Elizabeth Dunling-Smith


8:16 PM: Volunteer of the Year Elizabeth (Lizie) Dunling-Smith breathes the fresh air at Camp Chief Hector YMCA as she works with women and children that have come from difficult home situations. Every hour of every day, the YMCA is making a difference in someone’s life.

When one thinks of camp, they are often flooded with images of children venturing out for their first time in a canoe or hopping on the back of a horse. As camp Volunteer of the Year Lizie Dunling-Smith knows, Camp Chief Hector YMCA is so much more than happy summertime campers –  it also offers unique programs that are transforming the lives of vulnerable people.

Lizie is a volunteer with Mountain Haven, a Camp Chief Hector YMCA program that empowers mothers who have survived domestic violence. These moms and their children enjoy the beauty of the mountains and participate in a retreat that is aimed at restoring their spirits, empowering them and giving them tools to thrive in challenging circumstances.

“I think it is a brilliant program because a lot of these women and children have really been through hardships, and a lot of them have lost a lot of their own self-confidence,” says Lizie. “By taking them out of their comfort zone and out of shelters in the city to an outdoor setting, it shows that they can thrive in a different environment.”

“As volunteers, we try to help those connections between the moms and get them to connect to themselves as well.”

As the children play at Camp Chief Hector YMCA, the mothers are challenged through a variety of group activities. It all comes down to a ‘challenge by choice’ model. For some, it means taking on the high ropes, for others, it’s pushing themselves to the top of the ladder of a giant swing.

“It gives them the chance to prove ‘I did this, so what else am I capable of?’”says Lizie.

“My favorite part of my volunteer position is seeing the transition that these women have over the course of the weekend. I love being a part of the transition and empowerment. It’s a breath of fresh air.”