Finley Day Camp: Developing Youth for 30 Years

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

When Jo Anna McMillan was charged with hiring staff for the North Raleigh Camp (now Finley Day Camp) 30 years ago, she went to a lonely camp office that was the sole building on the property. But it didn’t take long for her to surround herself with lively, energetic visionaries who would model the standard for day camp for years to come.

Many of those new hires were still in high school, looking for their first job, knowing that working with kids was probably somewhere in their future. Other camp leaders like herself had just graduated college, with experience in programs like the Y’s Young Life, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and public school teaching.

What was she looking for? A carefree, gritty resourcefulness that compelled these new hires to develop fun, contagious activities and keep kids engaged with little more than a goofy hat and a smile.

A Carefree Attitude and Resourcefulness

“Just imagine the ‘anything-goes kind of attitude’ you had to have when all you had was a shelter, some ball fields and 400 kids,” recalls Jo Anna’s husband, Doug McMillan, current CEO and President of the YMCA of the Triangle. “It was creative play at every turn.” Sports and water activities topped the list during those first summers.

Many of these same staffers, along with other former and current camp staff, came together last Wednesday for the Finley Founder’s Day Dinner to celebrate the 30th Anniversary of Finley Day Camp. They shared stories, memories, pranks, nicknames, and many of them had their families in tow. The barbecue wafted through the air as the stories and laughter flew.

During the evening they handed off the microphone, traded stories and relived their special brand of onstage antics that brought back memories of the excitement and energy that kept them coming back summer after summer.  

Nurturing Future Leaders

And they remembered the practical wisdom that Jo Anna imparted to her staff that molded them into the adults, parents, professionals and teachers that they are today. Former camp staff member Angela Stem Mills encapsulated a sentiment expressed throughout the evening. ”It was a special time when we didn’t need anything but each other to have fun.” Others nodded their heads.

Jo Anna recalled the names of the many staff members who are still affiliated with the Y or working with children as sports coaches, teachers and school administrators. Many of those staff and campers went through leadership training at the YMCA, some are still staff at the YMCA of the Triangle, and many took their experiences to other YMCA branches and nonprofits. 

 “It’s a reflection of the impact Finley Day Camp has had on the lives of the children in this community for three decades that many of those young people are still involved with developing youth today,” observed Doug McMillan.

Relive their experience with more photos, past and present, from Finley Founder’s Day.

Photos: Forrest Perry, Jo Anna McMillan
Beth Gentile, Cameron & Jennifer Peters
Doug McMillan, Scott McGinnes
Doug McMillan at Finley Day Camp
Former camp staff, Mike Askew, Susan Riordan, Jo Anna McMillan, Ken McCurdy, circa 1989
Trace Ferrell & family