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Presidio YMCA in San Francisco: Robert Sindelar

April 13, 2010

From time to time, I conduct interviews with camp directors to collect advice for parents looking for special experiences for their kids. I recently exchanged emails with Robert Sindelar of the Presidio YMCA in San Francisco. The Presidio YMCA has a huge number of camp options, covering any interest your child might have from sports, to Legos and drama.

With so many camps to choose from, any tips on how to pick the right camp for your kids?

Location is key. As a busy parent, you don’t want to spend hours driving your kids across the city, but you do want a setting that is conducive to a terrific summer experience. Our camp is located in a National Park, yet we’re still in the city. It’s great for kids to have as much outdoor exposure as possible during the summer months. Variety of activities is also important. Every kid is different, some like sports other like the arts. Make sure to pick a camp that they will enjoy attending, but that will also challenge them to try new things. Finally, if you’re a working parent, make sure the camp hours and/or the extended care hours meet your needs and budget.

What questions should parents ask a camp?

I would definitely ask about the staff training and always ask about the ratios of youth to staff. Many camps travel to locations throughout the city and you want to make sure your kids are properly supervised at all times. Ratios for younger kids should be much lower. Our YMCA offers 1 staff person for every 6 kids for youth in our K-1 programs. All staff are trained in CPR/1st Aid, Child Abuse Prevention, Risk Management, and emergency procedures.  In addition, all camp field trips that involve swimming are accompanied by an aquatics specialist, even if the venue has on-site lifeguards.

How should parents prepare their kids for camp?

It’s a great idea to attend any parent meetings prior to the first day of camp, and bring your kids if the organization permits. If your kids have never been to the camp before, it’s good to drive by and walk around the camp, potentially meet some of the staff before they jump in.  It’s nice for kids to know someone on the first day of camp. If possible, try to make arrangements with parents of their friends who are attending the same camp to arrive at the same time on the first day. is a big help with this.

The summer is long, and many kids are in 6 – 10 sessions of camp. Any tips on how to prevent camp burnout?

If possible, choose a variety of camps for your kid. For example, choose a sports camp one week and a specialty camp the next. Most camps take different field trips each week, so no two weeks are exactly alike.  The camp day can be quite long for some kids, especially for younger kids. It can be a nice surprise for campers when their parents pick them up a bit early every once in a while. We find most kids truly love camp, as it’s such a different experience from their school year.

Any last tips for parents?

Communicate with camp staff often, and ask about your child’s day. Camp staff can become your child’s best friend during the summer. They can fill you in on your child’s growth and development during the summer – whether they tried something new, challenged themselves, performed a skit, etc.

Lastly, please tell us what’s special about the Presidio YMCA?

Aside from our beautiful setting, which is hard to beat, I’d say our staff.  Many of our staff are former Presidio Y campers who worked their way up from camper to counselor in training to junior counselor to staff.  All our camp staff understand that relationships with kids and parents are the most important aspect of our program and work hard to build and maintain those relationships, all the while creating a fun & memorable experience for campers.

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