Rags & Leathers
Image Gallery




The YMCA Rag Program is one of the most effective counseling tools available to the camp counselor. It is designed to help campers take a closer look at themselves in relationship to their own strengths and weaknesses, their religious beliefs, and to those around them. It can be a major factor in creating an atmosphere in which positive change can take place. Since you, as a cabin counselor, are in the best position to know your campers, their behavior, needs and goals, you will have a primary role in their rag experience. The following outline is designed to help you work with your campers through this counseling experience. It will only work, however, if you take the time not only to understand the program, but to conscientiously follow through with your campers. Seek the assistance of your director, or program staff if you have questions.


The Challenges of the Rag Society:

Persons are eligible for membership in the YMCA Rag Program when they reach the minimum age as outlined below and are willing to accept the challenges of the rag. (Only one rag can be accepted in any one year).

It is important to allow everyone the opportunity to answer yes or no to the question: "Do you wish to accept the challenge of the rag?"

It may take encouragement to get people involved but never force the issue with anyone. It is your responsibility as cabin counselor to see that each of your campers has the opportunity to accept a challenge.


Color Specific Emphasis Minimum Age

The acceptance of the Ragger's Creed & challenge of loyalty to God, country & one's best self

12 years

The acceptance or re-dedication to the Christian way of life and values

13 years
Brown A challenge of service to others 14 years
Gold A challenge of understanding and concern for others 15 years

A challenge of sacrifice of one's time, talent and personal will

16 years

A challenge of noble living or to lead the best life possible

18 years

Complete dedication to a life of Christian service to youth

21 years

The Story of the Rag:

The YMCA's Rag Program was started in 1914 by Thomas Caldwell of the Oakland YMCA. Caldwell was looking for a way to deal with certain camp discipline problems in a positive, rather than negative, way. One method used by many Y-camps was the presentation of awards for participation in athletics and other activities. Caldwell considered this, but the idea was discarded because a crippled boy was attending camp and would be unable to win an award under this system. Instead, Caldwell conceived the idea of giving awards for character attri­butes such as good health habits, promptness, cheerfulness, morals, trust, and helpfulness. To symbolize these positive qualities, Caldwell bought some very simple blue bandanas he called "Rags". This was to signify that in themselves they had no value—rather, they were just a symbol of positive qualities the person had demonstrated. During an evening campfire program, Caldwell called several of the boys forward, and as he tied the rag around each boy's neck, he told him, and the camp, why he was receiving it. And thus a tradition was started.

Over the years many changes have occurred in the Rag Program and many important Y-leaders have helped strengthen and improve on its original idea. Many different events and even some controversy have been a part of the Rag Program over its half-century of existence. The concept of "award" has changed over the years, to a philosophy that Rags are challenges—not to be "given" but to be "accepted". These challenges are toward personal growth. From the first Blue Rag, other steps or challenges have been added, so that there are now seven Rag steps. These are designed to provide new challenges as one grows, and matures. The Rag can be as meaningful for adults as it is for youth and continues to be an effective tool for counseling and motivation towards positive change.


Brief Historical Perspective:

In 1914, Thomas S. Caldwell was the Boys' Secretary of the Oakland YMCA. He was looking for a device to meet certain problems of discipline at camp by placing action upon a positive, rather than negative, basis.

The first Rags were purchased for 10 cents and were nothing more than simple blue bandanas made popular by the cowboys of the West. Caldwell called the bandanas "Rags" to signify that in themselves they had no value. Rather, they were a symbol of the qualities a boy had demonstrated.

Soon after camp got underway, Caldwell called several boys out at campfire and, as he tied the Rag around each boy's neck, told him in front of the other campers why he was receiving it. A rather large percentage of the boys became Blue Raggers that year, and one became the first Red Ragger.

In 1916, the hymn "I Would Be True" became the Ragger's Creed. Caldwell moved to Los Angeles in 1918 and found that one of his leaders at the 1914 camp, Homer Gould, had introduced the Rag in the Southland.

By 1920 there had been established four steps in the Ragger's Society-the Blue for boys 12 years old, the Brown for 14 year-old boys, the Red for age 16, and the White for older youth and adults. The fact that 13- and 15-year olds could not receive Rags led to the first "intermediate steps" in 1922.

Ralph Cole was responsible for a good deal of the early standardization of the Rag Program throughout the State of California and at least indirectly responsible for the spread of the Rag to the YMCAs of the Pacific Northwest and Arizona.

In 1934, Paul Delp of the Hollywood YMCA conceived the Silver, Gold and Purple Rags. Significant changes have taken place in the method by which campers receive their Rag. It is now each individual's decision whether or not to accept the challenge of the Rag. This is done in successive years as the camper progresses through the camp programs in camper and counselor roles.


What does the Rag mean?

It does not mean: It does mean:
A decoration An outward symbol of an inward commitment
An award of achievement A challenge of personal growth
A reward Dedication
Secrecy Responsibility
Self-centered God-centered
I am good, without error I want to be better
Mob led God led
Asking God to bless my plan for my life Asking God to reveal His plan for my life
Sight (seeing things as they are) Vision (seeing things as they ought to be)


What is the Rag?

Physically, it is a piece of triangular cloth - with one of the 7 specific colors indicating the progression in challenges. A Ragger's emblem is affixed at the apex.

The Rag is a challenge. It is given only at camp, but it is a counseling device that must carry over into post-camp living if it is to have maximum value. Young people need to realize that Christian idealism and right living are character qualities that all should possess the year round, not just at camp. When a camper receives a Rag, he should be challenged to become a better person. He/she should be inspired to make camp better for all campers and this inspiration should be taken back to school and the community. The Rag is not an award. It is not something the campers can win or earn. It is different from awards for achievement which are given in athletics and competitive activities. The Rag is a counseling tool and a challenge.

The Rag is not a ranking program. One Rag is not higher than another but the challenges build upon the previous Rag challenge. Rags must be taken in order. The unique part about the program is it doesn't matter what age you start because your maturity and depth of understanding dictate an individual meaning to you. No two Rag challenges are alike. It is very special to each individual. A Ragger's feeling of the Rag experience cannot be easily put into words.


The Leather Program:

The Leather Society is a program for younger campers who desire to try to work towards certain goals. The challenges are symbolized by leather emblems worn around the neck.

The Triangle is the first leather to be taken. The three sides of the Triangle stand for body, mind and spirit, forming together the strongest geometric figure known to man. The challenge is to begin to become aware of oneself and feelings.

The second leather is the Square, symbolizing the "four square life." Each side represents one facet of that life: physical, mental, social, and spiritual.

The Circle is the third leather and stands for the feeling of brotherhood and universal friendship which the camper should strive for.

The Golden Circle is the fourth leather and is a symbol of re-dedication and commitment to the goals of the triangle, square, and circle. The Golden Circle recipient is also invited to assist the counselor / CIT during leather ceremonies.

The Leather Society is not a "Junior Rag Program" and should be interpreted as a separate set of challenges better suited to helping younger campers begin to work at things like being better friends and being more in tune with their families and home life. 

For more information, you can read the Culver-Palms Rag & Leather Policy.

We build strong kids, stong families,
strong communities.

Culver-Palms Family YMCA
4500 So. Sepulveda Blvd.
Culver City, CA 90230
Tel. 310 390 3604