YMCA Camp Onyahsa

Camp Onyahsa Staff Member Gives Back

Jul 17, 2017 | Posted in News

During the summer of 1898, along the roaming shores of Chautauqua Lake, a group of young campers and their leaders from the Jamestown YMCA experienced the first official summer of YMCA camping in the area.

Drawing from camp’s history-rich heritage of providing a high-quality camping experience for all who enter her gates continues 119 years later. In order to meet the YMCA and camp’s mission of providing programs and camping experiences which focus on youth development, healthy living and social responsibility — camp hires the most highly-qualified, exceptional young men and women of varied ethnic backgrounds, skill sets and from the local population and around the world — but, most important, camp hires those who embrace and personify the YMCA and camp’s mission to serve everyone.

Aliah Sample is pictured here teaching archery skills to a young camper at YMCA Camp Onayahsa, June 22. Sample has been going to Camp Onyahsa since she was 9 years old, and credits the YMCA and Camp Onyahsa with many positive experiences which have helped shape her life.

One such staff member has returned to camp for several seasons now as staff, yet got her start as a camper at Camp “O” as a young camper herself.

“I was introduced to Camp Onyahsa when I was 9 years old,” said Aliah Sample. “My best friend (and fellow Camp Onyahsa alumna) Rachel VanRensselaer introduced me to camp, and without Rachel’s influence for me to attend camp I may have never discovered this amazing place and had all these wonderful experiences.

Sample faced some financial hardships growing up in a single-parent family. However, that didn’t stop her from attending her newfound home, and her mom and camp made sure that she could continue as long as she wanted to go.

“Camp is a first home for me and a safe place,” added Sample. “My mom made sure to send me to camp no matter what, she’d seen the positive influences camp and the staff had on me and made it a priority to make sure I could go to camp.”

Camp Onyahsa and the YMCA offer children the opportunity to learn, grow and thrive in spirit, mind and body in a safe and supervised manner. A positive benefit which Sample used to climb the ladder of success and rank within the YMCA organization.

“Aliah was a junior counselor then in 2015 became a senior counselor, and now in 2017 she’s a village director,” said Jon O’Brian, JCC professor and YMCA Camp Onyahsa’s long-time director. “She’s very versatile, from working in the office to cleaning the facility to especially-teaching children. Aliah has a great understanding of the camps and YMCA’s mission and seeks to promote excellence in all aspects of her camp role.”

Even during Onyahsa’s “offseason” (the camp has year-round activities), Aliah can still be found in various rolls teaching and leading children.

“I work at Rings Outstanding Kids (ROK) at Ring Elementary School at the Y’s afterschool program during the school year,” added Sample. “I’m also going to SUNY Fredonia in fall, majoring in Early/Childhood Education.”

While Sample has proven herself to be a multi-talented team player, she remains humble and passionate about the wonders and beauty and amazing experience which camp provides.

“The staff is very diverse — we span from the US to China to the Netherlands,” Sample said. “Throughout the summer the staff builds a tight bond with one another. After camp we all try and stay in touch. Not only do we help children to grow, we also help one another to grow, and what better place to do so then on the shores of Chautauqua Lake.”

Much like the pioneer style campers and staff from 1898 the mission was pretty simple: to help kids grow and foster a spirit of togetherness and unity. It would seem that while the faces of Camp Onayshsa’s staff may have changed that the caliber of the many, many staff has remained the same. Aliah Sample is the modern version of her ancestral camp family/staff from 1898 and continues the foster the ideals and espirit de corps of the many other staff members before her.

Given Sample’s dedication, heart and love of children, along with her drive to live the YMCA’s values of serving others before herself, Sample has earned the title of “Y-Strong.”