Archive for the ‘General’ Category


Last month we hosted Model United Nations conferences for middle schoolers from North and South Carolina. Model UN is one of the Y’s most influential youth development initiatives, designed to promote leadership and character development through the discussion and debate of important global issues.

In the classroom and within their local Y branches, students work year-round in groups to study a specific country’s culture, customs, language and history. All activities are guided and directed by YMCA professionals, social studies teachers, and passionate YMCA volunteers. Typically these are mentorships from local high school and college students who are alumni of the Y’s Youth in Government programs!

These programs are helping to create the next generation of good citizens. By allowing youth to work within a framework of state, national, and international governmental systems, tomorrow’s leaders will understand their role within a global society.


Together we are not only impacting lives and communities…we are changing the world!


The Model UN program culminates in a two-day trip to YMCA Blue Ridge Assembly where students represent their chosen country at a mock United Nations Assembly. During the conference they simulate the operation and structure of the UN in an atmosphere that promotes respect, unity and cross-cultural understanding.

Here students actively participate in proposal writing, public speaking, and coalition-building on behalf of their nation.

Advisory Council meeting in Heaton Hall

Advisory Council meeting in Heaton Hall

Through the Model UN program  students gain:

  • Exposure to new ideas
  • Real world experience
  • Cultural understanding
  • Civic engagment
  • Ethics training
  • Preparation for academic success
  • Lifelong friendships
Festival of Nations, where students dress in native attire and enjoy an expo of countries customs, language, food and more.

Festival of Nations, where students dress in native attire and enjoy an expo of countries customs, language, food and more.

Click here to read about a group of local students Model UN experience through the YWNC’s 21st Century Program!

Many Model UN participants will return to the mountain later this summer with other national youth conferences such as:

Blue Ridge Leaders’ School :June 15-22

Conference on National Affairs :June 29 – July 5

Christian Values Conference July 12-14 ( Jr.) & July 15-19 (High School)

Achievers (July 19-21) 

Our beautiful facilities provide the ideal location to unite the YMCA triad of spirit, mind, and body. Here memories are made to last a lifetime, and this summer is sure to be more memorable than ever!




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October 1-7, communities nationwide will come together to honor The Y Arts Week – an annual celebration to promote the power of art to EDUCATE, INSPIRE, AND CONNECT. Celebrated every October during National Arts and Humanities Month, Arts Week strives to showcase the unique talents of artists of all ages and to bring together youth, families, and entire communities.

Arts Week is an initiative of the YMCA. At the Y, we believe the arts have the power to:

  • UNITE communities and e­­­­ncourage fellowship
  • CONNECT kids and teens to themselves and their peers as they share their enjoyment and passion with each other
  • PROVIDE new challenges and opportunities for hands-on learning and growth
  • ENCOURAGE families to develop traditions of arts and crafts that can be passed down for generations
  • IMPROVE creative and tactical skills, helping kids and adults reach their God-given potential
  • SUPPORT youth in the ability to express themselves, develop confidence and greater self-esteem

The Arts at YMCA Blue Ridge Assembly
The arts have a special place at Blue Ridge. Not only are they part of our longstanding Appalachian heritage, but they are also an integral part of our ministry to serve guests and help strengthen spirit, mind, and body.

The Craft Shop

For generations, the Blue Ridge Craft Shop has provided opportunities for those who wish to create a tangible reminder of their time and experience on the mountain. There are a variety of projects for all skill levels and interests including working with clay and ceramics, candle-making, acrylic painting on wood, leather stamping, jewelry making, and fiber arts of weaving, felting, tie-dye.These activities allow our guests to experience heritage crafts of the Appalachian mountains, to express the inspirational beauty of God’s creation, and to find pleasure and peace in working together in community.

Through arts programming at Blue Ridge, we are able to reach kids who are otherwise not being reached. For instance, in collaboration with the YMCA of Western North Carolina Day Camp  youth came each week over the summer to experience our Craft Shop. Campers, ages 6-12, made felted soap, clay pots, woven oven mitt, and other creations in our Craft Shop that they were able to take home.

As we extend our services to others in the community, our ability to support the YMCA mission stretches even further. Are you an arts organization looking to gather and create? Contact Danielle Tocaben, Sales Director to plan a mountain retreat for your group. We look forward to seeing you soon and sharing in the spirited creativity and artistic expression that Blue Ridge inspires!

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Summer Fun!

Michelle Fontebasso

Hi everybody! I would like to introduce myself as the 2012-2013 Trainee/Intern! My name is Michelle Fontebasso. I am 24 years old, from São Paulo, Brazil.  I worked at the YMCA São Paulo for 7 years as a Journalist and recently I decided to explore a new YMCA.

My first contact here was last summer, when I spent 2 months as a volunteer. At that time I realized 2 months was not enough to discover and learn everything that this place and people could offer me and wanted to return.  I arrived again in this wonderful place in March, and for almost 3 months so far I am living my dream.

YMCA Blue Ridge Assembly will be my home for 18 months. Here I can have a lot of new experiences because I have the opportunity to work in different departments, such as Guest Service, Conference Service, Housekeeping and Programs. I am learning new skills every day, as well as improving my English. Everybody here is so hospitable and kind. I have made many good  friends that always take care of me.

I am from a big city- totally different from here.  There are so many buildings, intense traffic and a lot of people. So here in Black Mountain I can live a new life and enjoy the beautiful mountains with much peace and quiet.

I want to contribute to Blue Ridge by helping others understand my culture, and bringing my past experience as a journalist. This summer I have been given the opportunity to write the Ridgerunner Newsletter, a publication that goes out to Blue Ridge staff each week. You can read the issues on our website here!

I am so excited to see what this summer and the rest of the year brings. Here are some photos from our staff Orientation earlier this month:

Staff team-building in Lee Hall lobby

New friends!

Emergency procedures review in Heaton Hall

Staff climb on the Odyssey


Fun times on the Odyssey


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The Hunger Games movie

The Hunger Games mania has taken over YMCA Blue Ridge!

The Hunger Games is a young-adult action/drama film directed by Gary Ross. The film, released in March 2012, is based on the novel of the same name by Suzanne Collins. Filming sites for the movie were locations around Asheville and Black Mountain, including Dupont National Forest and the Burnett Reservoir, just a few miles from the Assembly. Many local residents and even some Blue Ridge staff members were featured as extras in the film!

In honor of this literary heritage, several area middle schools are reading the book as part of their curriculum. Even more exciting is that many of them have booked class field trips this spring with a Hunger Games theme…and have discovered YMCA Blue Ridge to be the perfect site for this thrilling occasion! The youth are scheduled to participate in various adventure programs which mirror the plot of the book: archery, wilderness survival, and team-building high among the trees on the Odyssey Course.


Nature Exploration

Odyssey Course

Here are some great testimonials from our young participants so far!

“I felt as if I was training for the games with an ally.”  -Anana
“The survival activity taught me what is valuable in the wilderness.”- Taylor
“The Odyssey taught me that I can do anything if I try.”  -Kyle
“I felt like Katniss shooting, and then missing the squirrel. I experienced/endured so much I actually felt like was in an actual Hunger Games training session.”  -Jessica
“It was one of the best field trips I have ever been on.”  –Andrew
“I had a great time and I actually learned a lot.”  -Mackenzie


On the weekend of April 12, the Program Staff had a nice surprise from a group of youth climbing the Alpine Tower. The group, ages 9-17, were part of the Apex/Cary Rope Skippers, who include many members of the Cary YMCA Super Skippers from Cary, North Carolina. Last year the Cary Super Skippers won 2nd Place in Overall Freestyle and tied for 2nd Overall Team at the 2011 USA Jump Rope National Championship in Galveston, Texas!

The Rope Skippers were visiting as part of the Spring Physical Education Leadership Training conference,  sponsored by the North Carolina Alliance for Health, Athletics, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance. SPELT  is one of the premier K-12 physical education forums in the country and this year celebrated their 40 anniversary at Blue Ridge!

The energetic and athletic youth also visited several local elementary schools to perform their award-winning jump rope routines, and after their climb treated our staff to a private showing. Here are some great photos from the field:

To see the young skippers in action, visit their YouTube page!

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It is hard to believe that the holiday season has nearly come and gone already. YMCA Blue Ridge Assembly has had one of the busiest Decembers on record, keeping our year-round staff on their toes and in high spirits! This month was full of excitement, merriment, retirements and engagements….

Blue Ridge staff at the 2011 Tree Trimming Party

On the week after Thanksgiving, Blue Ridge kicked off the Christmas season with our annual Tree-Trimming Party.  Staff and their families gathered in the Blue Ridge Center lobby for homemade baked goods, warm beverages, and fire-side fellowship. We decorated a majestic 13-foot Fraser fir, which was harvested locally and provides a visual reminder of the joyful holiday season and the remarkable beauty of the Assembly.

The collection of historic black and white Archive photos used to decorate the tree each year

Ed Colley takes the honor of topping the this year's tree

This years event was particularly special, as we were serenaded with live Christmas music from talented members of our Leadership team. We also received our first SNOW of the season, which provided the perfect festive backdrop to unite everyone in the holiday spirit!

Peggy, Owen, Kurt, Steve, and Richard sing Christmas carols in the lobby

Let it Snow! Lee Hall as seen from Blue Ridge Center, November 29, 2011


After 21 years of service, Blue Ridge Assembly’s Maintenance Director, Ed Colley, recently announced his retirement. On December 1st we hosted Ed’s Retirement Celebration, paying tribute to his excellence of character, warm personality, outstanding work ethic, and legacy to Blue Ridge.  The evening brought together Ed’s family, Blue Ridge staff, and Board members and included a Reception in the BRC Lobby, followed by a delicious banquet dinner in the Dining Room.

Ed Colley with his son, daughter, and granddaughter at the Ed's Retirement Reception.

We are eternally grateful for Ed’s dedication to Blue Ridge, both personally and professionally.  He touched hundreds of  lives as he served his community, provided for his family, and managed the Assembly’s historic buildings, and 1,200 acre grounds. Congratulations and best wishes for a happy and healthy retirement, Ed!  You will be greatly missed! Thank you for all that you have done.

Blue Ridge CEO, Kurt Eckel, and Board President, Hollis Downs, present Ed Colley with restored window framing turn-of-the-century black and white photos of the Assembly.

We are pleased to announce Ed’s successor, Philip Day, will take over as Maintenance Director. Welcome aboard, Phil!


ChristmasFest gathers for a holiday worship in the BRC Lobby

Earlier this month we also celebrated ChristmasFest, a longtime Blue Ridge tradition which was  revived for the first time this year in over a decade.  We were excited to welcome back an “active adult” group from the Jamerson Family YMCA in Lynchburg, VA for this years event. Guests enjoyed a 3 day program that embraced the childlike wonder of Christmas and included  crafts, fireside storytelling, caroling, and mealtime entertainment. The group was  also able to experience unique local attractions such as downtown Black Mountain, the Biltmore Estate Candlelight Christmas, and Grove Park Inn’s Gingerbread House display.  And it wouldn’t be Christmas without GIFTS! Each day they were surprised with handmade ornaments, stockings, jingle bells, and other seasonal treats.  What a fantastic way for our guests and staff to get in the holiday spirit!

Santa visits the Dining Room during ChristmasFest 2011



This holiday season,  already a joyous time of year, was particularly exciting for two Blue Ridge staff members who became engaged this month! We would like to congratulate our own Event Planner, Beth Snook,  and Program Coordinator Andrew McKinney on their wonderful news and the announcement of a wedding next fall. We are so happy to be a part of their engagement and are looking forward to watching this beautiful young couple share a lifetime of love and happiness together.

Congratulations to Beth and Andrew from your Blue Ridge family!

Also check out engagement photos for another couple, Lucie and Ryan, who recently became engaged at Blue Ridge Assembly! It seems that LOVE is in the (mountain) air! 🙂


Ho! Ho! Ho!

We would like to wish all of you a happy and healthy holiday season! Warmest thoughts and best wishes as you celebrate joy, peace and goodwill with friends and family. Thank you for a wonderful year. We are looking forward to sharing 2012 with you!

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“LIVESTRONG at the YMCA” is a partnership between Lance Armstrong’s LIVESTRONG Foundation and the YMCA of the USA.  YMCA Blue Ridge Assembly is thankful to be part of this nationwide movement that helps cancer survivors reach their health and well-being goals.  On Saturday, September 24 we hosted a wellness retreat for a pilot group of nine local cancer survivors as part of the “LIVESTRONG at the YMCA” program. The group enjoyed a day of fun and fellowship, information and inspiration that included workshops, discussions and other activities to integrate the body, soul and spirit in pursuit of wholeness. In a non-clinical setting, participants were able to share and reflect on their personal experiences, discussing life’s hardships (and blessings) with other survivors and creating a sense of community.

LIVESTRONG notebooks, bracelets, and t-shirts for participants

In additional to spiritual encouragement in the form of prayer, meditation, and worship, several guest speakers also provided educational opportunities:  A representative of the World Laughter Tour taught the group about the physical benefits of laughter, while  a local Oncologist shared information from around the world about lifespan, health, happiness, and other themes from The Blue Zones.  Participants enjoyed crafts, stories, and songs, and even a guided nature hike where they were able to explore the Assembly’s scenic trails and the inspirational beauty of God’s creation.

Interpretive Nature Hike, led by Montreat College Outdoor Education professor

It was our goal to nourish the hearts and souls of these survivors and create the foundation for which to lead a long and happy life. We celebrate the opportunity to have been a part of this experience. Many thanks to all of the participants, local leaders, and Blue Ridge staff who helped make this day a success! We look forward to hosting more LIVESTRONG events in the future to help cancer survivors grow in mind, body and spirit.

Also coming up at YMCA Blue Ridge Assembly…

Join us on Wednesday, November 2 for a “LIVESTRONG at the YMCA” Benefit Concert!  Come out and show your support for this wonderful mission and the LIVESTRONG program at Blue Ridge Assembly.  Michael Kelly Blanchard, nationally-known contemporary Christian artist, will warm our hearts with his songs and stories. Tickets will be $10 at the door (cash or check only), and 100% of the proceeds will go to benefit cancer survivors in our local community. Find more details and RSVP here.

Michael Kelly Blanchard, performer at the YMCA Blue Ridge Assembly "LIVESTRONG FOR THE YMCA" Benefit Concert

For more information on the life-changing impact of “LIVESTRONG at the YMCA”, check out this promotional video or contact YMCA Blue Ridge Assembly Chaplain, Owen Lovejoy at olovejoy@ymcabra.org.

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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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