At Camp Wood YMCA, our campers and staff have a lot of fun learning new skills and making friends. Our staff also work hard to model good character and reinforce the YMCA core values of caring, honesty, respect and responsibility. In addition to these core values, we have a motto at camp—“I’m Third”. I’m Third means that we place God first, other’s second and ourselves third. Here, Senior Operations Director, BJ Murray, shares the impact of living the “I’m Third” life.

"I'm Third" has been a Camp Wood YMCA motto for decades.

“I’m Third” has been a Camp Wood YMCA motto for decades.

Two weeks ago, I got to witness Camp Wood YMCA’s motto of “I’m Third” in action on two very different occasions. The first was in the life of my wife’s grandfather. He passed away earlier this month, and during an emotional funeral service with the entire family, I realized what it meant to live the “I’m Third” life—a life in which we put our faith first, others second and ourselves third.

Grandpa Barrow was such a good man. He worked hard to provide a wonderful life for his four children. He served his country in both World War II and the Korean War. Even in his retirement, he never slowed down–giving most of his time to his church and to the local shelter. Even at 90 years old, with is body slowing and his mind not as sharp (he suffered from Alzheimer’s), he would lower himself down to the living room floor to play cars with my young son, and do so with a smile. While visiting him when he was 92 in the nursing home, he had no remembrance of my wife or children, but he still smiled and gave high fives. That is what living an “I’m Third” life is all about. 

The second instance was during my daughter’s 8th birthday party. My daughter is a great kid, but she has terrible social anxiety. After spending the week surrounded by family and new people at the funeral, I was not sure how the birthday weekend was going to go. There were big plans to have a good friend stay the night, and some of the female summer staff were coming over to throw a slumber party. The day before the party, my wife held our daughter as she cried and we were so nervous that the party would end up being a flop. But thanks to the beauty of living the “I’m Third” life, these young college women, whom our daughter had befriended here at camp last summer, transformed an anxious time into one of joy and fun. They took her by the hand, hugged her, and showed me what truly giving of yourself means.

These girls didn’t have to do what they did. How many college kids want to attend an 8 year-old’s birthday party? But they did it because they wanted to spark joy for our daughter. And she was so thrilled. They laughed and took pictures and gave completely of themselves. They made her gifts (a tutu for our girly-girl), and gave her stuffed animals that they grew up loving. Watching them interact with our daughter, I got a glimpse of the amazing, nurturing experience they will give campers under their care this coming summer. When I asked my daughter how she thought her party went, she answered, “It was perfect, Dad.”

When we say “I’m Third” here at Camp Wood YMCA it means far more to us than just a motto. It’s a reminder that we are made to care for others. It’s a reminder that creating amazing experiences for campers is far more important than our own experiences (although we do end up having lots of fun helping our campers learn and grow). It’s a reminder to live the YMCA core values in all we do—at camp and in our communities. Are we perfect? Heck no! But, we do wake up every day hoping to be better than we were the day before. We look to live out our faith, whatever that may be for us, here at camp. We look to truly put our values and the interests of others ahead of our own. We strive to live like Grandpa Barrow and get down on the level of the children we serve rather than stay in our chair where it would be far easier and more comfortable. We strive to give of our time like our amazing summer staff members because it means so much to an 8 year-old girl.

Knowing people like Grandpa Barrow and our dedicated summer staff restores my faith in what the world could be like if we all lived the “I’m Third” motto. It would be a world much like camp—where we give of ourselves and the result is often smiles and laughter. At camp, we work hard to learn new skills and we rejoice with others when they learn them too. We are here for one another, regardless of the color of a person’s skin, or their beliefs, or their politics, or their grades, or how well they can shoot a basketball. We celebrate the accomplishments of others and are here to lift them up if they fall.

Living the “I’m Third” motto is a glimpse at the potential in all of us. It can transform us into who we want to be. I’ve witnessed it for myself and in our staff and campers. It is in those moments where we lose ourselves in the service of others that we discover our best selves. That discovery is better than any tangible reward I have ever given to myself. My hope is that encountering the “I’m Third” motto at camp will inspire people to be more concerned about others than they are about themselves. In doing so, we will leave the world a kinder, less selfish place. And really, what could be better than that?