When Jennifer Hyman wears her Choose To Be Nice gear out in public, she knows that she is going to get some attention. “People always see my shirts and ask what Choose To Be Nice is!” explains Hyman, the Director of Family Engagement and Camp Director at the Metrowest YMCA in Framingham, MA. She is all too happy to explain the impact that the Choose To Be Nice program has had on the Metrowest YMCA, which services about 600 children from over ten towns west of Boston.
“The Y is building back up after the pandemic. Many of our members are senior citizens, who are just starting to come back. The camp kids have used the things they have learned with Choose To Be Nice to make the seniors feel welcome, like making them cards and writing them notes. It made everyone feel great!”
The campers do much more than write notes during their time at the YMCA summer camps. Each week at the YMCA camp brings a new Choose To Be Nice theme. On Mondays and Tuesdays, Choose To Be Nice has its own activity station, where everyone is introduced to the program, makes the CTBN Promise and signs the banner. Where some children attend camp for the full summer, and others only attend for a week or two, there was initially a bit of worry that keeping the kids who already knew about CTBN engaged might be a challenge. It didn’t turn out to be a problem though! The campers who have already signed the banner have taken on a new role each week – as educators!
Week after week, more children are thrilled to help share the CTBN message with their new friends.
From Wednesday to Friday each week, the camp counselors find inventive ways to incorporate the CTBN theme of the week into their activity stations. As children learn about the different CTBN themes, counselors come up with ideas in a very organic way, often thinking up new activities on the fly. Cultivating that creativity, Hyman encourages them to give their ideas a try, and then to share them with other counselors and groups of campers throughout the five camps in the Metrowest YMCA network. A myriad of fun and inventive activities have come from these ideas, including drawing self portraits on flower pots and watching a rainbow of “flower hair” grow to promote acceptance, and making slime to care for as if it is a living pet to show responsibility!
One of the favorite activities to come about organically from campers is welcoming the newest, and often most timid, campers to the Y family.
Many of the older children remember their feelings of excitement and anxiousness as they entered camp for the first time as tiny pre-schoolers. So, when they learned about kindness and acceptance, two of the nine Choose To Be Nice values/themes, they immediately thought of their littlest friends, and wondered how they could help alleviate that fear. They set out to work creating colorful, cheerful welcome cards for the incoming campers.
At the beginning of the next week, each new camper was handed a card from an older camper on their first day at camp. Fear melted into smiles as the little ones felt the warmth of their welcome, and realized that they were entering into an environment where everyone really does Choose To Be Nice.
And thus, a truly NICE tradition was born!