Archive for the ‘International’ 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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The ACJ & the ACCT

Just before Christmas, Blue Ridge welcomed a youth group from the YMCA-ACJ in Colombia! It is not very often that we get the opportunity to host international groups, especially in our slower season, so we were very excited to accommodate them during their two week stay in December.

The YMCA-ACJ (“Asociacion Cristiana de Jovenes” or Association of Young Christians) was first established in the capital city of Bogota in 1964, working primarily with low-income families who were victims of violence or natural disaster. The Federation of Colombian ACJ’s was later established in 1978 and currently operates branches in 14 cities across the country.

These particular youth were from a community southeast of Bogota called Florencia, in the province of Caqueta.The group was comprised of thirteen teens (ages 11-16) and their two adult leaders, Jorge and Yohom. The trip included many new experiences, the largest of which was simply: WINTER! Our frigid alpine climate proved to be quite different from the balmy temperatures of the tropics that they are used to.


Colombians seeing snow for the first time!

Colombians seeing snow for the first time!

Their unique mountain adventure was packed with both fun and learning, as it was an opportunity for the students to see American culture and practice the language first-hand.  In addition to daily English lessons, we planned exciting evening activities, and a sampling of Blue Ridge’s own environmental and adventure programs. The group enjoyed the majority of their meals in our Dining Room, but there were also a few occasions for them to make their own traditional cuisine in the kitchen of Weatherford. Delicioso!

The Colombian’s busy itinerary also featured visits to area attractions, where members of Blue Ridge staff served as “counselors” and accompanied them on all off-ground excursions. These day-trips were recreational and educational, but their favorite American pastime was, of course, SHOPPING! They are teenagers, after all.

ACJ-YMCA Colombia Student Trip

Off-Grounds Activities


Meeting American teenagers, the Leaders Club at Reuter Family YMCA

Hanging out with American teenagers, the Leaders Club at Reuter Family YMCA



Jorge leads the pack

Jorge leads the pack



Down on the (Nature Center) farm

Down on the (Nature Center) farm



Biltmore House!

Biltmore House!


Hittin' the slopes

Hittin’ the slopes


On-Grounds Activities

  • Odyssey Challenge Course
  • Indoor Linear Course
  • Indoor Climbing Wall
  • Candle-making in Craft Room
  • Alpine Tower and Giant Swing
  • Kickball Tournament
  • Mountain Biking
  • Archery
  • “High Windy” Hike


Group shot at the top of High Windy! We did it!

Group shot at the top of High Windy! We did it!

Evening Activities

  • Square Dance
  • Night Hike
  • Ice Cream Social
  • Movie Night
  • Pizza Party
  • Campfire
  • “Sumo Wrestling” Match


"Sumo Wrestling"

“Sumo Wrestling”

On the evening prior to their farewell home, we held a banquet dinner and awards ceremony in the Dining Room. The two weeks flew by, and our staff was sad to see the group depart. The trip was an unforgettable experience for these youth and we are so happy to have shared our language, culture, and mountain scenery with them.  And as always, Blue Ridge Assembly is proud to support the YMCA’s global mission!

Gracias por visitar Blue Ridge Assembly! Esperamos que todos ustedes disfrutan su tiempo aquí y que usted volverá otra vez pronto! Bendiciones para un Año Nuevo feliz y saludable.

Thank you for visiting Blue Ridge Assembly! We hope you all enjoyed your time here and that you will come back again soon! Blessings for a happy and healthy New Year.



Jeep Barrett reviews safety information before the group heads up into the course

Trainers review safety information before the group heads up into the course


In honor of the new year, and a fresh start to the season, this week we hosted a training for Alpine Towers International. Several leaders from North Carolina Outward Bound and other local adventure organizations gathered at Blue Ridge to familiarize themselves with our Odyssey Course.

Constructed in 2005 by Alpine Towers Inc, the Odyssey Course focuses on teamwork, leadership, and physical challenge. It is the Assembly’s most popular program option, accommodating around 3000 youth and adults each year! We are so fortunate to have this course as part of our facilities.

Several leaders from the Association of Challenge Course Technology (ACCT) also swung by to observe the training. The ACCT works closely with Alpine Towers, Inc and is the international organization responsible for all challenge course standards, inspections, and certifications. The training was a great opportunity for all three organizations to collaborate and show their passion for outdoor recreation, adventure, and experiential education. Participants not only learned valuable safety and facilitation skills to bring back to their workplace, but it was also a great way for  our Program staff to network with other industry professionals (and have fun, on the clock!) As Program Coordinator, Andrew McKinney said, “Days like this really recharge my battery.”  It was a fantastic learning experience for all.


Climbing the net!

Climbing the net!


The Matrix

The Matrix


"The Complex X"

“The Complex X”


"The Lateral Limbo"

“The Lateral Limbo”

A big THANKS to Jeep Barrett, Sal Clarizio, and the rest of the Alpine Tower crew who came out for the training! It is always a pleasure working with them and we are looking forward to seeing everyone again soon.  Cheers to a wonderful (and SAFE) 2012!


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Blue Ridge Assembly has started planting their first garden! The 2,000 square foot space is situated next to Lake Laurel and features an assortment of vegetables including broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, beans, tomatoes, peppers, and squash.

Van Burnette, member of the Assembly’s Maintenance department, is heading up the exciting  project. Outside of Blue Ridge, Van is a local farmer and entrepreneur at Hop N’ Blueberry Farm, which produces hops, blueberries, and a variety of native medicinal herbs for the local public and businesses. Van has decades of experience in Appalachian mountain ecology and agriculture and is hopeful about the garden’s success at Blue Ridge.

We plan to use many of the harvested vegetables at the salad bar in the Dining Room and the garden could even be incorporated into some of our environmental education programming in the coming years. Blue Ridge staff also hopes that the project inspires guests and the community to grow their own food and support local farming.

We are looking for Volunteers! If you would like to help out in the garden this summer, please contact Brent Haddas, Property Director at bhaddas@ymcabra.org for more information.


Blue Ridge staff at the Ambassador send-off

In other news, this afternoon we said farewell to Clark Devore, the next Blue Ridge Ambassador. Clark will head to the Romford England YMCA on Saturday for a three-week volunteer staff exchange program through the YMCA and the Blue Ridge Fund. He will be submitting regular blog posts, so readers can follow along on his adventures abroad. Safe travels, Clark!

Clark and Andrew, last year's Ambassador to the Romford YMCA


Mountain Stream Discovery at Blue Ridge

One of our most popular environmental education programs is our Mountain Stream Discovery, where participants collect and study various aquatic specimens from the streams on Blue Ridge grounds. Through hands-on exploration, they will draw conclusions about the stream’s overall water quality. Participants are given free-roam of our flowing mountain streams, observing aquatic specimens like salamanders, crayfish, and macroinvertibrates in their natural habitat. It is a fun and educational activity that encourages students to connect with nature one-on-one.  Recent updates to the program include water quality testing kits and the launching of the Assembly’s first “Citizen Science” log, where program participants assist Blue Ridge staff in collecting and recording data about the biodiversity and environmental conditions of the stream over time.

Female crayfish with eggs

For more information on this and our other environmental education programs, you may contact our Program Director, Peggy Eckel at peckel@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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Goodbyes & Giving

The busy 8 week Blue Ridge summer has officially come to a close 😦 . We have been saying bittersweet goodbyes to many of our collegiate and international staff as they go back to their friends and family at home and schools around the country (and the world). For our year-round staff, life will carry on as normal as the calmer fall season approaches.

We hosted a lovely picnic at Laurel Lake to celebrate the end of summer and commemorate all of the staff who made it possible. An awards ceremony was held to announce the popular Blue Ridge Summer Staff Superlatives as well as the  2010 Grist and Whittington Awards. (Congratulations to staff members Owen Lovejoy, Steve Waldrop, Sr. and Roland Williams!)

Thank you to all of the staff (and conferees) who helped make Summer 2010 a huge success! If you have any touching stories, memorable moments, or great pictures from your time at Blue Ridge, please send them to Melissa Logan, Development Director, at mblogan@ymcabra.org. We’d love to hear from you!  We hope to see you all again next summer!


All-stars on and off the court

Whitney Boone of our Program Department, and Janel Cox of Guest Services are both summer staff that have made a lasting mark on Blue Ridge, and now… Africa. Whitney and Janel are not only best friends, they are also classmates, roommates, coworkers, teammates (both played on the Women’s Basketball team at Montreat College),and now soon to be travel companions.

On September 29, they will leave for a 5 and a half month international mission trip through YWAM (Youth With A Mission). Their journey will begin with a 3 month discipleship traning in South Africa, followed by 2.5 months of outreach service in Zimbabwe for the “Children in Need” program.

Whitney and Janel are seeking to raise money for their trip. They have been reaching out to friends and family, speaking at local churches,  and they even ran a marathon together in June to increase awareness for the cause. Their newest fundraising venture involves selling attractive t-shirts that read “Let my heart be broken by things that break the heart of God”.

Shirts for sale!

If you are interested in ordering a t-shirt (minimum donation $20), sending a check and helping to support this great cause please contact Whitney or Janel directly at coxjm@montreat.edu or boonewd@montreat.edu   All contributions will go directly to provide aid for those in need.

In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ Acts 20:35


Thank you to the following staff members who pledged to the 2010 Blue Ridge Fund:

Robert Barker, Tracy Bestedt, Whitney Boone, Steven Monsalve Cardenas, Dana Cheek, Briana Clark, Angel Cline , Andy Coleman, Dave Cook, Janel Cox, Nona Crawford, Phillip Day, Julie Dayvault, Clark Devore, Kurt & Peggy Eckel, Jeff Edwards, Blaise Ellery, Sarah Farr, Judy Fuqua, Kathy Goldberg, Evan Goodrich, Julie Gross, Brent Haddas, Chase Hertel, Amanda Linsley, Melissa Logan, Owen Lovejoy, Andrew McKinney, Michael McMechen, Michelle Miller, Michael Moses, Danielle Myers, Laura Aguirre Narvaez, Pavel Palizhayeuski, James Palmiter, Susan Pearcy, Anita Petrie, William Pollard, Aleia Ratcliff, Erin Ratliff, Danielle Tocaben, Briley Whitson, Harold Whitted, Roland Williams and Ansley Yates.

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Bon Voyage, Andrew!

The old saying in like a lion, out like a lamb has proved true for the month of March so far. We battled a small winter storm last week that brought about 4 inches of fresh snow. Thankfully by the weekend temperatures had warmed up  into the lower 60’s! The heatwave is a welcome change… We cannot wait for Spring!


March is “National Nutrition Month. Yesterday Nurse Nancy was able to discuss good nutrition habits, share informational literature, and even provided healthy snacks for the staff. The American Dietetic Association theme for this month is  “Nutrition From the Ground Up”, which stresses the importance of fresh fruits and vegetables as part of a healthy diet.  We learned about some great plant-based recipes to try, such as “Pumpkin Pancakes” and “Greek Chick-Pea Salad”. YUM!

Nurse Nancy, Bill, and Ed


This weekend we said “Bon Voyage!” (for now) to our Program Field Coordinator, Andrew McKinney. Andrew is the first of two lucky Blue Ridge staff members able to travel abroad under the sponsorship of our staff-exchange Ambassador Program. He will be living just outside of London, England and working at the Romford YMCA for the next month.

Before his departure we presented Andrew with a Brit-themed photo album filled with little comments of well wishes from the staff.  “I am looking forward to meeting new friends and making great memories!”, he said during his send-off party last week. It seems Andrew’s wishes have already come true…

Charlie from the Romford YMCA wrote to share that Andrew had arrived safely on Sunday: “I have met Andrew and would like to say that he is such a lovely person!  He seems to be settling in very well, and is already very popular with our other volunteers; I’m sure he will do brilliantly here.”

We think so too! Andrew has already started updating our blog with stories and pictures from his experiences abroad (read “Cheers, mate!” and “Pences and Pounds” below). We are all glued to the computer anxiously awaiting the next update. Keep them coming, Andrew! Best of luck and safe, happy travels. We miss you already!

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