Archive for March, 2011

On March 16-18, we hosted our annual Board of Directors meeting. Around twenty-five board members and their families came to the mountain to discuss a range of  topics including the Lee Hall renovation, future goals and fund-raising opportunities, re-branding news, and the recent earthquake in Japan. One of the most anticipated events of the week was the dedication of the Family Lodges for the McCarty and Barnhardt families, followed by a reception with entertainment and a formal dinner. Other highlights of the meeting were presentations from international staff members Bruno Vandorsee and Daniel Saranga, as well as Erin Ratliff,  the 2011 Blue Ridge Ambassador who discussed her volunteer YMCA experience in Brazil. There were also powerful morning devotions led by our Chaplain, Owen Lovejoy and even a NCAA March Madness bracket!

This year the Board of Directors Meeting coincided with the Watts Family Reunion, welcoming Board member Bill Watts III, his wife Jan, and several of their children and grandchildren. About 12 members of the family gathered to participate in the Watts Family Odyssey Course, which the Watts’ helped to fund and build in 2005 as the final installment to our Camp Cousins Challenge Course. The family also participated in Archery, the Giant Swing, and an Open Crafts session through our Blue Ridge Fund Family Grant.

The Watts family owns and operates a fourth-generational real estate company, Watts Realty, and are active members and volunteers of the YMCA in their Birmingham, Alabama community. They also have longstanding ties with the Assembly, serving for decades on the board of trustees. Chip Watts, Bill’s son, even worked in our Program Department in 1996 and helped to establish many of our current Environmental Education programs!

It was an honor to work with this family who have left a legacy at Blue Ridge and whose contributions have helped to touch thousands of lives.  Thanks, Bill Watts and clan, for all that you do!  Together we are building strong kids, strong families, and strong communities!

3 generations of the Watts family!

The YMCA Blue Ridge Assembly offers grants through the Blue Ridge Fund’s annual giving campaign. We support programs that unite adults and children in quality time and encourage multi-generational bonding experiences and healthy lifestyles. Our family-strengthening programs help families grow spiritually, mentally and physically by staying active, building caring relationships, and having fun together!

For more information on the Blue Ridge Fund Family Grant, contact our Sales and Marketing Director, Danielle Tocaben at marketing@ymcabra.org.


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By now most of us have seen the heart-breaking photos and videos of the tragedy in Japan. The devastation caused by the earthquake and tsunami is beyond comprehension, with the death toll rising and new crises occurring each day. Here is the most recent press release from the World Alliance of YMCAs and YMCA Japan.

Though these natural disasters occurred thousands of miles away from our backyards, the effects of their destruction reach far and wide. This tragedy hits particularly close to home because several Japanese students and professionals have served at YMCA Blue Ridge Assembly over the years. Elaine Godfrey, our Staff Development Director, has finally been able to reach a few of our former Japanese volunteers, staff,  and friends of Blue Ridge. Here are some of their words of reassurance:

Dear Elaine,

Thank you for your email. Sorry, it has been long time to write you. I hope all is well with you and your family.

My wife and my family are doing OK. I could not go back to my house because of all train service stopped on that day. I still have been working day and night. It will take time to go back to home, because of community needs YMCA for their help.

The earthquake was so big in Tokyo too.  My YMCA office is OK, but some other branches got big damages. We are organizing Volunteer staff to send to  northern part of Japan where is the biggest tsunami hit. I can tell it will be more than 20,000 people who die or missing.

Elaine, the TV news tell us just like CG movie. But it is real. Our biggest concern is nuclear power plants are having big problem right now.

Well, I am fine. Life goes on. There are so many people need us for their lives.

Please pray for us.



(Takahiro Obata, Director of the Career Development Center in Tokyo, Japan. Blue Ridge staff in 1980s) 


Thank you for an email Elaine

We are OK.
Thanks for your kindness.

I was encouraged in your message.

I got well on the coattails of you.


(Shion Taguchi, summer volunteer 2008 & 2009)


Hi Elaine

How are you?

Thank you for worrying.

I am very glad. I am very fine.

Because there is not the injury, don’t worry

(Kohei Sugiyama, volunteer 2008-2009)


Lastly, Hidekazu (Hide) Nagahashi was a Blue Ridge staff member from September 1984-Sepember 1986.  He is now employed by Delta Airlines and is based in Portland, Oregon. On March 11th, he was in Sendai, Japan visiting family and friends when the earthquake struck.  This is an account of his experience that day:

On the day of the earthquake, Hide was driving to a shopping center located in Tagajo, a town just north of Sendai, with some friends (Momoko Edwards (21) (daughter of a Delta flight attendant) and her aunt), when the ground began to move. At first they didn`t realize what was happening and thought the car had a flat tire. Then they noticed the bridge in front of them swaying back and forth and realized it was not a flat tire but an earthquake.  Hide decided to return home because he was worried about his mom (Good decision because the roof of the shopping center collapsed, killing the shoppers inside). He didn`t get very far before he got caught in a traffic jam. Then, suddenly, he saw people running toward him followed by the black swirling water filled with debris.  Water quickly surrounded the car.  Momoko started to take off her shoes, so she could swim, but Hide told her to keep her shoes on. Then they saw a little girl float by gasping for air her face covered in mud, but she was out of reach and Hide had to decide whether to go after the child or save himself and his passengers.  He chose the latter (They probably would have all died if he had chosen otherwise). He managed to get the car turned around and headed in the other direction (He said he was the only one in the long line of cars who managed to get turned around). He found a small side road and kept going. Then they came upon two old ladies walking along on the road.  He was just going to pass them by, but Momoko insisted that he stop and pick them up, so he did. They kept going and came across another old lady and picked her up, too. Then he came to a crossroad and didn`t know which way to go. One of the old ladies gave him directions and they were able to reach a main road.  (What if he hadn’t picked her up …?) Drivers in the left lane were unaware of the tsunami and were heading straight for it.  There was no time to warn them. The right lane was open, so he got in it and drove as fast as he could away from the approaching water (Remember that they drive on the left in Japan, so he was driving in the wrong lane!).  Eventually, they were clear, but spent the next six hours trying to get home. When they finally arrived late that night, he found his house still standing and all of his family members unhurt. The house was a mess, so they went to a friend’s house and stayed for a couple of days.  After three days, Hide and Momoko headed back to Narita airport because Momoko was scheduled for an interview in Atlanta with Delta Airlines. All main roads were closed, so they had to wind their way south on narrow two lane roads. Well, the strain must have been too much for Hide because at one point he passed out while he was driving.  Momoko had to grab the steering wheel to avoid going off the edge of the road into a rice field below on one side or hitting a telephone pole on the other. She barely managed to do this because even though Hide was unconscious, he had a death grip on that steering wheel. When he came to and realized what had happened, he told Momoko that he was her slave for life for saving him… again! Anyway, they made it to Narita airport and Momoko got her flight to Atlanta.  Hide returned to Portland, where he is now based. After his narrow escapes, he believed that he had used up all his luck in life until he found some coins in a vending machine a few days later.  He had a good laugh and says that he is still a lucky guy.


The international program at Blue Ridge Assembly unites dozens of countries and cultures under one roof, touching and interconnecting lives. Unfortunately these close ties also mean that we tend to feel their pain as our own. In the wake of this tragedy, the partnership between Blue Ridge Assembly and YMCA Japan is now more important than ever.

The YMCA is indeed a global family and it is our responsibility to unite and serve those communities both near and far to us. There is still so much support needed to restore peace and prosperity in Japan, and it is the Y-mission to act and respond to this call of duty. The World Alliance of YMCA’s and the Y-USA have recently organized tsunami disaster aid & response efforts. To help in this cause, please consider donating to the Japan YMCA Relief Fund! 100% of the contributions will be donated to the Japan YMCA to help them meet the needs of their community during this difficult time.

And of course, let us all continue to keep the victims and their families in your thoughts and prayers. God bless!

Japanese summer staff on Lee Hall porch

2009 International Staff: Tereza (Brazil), Shion (Japan), Alessandra (Brazil)

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