Aug 18, 2007

Dream of a Livingston County YMCA gets closer to reality

My dream of a YMCA finally coming to Livingston County is getting a little closer to becoming a reality with the hiring of long-time supporter and founder Dawn Palmer-Van Camp as The Livingston County Family YMCA’s first Executive Director.

The quest to bring a YMCA to Livingston County really began almost 30 years ago in 1978, but after some publicity, some initial fundraising and a strong interest, the Citizens for Organizing the Livingston County Family YMCA died a slow death. Fast-forward to the spring of 2000, and Livingston County earned the title of the state’s fastest growing county in Michigan.

As part of that growth the community’s two Hometown weekly newspapers are combined to form the first daily start-up newspaper in Michigan in more than 50 years, and yours truly came back to Livingston County and the newspaper to be part of history after a brief stint at the News Herald in Downriver as the Livingston County Daily Press & Argus rolled off the presses for the first time in September 7, 2000. Shortly after that I wrote an opinion column stating how we really wanted and needed YMCA here, and communities much smaller already have their own YMCA.

Shortly after that column was published I was contacted by a group of five people who were working on a project to conduct a feasibility study to see if a YMCA - the largest not-for-profit service organization in the U.S. - was wanted or possible in the county as part of their required public service project for Leadership Livingston. My part was small, but getting the ball rolling with the publicity I provide towards this project that the entire community will benefit from was one reason why I got into journalism to begin with.

Leadership Livingston was formed as a partnership in 1992 between Cleary University and the chambers of commerce in Brighton and Howell with goals that included identifying existing and emerging leaders and to expand the number of informed, civic-oriented volunteer leaders. Once a week from September through May the group of about 20 diverse people from the community in the program meet to learn about a particular area of the community, such as the local judicial system, state and local government, schools and human service agencies.

The class is divided into small groups of four to five people, and they choose a project to benefit the community that no one in the group has a background with. This particular group chose the YMCA as their project. Following their graduation from LL, the group stayed together and continued the grassroots effort of establishing the YMCA, and they earned the nickname the Fab Five. The Fab Five included Palmer-Van Camp – fondly known to the group as Dawn PVC – Jim Greene, Diane Vance, Kathleen Trader and Lillian VanHouten. These people deserve our gratitude.

The Fab Five formed several study committees, formed a board of directors, and in 2003 decided to affiliate with the Metro Detroit YMCA instead of forming an independent YMCA. In January of 2006 the public portion of the Livingston County Family YMCA Founders Fundraising Campaign officially got under way. The silent part of the campaign began with YMCA board members and the steering committee contacting corporations, foundations and local businesses to raise $200,000. The YMCA requires three years of programs before it will allow any fundraising for a building, and programming began in late 2005 with 90 kids participating in youth basketball and kids from Brighton and Howell took part in day camp at Camp Ohiyesa in Holly.

That brings us up to the official appointment of Palmer-Van Camp.

“This is a big step forward for our new YMCA,” said Tom Schumm, Financial Advisor at Ameriprise Financial in Brighton, who was recently elected as the chair of the 14-member board of directors for the Livingston County Family YMCA. “We know we have the right person to begin implementing our strategic plan to bring YMCA programs and services to Livingston County.”

Palmer-Van Camp has been with the effort to establish a YMCA in the county every step of the way. She was originally a market research analyst at Cleary University, and she was elected as the first-ever chair of the board of directors for the Livingston County Family YMCA in April of 2003. Palmer-Van Camp’s fondness for the YMCA began as a child growing up on a dairy farm in northeast Ohio where she spent lots of time.

The YMCA is offering fall programs beginning September 10. Two of the programs will target toddlers and adults - YMCA Junior Soccer Academy for 3 to 6 year olds to be held Saturday mornings in Howell and the Y-Strides Outdoor Walking Club to meet Monday and Wednesday mornings at area parks. Contact Palmer-Van Camp for more information at (517) 540-2325 or

Online registration for these programs is available at Just click on Registration to search program availability and to register. Livingston County residents may also call for registration materials. The Livingston County Family YMCA operates as a branch of the YMCA of Metropolitan Detroit that serves Wayne, Macomb, Oakland and Livingston counties.

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