By TAYLOR HARTZ
YMCA Camp Sloper inducted its 10th generation of volunteers and staff into their Hall of Fame last week.
Started in 2005, the tradition honors “those who have come before us and laid the foundation to what YMCA Camp Sloper is today,” said Camp Director Mark Pooler.
This year, the camp honored four former staff members who left their mark on the camp over the last two decades—Jason Arnauckas, Christine Matteo, Mike Miller, and Garrett Swiatek.
John Meyers, Executive Director of the Southington YMCA, called the inductees an inspiring group that has left a great legacy at the camp.
Christine Matteo was the first to be recognized, for her support of the Memorial Forest and Outdoor Center Committee, and her service as a work-day volunteer.
Pooler applauded Matteo for the many Saturday mornings she spent working on creating the camp’s trail system. “Christine carved out not just wonderful trails, but wonderful experiences for the kids,” he said, describing Matteo as “faithful” and “honest.”
“She has been our compass,” added Pooler, who said her many years of service ensured that things were done properly and volunteers were recognized for their commitments.
The friendships made at Camp Sloper were evident when the induction began for Jason Arnauckas, with Pooler and several picnic attendees laughing at stories from camp and college.
“Its such a great feeling to be a part of the Y,” Arnauckas said about the honor. “It’s a great family to be a part of.”
Arnauckas was recognized for the thirteen summers he spent working in the camp’s maintenance department.
“Jay played a vital role in keeping this place moving and progressive,” said Pooler.
Garret Swiatek, a camp counselor for more than a decade, shared Arnauckas’ passion for the camp family. Swiatek said he thanked the YMCA “for my life in the past, my life in the present, and my life in the future,” sharing that his decision to join the camp in 1995 took him off “the proverbial wrong path.”
Swiatek was welcomed back to Sloper after traveling to Korea to teach English, and credited the camp with helping to create the opportunity.
“One faithful summer in ‘98 gave me patience, understanding and an ability to do what I do,” said Swiatek.
Pooler called the former counselor “a living legend” at the camp, and shared countless games and activities Swiatek started in the 1990s that counselors are still doing with campers today.
Another former counselor and inductee credited Camp Sloper with his current career as well. Mike Miller, who served as a counselor, unit director, and coast director for the camp beginning in 1997, is now the CEO of the Newport County YMCA in Rhode Island.
Miller thanked the camp for the chance to work in a field where “you’re changing lives for kids, but you’re also changing your life as a person.”
After Miller performed a few of his old skits, and the crowd reminisced about his past comedy routines, Pooler said he “truly embodied our staff philosophy of be fun, have fun, give fun everyday.”
Honoring each inductee with gratitude and fond memories, Pooler thanked staff, volunteers and alumni for their contributions to the camp.
This year marks the most populated summer camp session yet at YMCA Camp Sloper. “We are truly in a healthy place thanks to the foundation that many of the folks here helped build,” said Pooler.
To be considered for awards, staff members and volunteers must be three years removed from their service and must have been involved with the camp for a minimum of five years. The inductees were honored during the Volunteer and Donor Appreciation picnic held at the camp on July 15.
The free picnic was open to all YMCA volunteers, donors, alumni, and their families.
Past honorees were recognized with applause from fellow camp staff, prior to welcoming in the new inductees who each received a silver clock, and had a framed photo collage added to the Hall of Fame collection.