Life has come full circle for Kevin Keeley while growing up and then raising his family in Western Springs with the YMCA Indian Guides program.
“It was a big deal as a kid when I could tell my friends my dad is the chief, and he got up and spoke in front of people,” Keeley recalled of his father, John Keeley, Jr.
“Now when I do it as chief, I love it,” Keeley said. “It’s something I really have enjoyed doing because of the message of the organization. It’s family-based.”
Keeley is hoping to extend the opportunity to new dads, sons and daughters at two informational sessions Sept. 3 and 8 in La Grange for both the Indian Guides and Indian Princesses programs, coordinated by the Greater La Grange YMCA.
“The one-on-one time with dad is something that parents and kids, especially, always will remember,” Keeley said. “It has built lifelong memories for my father, three brothers and me.”
Keeley and his daughter, Hope, 9, joined an Indian Princesses group four years ago; two years later, he and his son, Luke, 7, joined an Indian Guides tribe.
“My daughter, Claire, is 3, and she can’t wait to be part of it, wearing her Pocahontas dress while we marched in the La Grange Pet Parade,” Keeley said. “I figure I’ll be doing this for eight more years.”
Formed in 1926, the program’s main mission continues to be strengthening the bond between father and child. Tribes of kindergarten through fifth-grade students and dads hold monthly meetings and plan camp outs and other activities.
“It’s an interesting opportunity for kids to get to know kids across ages,” said Tyler Jeffrey, chief of the Prairie Trail Federation.
The combination of about 92 tribes includes 2,500 fathers, sons and daughters in the western suburbs from Oak Park to Geneva.
“The older kids tend to teach the younger ones after having gone through an experience,” said Jeffrey of La Grange. “It helps build friendships across the years.”
Jeffrey said the program hasn’t changed much since he was involved while growing up in Downers Grove.
“There are fall, winter and spring camp outs every year with traditions and monthly meetings to plan activities like canoeing or hiking or archery, things you don’t normally get to do in school or sports programs,” he said.
The premise and structure of the program is even more valuable today than when Indian Guides and Princesses began, Jeffrey said.
“There are so many demands on family time,” he said. “Unless there was a program already set up, you probably wouldn’t go on a camping trip with your kid or build a pinewood derby car or float for the Pet Parade.”
The all-volunteer program also doesn’t require a lot of training to participate or become a leader, Jeffrey said. Most dads learn just by going to meetings.
“The nice thing for dads is you can engage as much or as little as your schedule permits,” he said.
Jeffrey and Keeley said one of the program’s biggest benefits is the chance to get to know other fathers and build friendships.
“Families are busy, and everybody is working,” Keeley said. “This gives dads a chance to connect with other dads and build relationships in other communities. I couldn’t be happier doing this with my kids. We have a terrific time.”
For prospective members
Pow-Wow informational meetings: 7-8 p.m. Sept. 3 and 8 at the First United Methodist Church of La Grange, 100 W. Cossitt Ave.
Bike Hike: open to families, noon to 3 p.m. Sept. 7 with games, food and a band at the Brezina Woods, off La Grange Road, north of 31st Street in LaGrange Park