Archive for August, 2011

New Ragger's Point at Blue Ridge Assembly

Earlier this summer, several volunteers constructed Blue Ridge’s first (known) Ragger’s Point!

Ragger’s Points, permanent fixtures at YMCA camps across the country, are sites where Rag ceremonies are conducted. They are sacred locations to Y members seeking to become better leaders and make a lifelong commitment to Christian service. The YMCA Rags Program is over 90 years old and still used today as a tool to promote youth development in mind, body, and spirit.

Blaine Wheeler and Stefan Dudziak of the Christian Values Conference were inspired to build the Ragger’s Point at Blue Ridge. They chose a secluded spot a short distance from the Blue Ridge Center and Weatherford’s gravesite, in a wooded area between the two main roads. According to the CLC, it is important for a Ragger’s Point to be in a remote setting of natural beauty, “a setting created by God, not man.”

To construct the traditional Rag emblem Blaine and Stefan gathered rocks of various sizes and colors from around Assembly grounds. The design of the Rag Society symbol incorporates 4 well-known shapes, each representing the values of the Program: the triangle (representing the YMCA triad of spirit, mind and body); the square– to signify the four-square life of a Ragger (spiritual, mental, physical and social); the circle representing the circle of friendship amongst Raggers; and the cross symbolizing the Christian faith. The central cross for Blue Ridge’s Ragger’s Point features several large pieces of magnificent white quartz.

Not only is the site beautiful and inspiring, but the new Ragger’s Point will also help us fulfill the Y mission, impact lives, and serve youth!

Thank you to Sam Adams and volunteers from the Montgomery Alabama YMCA for their priceless contribution to Blue Ridge!

Read on for a fascinating history of the YMCA Rags/Leathers Program…

Thomas Caldwell, founder of the YMCA Rags/Leathers Program

The YMCA’s Rags Program began in 1914 at a Y summer camp in what is now Camp Loma Mar in the foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains of California. Thomas  Caldwell, Boys Secretary of the Oakland YMCA, was looking for a way to manage camp discipline problems using position reinforcement.   Instead of implementing the traditional Camp method that rewarded campers for athletic participation and prowess, Caldwell enjoyed the idea of awarding campers for inner strengths-  moral character, good behavior, and positive attitude.

During an evening campfire ceremony, Caldwell presented several deserving campers with simple blue bandanas. He called these awards “Rags” because, as pieces of worthless cloth, they had no value.  Instead, the Rags gained their meaning from the person wearing them. They served as symbols of the positive qualities the campers had demonstrated-  attributes such as healthy habits, promptness, cheerfulness, morals, dependability and helpfulness. That summer, several outstanding campers also received Red Rags as advanced recognition. And thus the tradition of the Rag began!

Years later, the Rag Program crossed state lines and began to spread to YMCA camps throughout the nation. Since its inception, many important Y leaders helped to strengthen and improve upon its original idea. For example, the concept of “award” evolved into to a philosophy that Rags are personal challenges – not to be given but to be accepted. It is now each individual’s decision whether or not to accept the Rag.

In addition, several more steps were added to the program so that students, young and old, have the opportunity to pursue a different challenge each year. In 1930, the YMCA’s “Leathers Program” was introduced for youth ages 9-11. Similar to a Rag, a Leather is a simple badge representing spiritual and personal growth, available to younger campers who demonstrate a commitment to Christian service.

Today the program as a whole is known as the YMCA Rags/Leather Program. Persons are eligible for membership in the YMCA Rag/Leathers Program when they reach the minimum age requirement (and of course, are willing to accept the challenges of the Rag).

All  first-year participants 11 years and younger start with the Triangle Leather, while all first-year participants 12 years and older start with the Blue Rag. Each subsequent rag or leather must be received in sequential order, and no more than one rag can be accepted in a year. Currently there are three Leather and seven Rag steps, allowing participants to seek new challenges that progressively build upon each other.

YMCA Rags & Leathers Program

Leathers’ Creed: I would strive to grow by keeping my body healthy and clean, by keeping my mind open and free, and by letting my spirit guide me. I would strive to do all three because each is equally a part of me.

The Challenges of the Leathers are:

  • Triangle: To grow in Body, Mind and Spirit.
  • Square:  To grow, become a better friend and to keep good friends.
  • Circle: To expand one’s circle of concern to include all of Gods creation
Raggers’ Creed
I would be true, for there are those who trust me;
I would be pure for there are those who care;
I would be strong, for there is much to suffer;
I would be brave, for there is much to dare.
I would be friend, to all – the foe, the friendless;
I would be giving and forget the gift;
I would be humble for I know my weakness;
I would look up and laugh and love and lift.

The Challenges of the Rags are:

Blue: Loyalty to God, country and one’s best self.

Silver: Acceptance of or re-dedication to a Christian way of life of spiritual growth.

Brown: Christian service.

Gold: Understanding, concern and acceptance of others.

Red: Sacrifice of time, talent and personal will.

Purple: A dedication towards excellence and noble living in all  Christian service opportunities.

White: A lifetime of Christian service to youth

During a traditional YMCA Rags ceremony, participants gather in fellowship around a Ragger’s Point, often near a campfire. They will take a moment to reflect upon their own strengths and weaknesses, their goals, and the progress they’ve made. Next they will put on their Leather or Rag in order to symbolize a re-uniting with those challenges. It is deeply personal — representing a private partnership between the individual and their God.

In many Y branches, the program has expanded so that it goes beyond a formal ceremony. For example, Raggers may be paired with an older mentor to receive personalized counseling, or given study cards to review Bible passages, poems, or quotations that relate to the Rag they are seeking.

The YMCA Rags/Leathers Program is open to people of all religious faiths and is one of the most effective tools available to a YMCA leader. It is designed to help youth and adults take a closer look at themselves, their religious beliefs and the relationships with those around them. The program can be a major factor in creating an atmosphere in which positive change and self-improvement can occur. Of course, the real test is in how its members conduct themselves in the year-round programming of the YMCA, as well as in their home, school, church and community.

The Rags/Leathers Program can inspire a lifelong commitment to Christian service, as evidenced by those who ultimately seek the White Rag, the most serious and meaningful of all the Rag ceremonies

White Raggers: Blue Ridge staff, Peggy Eckel and Board member, Joe Bransby.

Tom Caldwell’s contribution remains strong and effective in the YMCA even a century later. It is estimated that since 1914, several hundred thousand youth have participated in Rag ceremonies across the country. The Ragger’s Point itself represents the YMCA mission and values- the pursuit of Christian leadership, dedicated service, and the development of mind, body and spirit. There is no doubt that the YMCA Rag/Leathers Program will continue to impact and change lives for generations to come! Join us!

For more information please visit the YMCA Christian Leadership Conference.


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Another Blue Ridge Summer…

It’s hard to believe summer 2011 at Blue Ridge has already come and gone! Here’s a run down of what’s been happening on the mountain these past few months:

Staff Orientation

During the first week of June we welcomed around 40 additional staff to Blue Ridge Assembly to prepare for our busy summer season.  These college-aged men and women come from around the country, and around the world! This year over 12 different nations, including Turkey, Brazil, Jamaica, and Mexico are represented. There were many new faces, but also several returning staff to join us this year. On the first day of Orientation everyone gathered by Laurel Lake to listen to the beloved “Eureka Story”  and become acquainted with the year-round staff and department heads After a touching devotion from our Chaplain, we broke into smaller groups for some team-building activities and fun group initiatives. This was a great opportunity for staff to try out our brand new Low Ropes course!

Staff gather at Laurel Lake

"The Grand Prix"


The morning concluded with everyone participating in a giant Lap-sit. Here is a great video clip of what our first attempt looked like , and here is our second try… Success! Orientation activities continued throughout the week with various trainings, tours, and fun bonding activities like an indoor climbing and a cookout. Thank you to all of the new staff and our amazing team of volunteers who are going to be joining us this summer! We are so excited to have you all here in helping us serve youth and fulfill the YMCA mission.

The Blue Ridge Garden

The first-ever Blue Ridge vegetable garden has proven to be a huge success! We have been harvesting vegetables for since the beginning of July and incorporating them into many of our staff and guest meals. They are so fresh and taste amazing!  Thanks to Van Burnette for all of his hard work in making this project happen. Here is a picture of one of what the garden produces in a typical day…


Whittington & Grist Awards

Our summer staff was wonderful this year! Two stand-outs in particular were recognized with the Grist and Whittington Awards during our end-of-summer picnic last week. Candidates, nominated by members of the conference support staff and elected by supervisory staff, demonstrated an outstanding work ethic and exemplary moral character.Returning  Conference Services staff member, Clark Devore (Florida, USA) is the 2011 winner of the Dr. Paul M. Grist Award, which honors those who demonstrate the Christian faith and loving concern for the welfare of others. Grounds staff, Guillermo Coplan (Honduras) was recognized with the 2011 Whittington Award. The Whittington Award, provided by the late Earle Whittington in memory of his son, is given annually to the staff member best exemplifying the “Blue Ridge Spirit”, as well as leadership, responsibility, and a commitment to service. Congratulations to Clark and Guillermo!

And to all of the Blue Ridge staff..new and old, near and far, THANK YOU!  Your hard work and smiling faces made this summer magical for our guests. Best of luck as you return homes to familes, friends, and school. We hope to see you back again next year! 🙂

Blue Ridge Summer Staff Award and Superlative Winners


Summer Conferences

Flag over Lee Hall, BRLS 2011

Our annual youth conferences are the highlight of every summer at Blue Ridge. In the past month we have hosted several camps for the  Fellowship of Christian Athletes, as well as YMCA conferences such as the Youth Conference on National Affairs, Christian Values Conference, and the always exciting, Blue Ridge Leaders’ School. The BRLS conference welcomes youth leaders from all over the nation.  This year’s theme was “Make Magic with your Leadership”, but also focused on physical education, character-building, faith, and patriotism, and featured a first-ever live internet stream of the closing ceremonies. Here is also a wonderful video of Leaders’ School 2011. It’s such an honor to be a part of these memories!

Did you visit the mountain this summer? Share your stories and photos with us! Send your Blue Ridge memories to Marketing Coordinator eratliff@ymcabra.org. We’d love to hear from you!

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