Archive for April, 2011

Sigh, SPRING!  Temperatures have warmed up, wildflowers are blooming, and business is finally picking up for all departments at Blue Ridge.Here’s a run-down of what’s been going on these past few weeks on the mountain:

Strong winds from an overnight thunderstorm in March knocked over one of our century-old white pines along the down road…

The fallen tree just barely missed one of the guide cables for our Diamond Extension Challenge Course! We will miss this beautiful specimen, but we think that the lumber will be put to good use somewhere on grounds…


Last week our program staff embarked on a hike to the top of High Windy to review new trails and interpretive nature topics…

Fesperman Shelter, Carolina Loop

Discoveries at the Mica Pit

New trail signage!

Remnants of a fireplace from an old 1800s homestead at High Windy peak


Calling all bird-lovers, science teachers, and environmental educators! We will be hosting a Flying WILD workshop on Monday, May 23 from 9 am to 4 pm.

Flying WILD workshops provide the resources and tools to teach middle school students about birds, their migration, and what people can do to help birds and their habitats. The activities can be used to teach classroom lessons or to set up service-learning projects about birds and their habitats.

The program is open to all interested educators (ages 18 and up) including school teachers; park, nature center and camp personnel; and scout leaders. All participants qualify for CEU and EEC credits (6 hours, Criteria I). The workshop will be led by Tanya Poole, Regional Education Specialist for North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission and will include a bird walk.

There is no cost to attend this workshop, but participants must register in advance. Please send name, title, address, and phone number to Erin Ratliff, Blue Ridge Assembly’s Environmental Program Coordinator at eratliff@ymcabra.org by Wednesday, May 18, 2011.


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AYP: Leading From The Inside Out

The AYP is a professional membership organization supporting YMCA leaders across the country. Since 1871, they have strived to advance, inspire, and connect the Y professional through innovative discussions, workshops, and networking opportunities for career development.  The AYP is dedicated to the well-being of YMCA employees, both new and old, by providing life-long learning and services that enhance both personal and professional growth.

Currently there are 36 AYP Chapters across the nation.  Through a series of planned meetings, special events, and projects, these chapters provide a meaningful “grassroots” experience for its members and encourage colleague interaction and advancement both within individual Y branches and the broader Association. Y staff can benefit from these resources and other exclusive “perks” such as an emergency assistance fund, employment counseling and guidance, and recognition of individual achievement and excellence in the workplace.

On March 23-25, Blue Ridge Assembly hosted the AYP Regional Spring Conference for Chapter 23 (North and South Carolina) and Chapter 26 (Tennessee) with over 180 conferees and 17 vendors in attendance. The Assembly’s own Environmental Program & Marketing C0ordinator, Erin Ratliff, was able to attend the conference for the first time! Here is her personal account of the this year’s AYP event:

I was overjoyed when Melissa invited me and a few of my coworkers to attend this year’s AYP conference. I have been a Y employee for over 2 years now, and was looking forward to establishing deeper roots with this organization. The opportunity to meet other YMCA professionals from around the region seemed exciting, and the best part… we didn’t have to travel far!

After registration and check-in, we all gathered in Washburn Center for a welcome from Chapter Presidents, Helen Rentz and Vickey Beard, who invited us to “Refresh, Recharge, Reconnect and Be Inspired!”. We were encouraged to use this experience to “fill our buckets” and more specifically, learn how to “lead from the inside out” (this year’s conference theme). About halfway through the welcome, Vickey was suddenly interrupted by a FLASH MOB! Here is a great video I took of the spectacle…

I immediately realized that this conference was not about work… it was about FUN! Of course we were there to support the Y and cultivate a meaningful career-path, but it was refreshing to see that most of us didn’t take ourselves too seriously. Next, Keith Doster, Executive Director of the Eastside Family Branch of the YMCA of Greenville, South Carolina led us in a few energizing activities to loosen us up, break the ice, and get us all laughing and acting silly. Although many of these people were complete strangers, we were dancing together and high-fiving like old friends!

Kevin Trapani, CEO of The Redwoods Group continued with the welcome presentation. Since 1988 Redwoods has provided insurance, safety trainings, and inspections to YMCA branches nation-wide. While the overall theme of his speech was risk management, Mr. Trapani was able to relate it to the Y mission of social responsibility and empower us to stand up as role models in our communities.

Later,  the group was dismissed for the afternoon. Participants had several options for free time including shopping in downtown Black Mountain, a walking tour of the Assembly, a hike to High Windy, or the opportunity to participate in the Assembly’s brand-new Low Ropes course. As part of the staff responsible for leading these programs, that meant “playtime” was over and it was back to work for me and Andrew! We facilitated a group of 12 Y staff in several challenging team-building initiatives. That evening the fun and fellowship continued with a BBQ and square dance, followed by a  campfire at Lake Laurel. AYP Day 1: Success!

The following morning participants attended a prayer service and music in the Chapel. After a brief spotlight from one of the premier vendors, Grainger, we had the opportunity to experience several AYP “Learning Labs”. These workshops covered topics such as business etiquette and information on how to move forward under the YMCA’s Leadership Competencies and Development certification plan.

I chose to attend “Never Eat Alone”, a learning lab hosted by Cameron Corder CEO of the Cleveland County Family YMCA in Shelby, NC. Mr. Corder discussed how to connect with people beyond the realm of traditional social networking. We learned how to build genuine relationships in and out of the workplace with practical, proven principles based on  the concepts of the bestselling book Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi. I also attended “The Y Brand”  from Molly Thompson, the PR and Communications Senior Director at the YMCA of Greater Charlotte. Mrs. Thompson taught us creative new ways to write program descriptions that fit the updated Y brand using a fresh voice that brings our mission to life. Exciting stuff!

Thursday afternoon we gathered back in Washburn Center for another vendor spotlight (Daxco, a software company serving member-based nonprofit organizations like the YMCA) and keynote speaker Dr. Dale Henry, well-known author, teacher, and businessman. Dr. Henry’s sense of humor and story-telling style were able to motivate and inspire. He entertained us with anecdotes from decades of  married life and his work in the customer service industry, while reminding us all what it means to serve, to take pride in our work, and to lead by example.

After Dr. Henry’s presentation, Andrew and I led another  group of Y leaders on our Giant Swing, an exhilarating 35 foot free-fall experience from our Alpine Tower. That evening there was a CEO Reception, AYP awards banquet, and live auction. Congratulations to the following award recipients from Chapter 23: Jessica Wimberly, Melissa Logan, Sarah Rhymer, and Steve D’Avria!

On the final morning of the conference, we all gathered in the Chapel for keynote speaker Bruce Ham, Senior Vice President of Strategic Planning with the YMCA of the Triangle. He shared several important life lessons through his personal account of the loss of his wife to cancer.  Though Bruce’s story was heartbreaking and brought us all to tears, I think the conference could not have ended in a better way. We united in prayer for his family and the hardships they have faced, and it became clear what really matters in life.

This AYP conference filled my bucket, indeed –  almost to the point of overflowing! I am so glad I was able to be a part of such a rewarding experience. I gained  invaluable insight and wisdom, made some great professional connections,  and learned many new things that I can apply to my future at Blue Ridge Assembly. This conference served as a reminder of how fortunate I am to be a part of such an organization and has renewed my loyalty to the Y family, our mission, and our service to the community.

Thank you to everyone who helped make this years AYP conference a success.  I am already looking forward to next year!

For more information on the Association of YMCA Professionals, please visit their website: www.ayponline.org

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