2nd Annual Community was a Success

Eli Rolli, Summer Camp DirectorWritten By: Eli Rolli, Camp Director. This past Sunday, YMCA Camp Benson hosted its 2nd Annual Community Day. From 1-5 PM we opened Camp up to the public for an afternoon of family fun. This year over 200 people showed up to enjoy all that YMCA Camp Benson, an overnight summer camp in Northwestern Illinois, has to offer. Families had the opportunity to climb the Climbing Wall and take a ride down the Twilight Zone. Some families went on the beautiful Grotto Hike while others made candles and tried their hand at archery. Many of the families that attended were long time summer camp families. Other families will be sending their children to overnight camp at YMCA Camp Benson for the first time this summer and wanted to check out camp. We had numerous alumni stop by as well to hi.

Community Day is a free event for all ages, however this year we suggested families donate one non-perishable food item per family member to attend. All of the food collected was then donated to our local food pantry, the Savanna Food Pantry. I am happy to report that we collected over 100 food items to donate.

Community Day was a big success once again this year. I saw a lot of smiling faces during this event. I hope that all the families that attended had a great afternoon and grew a little bit closer as a family. I am already looking forward to next year’s Community Day.

YCB’s Program Director, Tanner Thompson, donating food to the Savanna Food Pantry.



Don’t Just Take Our Word For It..

As our Spring Season begins to wind down here at YMCA Camp Benson, we are starting to get excited about Summer 2017. We have spent all winter and spring planning to make Summer 2017 the best summer yet at YCB. This has involved a lot of planning sessions, attending conferences and program development.

Part of planning for the upcoming summer involves looking back at last summer. We’ve poured over last summer’s surveys and we’ve loved reading through comments from last year. It feels good to revisit the overwhelmingly positive feedback from our camp families. We’re proud of the great things that are happening here at YMCA Camp Benson…but don’t just take our word for it. Here are a few of our favorite quotes from parents and campers in 2016.

Do you have something to tell us about your experience last year? What are you most looking forward to in 2017? Email us your feedback at [email protected] and we may share it on social media this spring. We always love hearing from our campers and their parents!


High Profile Adventure Race at YCB

Eli Rolli, Summer Camp DirectorWritten By: Eli Rolli, Camp Director. This past weekend YMCA Camp Benson hosted the 11th Annual Lightning Strikes Adventure Race. Over 100 racers from 11 different states gathered at camp to compete in either the 4-hour or 8-hour adventure race. Participants use a map and compass to navigate from checkpoint to checkpoint trying to clear them all in the fastest time possible. Along the way racers are mountain biking, rock climbing, rappelling, ascending a fixed rope and zip lining across the Waukarusa River.

This is phenomenal weekend of learning and racing in the outdoors put on by High Profile Adventure Camp. About half of our participants are new to the sport and are here to learn the basic skills of adventure racing. Other participants are very experienced and love coming to camp for this race. 

The more novice racers arrived at Camp Benson on Friday evening in order to attend seminars on orienteering and adventure racing for beginners. On Saturday morning everyone headed to the Mississippi Palisades State Park to hone their land navigation skills. The participants then spent Saturday afternoon rappelling, zip lining and rock climbing at camp. World Champion Adventure Racer Robyn Benincasa shared some of her racing experiences with the group and discussed the importance of teamwork during a race on Saturday evening. Robyn is one of the top motivational speakers in the country and holds three Guinness World Records. Rock climbing at YMCA Camp Benson

Both the 4-hour and the 8-hour Adventure Race started bright and early at 7 a.m. on Sunday morning. Some people competed in the race by themselves while others competed as a team. The Lightning Strikes Adventure Race is open to the public and to all ages. This year a record number of families competed in the race with the youngest racer being 7 years old. We even had a camper family participate this year and they placed second in their division! That was awesome. 

The 3-person coed team Wedali (We Eat Dirt And Like It) won the 8-hour race thus qualifying them for the USARA National Championship in Pennsylvania. The Wedali team cleared all of the checkpoints and all 5 bonus checkpoints in a time of 7 hours and 20 minutes. This team hails from Minnesota is has won multiple National Championships.

This race takes the High Profile Team a year to plan and is only made possible by the 30 plus dedicated volunteers who help put it on. YMCA Camp Benson loves hosting this event and we are excited to be hosting the Thunder Rolls Adventure Race, which consists of a 12-hour and 24-hour adventure race, will be hosted at YMCA Camp Benson on the weekend of August 18-20.

Adventure Race participants at YMCA Camp Benson, an overnight summer camp in Illinois.

What Do You Do All Winter?

Overnight summer camp director Written By: Eli Rolli, Summer Camp Director. “So what do you do all winter?” This is a question I commonly get asked when I tell people that I am a Summer Camp Director. It is definitely a fair question to ask and I am always more than happy to answer it. Things slow down a bit at YMCA Camp Benson in the winter time, but winter is a critical period for us to ensure that we have a successful summer camp program.

Here is a list of some of the things we do all winter:

  • Lock in the summer camp calendar for the upcoming summer. 
  • Clean, organize and repair all program equipment. 
  • Recruit and hire amazing summer camp staff. 
  • Attend Camp Conferences to learn and grow as summer camp professionals. 
  • Order inventory for the Camp Store. 
  • Develop the summer camp brochure.
  • Coordinate and oversee facility and program area improvement projects (i.e. the building of a new cabin, installing a new high ropes course element). 
  • Plan for our summer camp theme. 
  • Review all of our activity lesson plans and make improvements when necessary. 
  • Apply for grants that help us get more kids to camp or to add new program areas. 
  • Continue to build a strong and engaging social media presence. 
  • Purchase new program equipment. 
  • Update our website and write new blog posts (like this one). 
  • Maintain camp buildings and grounds. 
  • Communicate with our camper families from the previous summer. 
  • Prepare for retreat groups that will be coming to camp in the Spring. 
  • Visit our partner YMCAs and spread the word about YMCA Camp Benson’s summer camp program.

Winter is an important time for us to prepare and plan for the upcoming summer. It is the time that we recruit summer camp staff and new campers. This time of the year is also when we evaluate our overnight summer program in its entirety and make changes to strengthen our program. 

YMCA Camp Benson’s mission simply put is to BUILD STRONGer campers and help them become the best version of themselves. In order for us to do this year after year we have to strive to build a stronger camp program year after year. During the winter months is when we lay the groundwork for this. Winter is most certainly an exciting time at YMCA Camp Benson even though there may be snow on the ground and a chill in the air. 

What makes the YMCA Camp Benson community so special?

Summer Camp Counselor Written By: Maija Mattson, 2016 Summer Camp Counselor. There is a unique feeling you get the moment you drive down that camp lane at YMCA Camp Benson. Past campers, SDPs, and staffers reading this know exactly what I mean. You feel safe. You feel confident. You feel excited. You feel content. But why? It’s not the cave. It’s not the high ropes course. It’s not the twilight zone or the fort. It’s not the potential kangaroo sighting. It’s not the cabins or the dining hall. It’s the people. It’s the people you know are waiting for you at the end of the drive. It’s the people you see maybe once a year and the new people you’re excited to meet. It’s the community we have built at YMCA Camp Benson. It’s home.

I have been coming to camp for 8 years: 2 years as a camper, 4 in the staff development program, and 2 on summer camp counselor.

Over the years, I have spent approximately 38 weeks at summer camp. However, when you think about it, 38 weeks isn’t very much time. I have been on this earth for 19 years and I haven’t even spent a full year at Camp Benson. How could I possibly feel this overwhelming attachment to the people that I see only a few times a year? This is due to the amazing community YMCA Camp Benson has built. It is unlike any other I’ve been a part of.

Even though we see each other only a few times a year, “camp people” share a special bond. That bond grows stronger with every interaction we have inside and outside of camp. They may seem insignificant but every interaction I have with “camp people” outside of summer camp, whether it’s a text message, an Instagram post, or a like on Facebook, makes that connection and/or friendship greater. Overnight Summer Camp

You can go without seeing a camp friend for a day, a week, a month, a year, or even a few years, and it makes no difference. You know that no matter what, you are there for each other and no distance or amount of time can change that.

It has been 8 years and I STILL count down the days until I am back at summer camp. How many communities are you a part of that make you feel this way? For me, this is the only one.

I’ve been a part of many communities in my 19 years. Thirteen years of my life were spent with my high school class – participating in athletics and spending countless hours in club meetings and volunteer activities. I’ve played club volleyball for 5 seasons, traveling to numerous tournaments with my teams and spending hours at late night practices. I’m involved within my “house” in the dorms at Northern Michigan University and we study, go out to social events, and volunteer together. I have been a part of many more communities as well but none of them have made me feel as safe, confident, and accepted as YMCA Camp Benson has.

I can be completely myself at YMCA Camp Benson and because of this, I have grown as a person more than I could ever have imagined. If anyone reading this post knew me when I was in junior high and early in my high school career, you know that I was very quiet, shy, and not nearly as involved as I am now. I lacked self-confidence. Now a sophomore in college, I am more outgoing and confident than ever before. I attend Northern Michigan University, my dream school, 8 hours away from where I grew up. I am involved in 10 extra-curriculars on campus and I hold leadership positions in quite a few of them. I have pushed myself to exit my comfort zone on many occasions and participate in activities that I would never have even allowed myself to dream of in years past. I have never been happier and more content with the way my life is going and I owe YMCA Camp Benson for that.

The people we interact with at summer camp, create a community in which campers, SDPs (members of the Staff Development Program), and staff can thrive. I have witnessed similar transformations in others who have come to YCB even for a short time: a week, a summer, a SDP retreat.

Our motto at Camp is this: build stronger campers and help them become the best version of themselves. YCB does just that not only for their campers, but for their Staff and SDPs.

Camp has given me the opportunity to find myself and grow as a person. I can honestly and whole-heartedly say that without my camp community, I would not be the person I am today.

Overnight Summer Camp Counselor Coming to Camp Benson 8 years ago was the best decision I’ve ever made. I will be eternally grateful for the friendships that I’ve made here throughout the years. These people are my best friends; people who have impacted my life in monumental ways; people with whom I can be completely myself; people I cannot imagine my life without.

There is no doubt in my mind that when my time at camp has come to an end, I will always be welcomed back with open arms. In fact, once you join our camp community, you never actually leave. You are forever a part of our family.

There’s a reason we all come back to Camp Benson; it’s the community. There was a great compass point done by Braids a few years back in which she said, “even if camp burned down, we would all still come back.”  This couldn’t be truer. Camp isn’t the property; it’s the community. That’s what makes YMCA Camp Benson great.

The Power of Summer Camp

Summer Camp Program Director Written By: Tanner Thompson, Summer Camp Program Director. Every year during our summer camp staff orientation and at our SDP retreats, I talk about the impact that we can have on the campers here at YMCA Camp Benson. I truly believe that summer camp can impact a child’s life in an incredibly positive way and I would like to share with you a story from this past summer that demonstrates that.

During our first session of camp we had a camper come to our two week MEGA Camp who had never been to an overnight summer camp before. Her mom told me that she went to summer camp as a kid and thought this would be a great experience for her daughter. This camper struggled adjusting to camp life the first few days. She was very quiet, not social and had her hood up over her head most of the time. On the second day of camp she painted two pictures in Creative Arts. One said “I Don’t Like It Here!” and the other said “It’s boring. The Food is Nasty.” The Power of Summer Camp

Their counselor never scolded her and did not have the Camp Director talk to her. Her counselor simply collected drawings away and asked her to create something more positive. As the week went along, this camper began to feel more comfortable and confident at camp. She still did not participate in evening games or sing any songs, but she did not ask to go home. Her counselor and other staff members never gave up on her and continued to chip away at the wall she had put up.

After the first week of MEGA Camp was over, I think she realized that she could either step outside of her comfort zone and embrace the fun of summer camp or continue to be one of the only ones not enjoying camp. We really saw this camper transform in front of our eyes during that second week of camp. This camper participated in their cabin’s skits, she dressed up in a costume for the block party, and best of all she was always smiling. Her smile would vanish as soon as the Social Media Director came around with his camera, but that was okay! After just two weeks of positivity, encouragement, and acceptance at YMCA Camp Benson this camper was singing songs at the top of her lungs and was having fun doing it.

Our ultimate goal at YCB is build stronger campers and help them become the best version of themselves. I can safely say that we were able to do this with this camper. Before she left she signed up to join the Staff Development Program. This is a teen leadership program focused on developing great future staff members. This camper’s Camp Benson journey is not over yet, it is just beginning. We have those two paintings she drew hanging up in the office to remind us every day of the power of summer camp. Build Strong at Summer Camp

The Merrill Benson Award

Written by: Eli Rolli, Summer Camp Director. Friday night is always a special night here at YMCA Camp Benson. It is the night that campers get their individual awards from their counselor. It is the night we celebrate our SDPs and thank them for all their hard work throughout the week. It is the night we sing slow songs at Closing Campfire and say our “see you laters”. It is also the night we hand out the Merrill Benson Award.

The Merrill Benson award is the highest honor a camper can receive here at camp. Every week this award goes to the one girl camper and the one boy camper who truly embodied the 6 core values of Camp Benson. Those core values are Caring, Respect, Responsibility, Honesty, Inclusiveness and Fairness. Merrill Benson Award winning campers are typically very helpful in their cabin, display a positive attitude and care about the other kids at camp. They are also responsible for themselves and their actions and are incredibly respectful to staff and other campers. Our staff nominates and votes for the Merrill Benson award recipients each week during our Friday morning meeting. The Merrill Benson Award winners receive a canoe paddle with the YCB camp compass on it, the six core values colors adorning the handle and the camper’s name. merril benson Katie

Prior to announcing the Merrill Benson Award winners in front of the entire camp, we have the previous winners of this prestigious award stand up. A couple campers usually stand up, but the majority of the people standing are current staff members and SDPs. This allows are campers to look around and see who has won this award in the past and what their role is now at camp. Handing out this award on Friday nights is one of the best parts of my job. I sincerely hope that all of the campers that come to Camp Benson will strive for this award and honor. 

YMCA Camp Benson Community Day

Written by: Eli Rolli, Summer Camp Director. I would consider my family a pretty outdoorsy family. We were the family that went to visit National Parks for family vacation and spent our summer weekends camping. I recall celebrating many a Mother’s Day by going to a State Park for a family picnic and to do some hiking. I have very fond memories of these little family excursions into nature. That is why I am really excited about Community Day at YMCA Camp Benson this Sunday.

Community DayOn Mother’s Day, May 8th, YMCA Camp Benson will be hosting its first ever Community Day from 12-4:00 p.m. This event is open to the public and all ages are welcome to attend. During this event our staff will be running a number of summer camp activities, including rock climbing, candle making, Grotto hike and more. Lunch will be served from noon to 1 o’clock. Best of all, this event is completely FREE.

One of the YMCA’s main goals is to strengthen communities and that was the driving force behind this event. I want families to get outside on Mother’s Day and have a fun, active afternoon while hopefully growing closer together as a family. Camp activities will be running all afternoon, so you are welcome to stay for the duration of the event or stop out for just a hour. It looks like the weather is going to be really nice on Sunday, so I hope to see you there.

If you have any questions about Community Day feel free to give me a call at 815-244-8722 or send me an email at [email protected]


Camp Benson is going GREEN!

Written By: Eli Rolli, Summer Camp Director. The trees are starting to green up, the grass is back to its usual vibrant green color and YMCA Camp Benson is in the process of becoming greener as well. Summer camps we have an amazing opportunity to immerse kids in the natural world and help increase their awareness about the environmental impact we as humans have on the earth. With that being said we need to do our part at Camp Benson to try to reduce our carbon footprint. YMCA Camp Benson was recently awarded a YMCA of the USA grant to increase energy efficiency here at camp. This grant was matched by a very generous donation, which will allow us to reduce our energy consumption even further. Here is a list of some of the energy saving changes we will be making at camp before summer:

  1. Changing all of the light bulbs over to LED bulbs. LED light bulbs use 70% less energy than tradition incandescent bulbs and they last 5 times longer than either incandescent or compact fluorescent bulbs. They are also Mercury free, unlike the curly compact florescent bulbs that we have in various locations around camp.new-and-old-light-bulb
  2. Upgrading some kitchen appliances to Energy Star models. These new appliances will allow us to continue to prepare excellent camp meals all while using less energy. 
  3. Switching to Tank-less Water Heaters in the Girl’s Bathhouse. These tank-less water heaters will only heat water when it is needed, instead of holding hot water in a large storage tank at a constant temperature. Tank-less water heaters are 30% more efficient than storage tank heaters currently installed in the girl’s bathhouse.

All of these changes are going to make a huge difference in the amount of energy we use at camp this summer. This is just the start. We plan to continue making incremental changes to YMCA Camp Benson to help reduce camp’s carbon footprint even further. In the near future I hope to start up a composting and garden program and possibly even generate some of our own power by installing solar panels. The future looks bright here at YMCA Camp Benson and hopefully greener too.



What’s this Staff Development Program I keep hearing about?

TannerWritten By: Tanner Thompson, Summer Camp Program Director. Here at YMCA Camp Benson, we have a summer camp program for teenagers that is unlike any other program at camp. This is an elite program that not every camper will try. This program is our Staff Development Program (SDP). Other camps have similar programs, like a Counselor-In-Training (CIT) or Leader-In-Training (LIT) program, but our’s is unique.

Our Staff Development Program spans a camper’s four years of high school. This ensures that not only do they have enough training to become a staff member at YMCA Camp Benson, but also that they become a more responsible, caring, honest and respectful young adult. The SDPs act as the big brother or big sister of the cabin. They assist the counselors in a cabin and help run camp activities throughout the week. This allows us to essentially grow our own amazing staff. This way, we know exactly who we are hiring and what they are capable of. For summer 2016, 23 out of our 30 staff members have gone through the Staff Development Program.

Do not let the name fool you. Our Staff Development Program doesn’t only prepare these high schoolers for a job at camp, it helps them see the impact they can have on our campers. These teenagers are the future and we want to give them as many tools as possible to help them succeed here at camp and out in the world. The future leaders of America reside here in our Staff Development Program.

Of course, I think highly of this program. Not only because I’ve dedicated the past three years to bettering this program, but also because I have spent four years in the program myself. YMCA Camp Benson would still be camp without the zip line and without kayaking but it would not be camp without the SDPs. If my words aren’t showing you the power and importance of this program, then these words from current SDPs will.


“It gas made me much more confident in being myself around others and made me a better leader.”


“It has changed my life by showing how to treat people respectfully, and it has helped me make new friends.”


“It has changed me from a bully to who I am today.”