Fantastic Future

DEWITTVILLE — YMCA Camp Onyahsa recently completed its $1.5 million “Our Fantastic Future” capital improvement project, and is preparing to welcome campers back to a bright future.

The campaign was launched in 2016 to improve and upgrade the infrastructure and facilities of the 123-year old institution, in addition to establishing permanent scholarship funds and creating a property endowment.

In total, $1,553,453 was raised for physical improvements, including over $500,000 in grants and contributions from non-local sources, alumni, camper families and national foundations.

“So many children have been positively impacted through Camp Onyahsa over the years. YMCA Camp Onyahsa is a vital part of the Jamestown’s YMCA’s mission and commitment to the community,” Jamestown Area YMCA CEO Mark Eckendorf said.

Brendan Chambers, camp alumnus and commercial banking executive at First Citizens Bank in Charlotte, N.C., served as chairman. 

In addition to receiving a great deal of support from around the area, Diane Carlson of Catapult Fundraising served as a consultant, alumnus and former NASA Space Shuttle pilot Bill Gregory served as honorary chair, in addition to the ongoing efforts of Eckendorf and Camp Director Jon O’Brian.

The funds have allowed the camp to renovate and winterize several cabins, construct a new year-round recreation center, upgrade septic and other utilities, improve restroom facilities, and add new programs for the youth and families of the community. The campaign also created camp scholarship funds totaling $115,064.07, to be perpetually housed at the Chautauqua Region Community Foundation to provide scholarships and financial aid so that local youth can attend the camp regardless of household circumstances.

“While our motto is ‘Rough and Ready,’ we know that campers, especially adults, like to have comfort while they camp — especially bathrooms in the living areas,” O’Brian said. “Culturally we are moving away from the central bath house concept and summer-only camping that were the hallmarks of my youth at Onyahsa.”

Eight of the camp’s fourteen cabins are now winterized with individual-occupancy indoor bathrooms to allow year-round use for children, families and community groups.

Program improvements will now utilize the year-round recreation center, Teen Program Cottage, a fitness room, the Scandinavian Studies Program Arts and Learning Stuga, gaga court, expanded Challenge Course, nature pavilion, improved health lodge and new boating equipment.

“These additions build upon decades of improvements to the facility and program, as well as property acquisitions, to enable us to provide excellence in year-round youth and family development,” O’Brian said.

Volunteers participating in the project also planted hundreds of tree seedlings to maintain the natural beauty of the area.

The improvements have allowed the camp to better collaborate with other community organizations such as The Resource Center, Dwyer Program, Scandinavian Studies and local schools.

“Rather than try to pack more people into our short summer,” O’Brian said. “We have worked to expand our calendar to accommodate growing year-round interest.”

Future activities will include YMCA Fitness classes and family outings at the site, and O’Brian and his staff are exploring the viability of offering licensed child care.

A celebration of the campaign’s success and a ribbon-cutting ceremony is scheduled, depending on COVID-19 restrictions, for late summer 2021. The camp plans to offer expanded summer day camping this year, as it did in 2020, and to return to overnight youth camping with reduced density.

The site is currently available for family overnight use, and should be open for organization rentals and collaboration by mid-August.

Updated program information and details on the implementation of the campaign-funded development plan are available at by contacting the camp office at the Jamestown YMCA.