MERIDEN — The Mountain Mist Outdoor Center was transformed for a night from the Meriden YMCA’s summer camp into a celebration of being able to socialize freely — while helping the hundreds of children who will attend the camp this summer.
The Noche de Estrellas fundraiser brought music, Caribbean food and between 200 and 300 people to Mountain Mist Friday night to raise money for the YMCA’s annual support campaign, which provides scholarships to allow families in need to send their children to camp.
Meriden YMCA CEO John Benigni said sponsors had contributed around $20,000 even before the event got started and he hoped to see at least that much raised through ticket sales and raffle entries. It’s the support of donors which allows the YMCA to meet its mission of never turning a family away due to an inability to pay for services.
“We’re seeing more and more people that are in need of our support,” he said. “It’s even more necessary now.”
By having it at the camp where around 800 kids will be starting their summer experience on Monday, Benigni hopes that the donors in attendance could see the impact their giving will have.
“For them to realize the importance of the day camp experience, especially after this pandemic is very, very important to me … I’m very proud of our camp and the work we do out here,” he said.
The YMCA has historically held a martini and massage fundraiser at this time of year, but uncertainty about the future of COVID restrictions led to a change in plans. Wellness Director Carrie Marquardt said holding the fundraiser at Mountain Mist also allowed them to show off the facility where children benefiting from the money raised will be spending their summer.
“I think the fact that we're holding it at our outdoor facility, it's dual purpose: we get to showcase this beautiful facility, it's over 60 acres of property and we get to be outside. People feel comfortable being able to move about and not be on top of one another indoors," she said.
Giving the fundraiser a Latin theme was meant to pay homage to Meriden native Miguel Cardona’s rise to national Education Secretary, said YMCA Membership and Community Engagement Director Carmen Chaparro. She hopes that the fundraiser can become an annual event recognizing a different ethnicity in the city every year.
“The reason why we decided to go with a Latin theme is because our Meriden resident and our own Education Commissioner Miguel Cardona is now in the White House and we were so proud to know that he came from Meriden that we were trying to honor him tonight," she said.
While it was exciting to be back to gathering at events and reuniting with residents, Mayor Kevin Scarpati said the importance of the night was helping the children who wouldn’t be able to go to camp without the fundraiser.
“All the more important is the cause that this goes to in providing programs and important initiatives that the Y provides to the kids of our community,” he said. “So I think more important than getting back out and being with one another is giving back to those who need it the most.”
Reflecting the distress the pandemic has caused for many families and children in particular, he said the city began offering its summer camp for free this year, rising to complement the services the YMCA has been offering for decades.
"This year more than ever,” he said, “those programs are so important for not just physical well being, but the social and mental health of the children in our community.”