YMCA Healthy Kids® Day

Meet Cheryl Anderson

Camp is safe haven for foster kids

Cheryl Andersen has been a foster parent for more than a decade. She’s been a mother, teacher, counselor, and mentor for dozens of young people of all ages. She’s worked hard to provide a sense of normalcy for children in a situation that’s anything but, and as long as she can remember, Mission Valley YMCA’s summer camps have been a large part of that.

Two of her daughters attended camp starting as young as 7 years old; both are now older and still fondly remember their years in YMCA summer camps. Sonia, now 18, attended a wide variety of camps over the years including Leader-in-Training, and even went to Raintree Ranch, the YMCA’s overnight horse riding camp in Julian.

Wanting to give her foster kids the same type of experience, Cheryl has enrolled more than 50 of her foster kids in summer day camp at Mission Valley YMCA since 1997. She explains, "Because of the constant change and upheaval, view of the world is usually very narrow for foster kids. Going to camp and socializing with kids their own age often helps to change that. Whether attending resident camp in the mountains of Julian, learning gymnastics, or going to Disneyland on a field trip, most of the kids are doing it for the first time," she explains. "And it’s not just the activities. Some of my foster kids have been through a lot, physically and emotionally, and can be a handful. It’s obvious that the staff care, and they go out of their way to make them feel comfortable. Counselors learn the kids’ names on the first day, and that familiarity is something these kids don’t often get."

Acknowledging the financial commitment, Cheryl has relied on the YMCA’s program assistance, which provides need-based scholarships for people who may be unable to afford camp. "I always look for grants and funding from a variety of sources, but when that hasn’t worked out, Mission Valley YMCA has been there to help out. The financial support from the YMCA has been invaluable."

For some of her foster kids, summer camp is about more than the experience. One young man came to Cheryl with a weight problem that was impacting his health. At 10 years old, he was 195 pounds and had developed severe hip problems. Having counted on Mission Valley YMCA’s camps before, she enrolled him at the beginning of the summer and by the end, he had lost sixty pounds and reached the desired weight prescribed by his doctors.

"YMCA camps have been a safe haven for my children and the kids I’ve fostered. It’s a familiar place, and I couldn’t have provided so many kids with positive experiences without the YMCA." — posted 11/22/10