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'Setting Sail' for Children

Reston YMCA set for fourth annual Community Gala.

A single mom, Kathleen Murugu of Reston never had the luxury of sending her four children to summer camp. Last summer, that all changed when the Reston YMCA picked up the tab for summer camps and a "summer full of memories" for her three youngest children, Bobby, 13, Mary Louis, 12, and Makena, 7.

"I would never have been able to afford to send my kids to camp," said Murugu, who has lived in the Cedar Ridge section of Reston since 1998. "Previously, all I could do was send my youngest to a day camp for two weeks."

The camps were made possible by last year's third annual Reston YMCA Community Gala. More than 320 area children benefited from the $120,000 that was raised last year.

Tickets for this year's installment are still on sale today. Billed as an "evening of splendor" aboard the YMCA Cruise Ship — 'SS Dreams Come True' — the fourth annual formal gala is scheduled for Saturday, Nov. 22 at 7 p.m. As is custom, the gala will feature a host of local celebrities and athletes, a silent and live auction, dancing and food and drink. For the first time in its four year history, the gala's food and beverage will all be donated by the local area restaurant and hospitality community, said Louise Profit of the Reston YMCA.

Proceeds from the gala go directly towards YMCA's annual giving campaign, "Building Bridges," said Robert Conklin, area district executive director of the Metro YMCA. The "Building Bridges" program financial assistance to children, adults and families, like the Murugu's, who would otherwise not be able to afford to participate in YMCA programs, organizers stated. The gala is the largest fund-raiser for the program.

Conklin hopes to top his $120,000 haul from last year. And in years to come, Conklin says he would like to surpass $200,000. "I dream big," the regional director said. "We are still getting bigger and the bigger we get the more kids we can support."

While she has never been to the gala, Murugu, an accountant, says she is a big fan of it. "I just want to thank everyone who has donated to the gala in the past," she said. "Please continue supporting YMCA because it is a worthy cause and it is helpful to those of us who can't afford it. They did an excellent job, and I can't thank them enough."

Murugu said the YMCA camps were especially helpful for her three youngest children. From the swimming and basketball to outings to theme parks and the National Zoo to overnight camping trips, Murugo's children, and hundreds of others just like them, were exposed to things that they might never have experienced. "They loved it so much, it was really excellent for them because they gained a lot of structure, improved their behavior, learned better discipline and were exposed to a rich diversity," Murugu said. "While I was at work, I knew that they were safe because they were there for the whole day and for the entire summer."