he does not have to commit to joining a travel league to continue building his skills outside of gym class. The children get all summer to cultivate these skills and grow their confidence in them, as well as participate in activities outside of their chosen passion.  

The allure of YMCA camps doesn't end with the array of activities; it's also about the people running the show. 

"The counselors at our Elmhurst YMCA are second to none," Justin said. 

He praised the genuine care and passion displayed by the counselors, many of whom return year after year, and are former campers themselves. It's a testament to the tight-knit community fostered within the YMCA of Metro Chicago Day Camps, where the counselors ensure each youth shines, returning annually to grow alongside them.  

In the summer-end talent show, the counselors arranged a special moment for Justin’s son Emmett, who has been on an Education Plan (EP) since preschool. 

“The first year, the counselors kept telling us, ‘There’s going to be a surprise, but we can’t tell you,’” Justin beamed. “They made a spotlight moment where he goes out and does the splits. For us, as parents, to see his confidence grow over the summer was key. [For the Y] to help him with his confidence, to help him learn some skills that don’t come as easily for him as they do for his sisters — it just reinforces that confidence.”   

YMCA camps are so much more than a place for youth to spend their summer hours. They’re about skill-building, confidence-boosting, and, above all, creating cherished memories and spotlight moments. From using a real knife in cooking class to Friday field trips to the Morton Arboretum, the YMCA takes pride in offering diverse experiences for their campers. Justin even said camp is “like stepping into a world of endless possibilities,” for his children. But perhaps what Justin values most is the sense of community and safety the YMCA provides. After two years of registering his energetic triplets, he can safely claim the YMCA as a campus to push themselves as well.  

"As parents, we're always looking for that peace of mind, you know?” Justin said. “I know our house is a safe place for them to test their boundaries. [At the Y], I know they get the opportunity to test boundaries safely and to just keep working and being good citizens. There's a sense of trust and reassurance that you can't put a price on."  

There is no question that the Smeets-Ruehs children are incredibly loved, and the Y is proud to be trusted with such upstanding youth over the summer. 

Once Justin and his family are registered for camps, they rest easy, knowing that their kids are not just cared for, but thriving in an environment that celebrates individuality, fosters growth, and, above all, spreads joy. 

And really, what more could any parent or caregiver ask for?