We know that lasting personal and social change comes about when we all work together. That’s why, at the Y, strengthening community is our cause. Every day, we work side-by-side with our neighbors to make sure that everyone, regardless of age, income or background, has the opportunity to learn, grow and thrive.
Read below some stories from members of our community who had the opportunity to participate in YMCA programs and who were positively impacted by them.
Improve Academic Performance
Jasmine - YMCA Teen Programs
Jasmine is a soft spoken, sweet teenage girl. Active for the past three years in YMCA Achievers, her passion for the program truly shows. “We talk about our lives, share experiences with people whom we have become close with, create bonds and support each other academically,” she says.
Jasmine has had multiple experiences through YMCA Teen Achievers, each impacting her in a different way. She has attended the Freedom Tour to learn about the Civil Rights movement, the Blue Ridge Christian Values Conference in North Carolina and one of the yearly Teen Escape service learning trips to Chicago.
Jasmine has made true friendships, strengthened her faith, given back to her community and learned not to worry about being judged by others. Her favorite thing about participating in Y Achievers is the college tours. “I really like to go on these tours because I get to see myself attending those universities one day,” she says.
Norjelly - After School and YMCA Teen Programs
Norma is a single mother who walked into a YMCA facility looking for a place where her daughter, Norjelly, could feel safe and part of a family. Working late hours cleaning houses, she could not afford much and was in need of help.
Norjelly quickly grew to love the Y, a place she now calls home. Since joining, she has participated in multiple programs, such as after school, teen camp, dance and has attended the Junior High Christian Values Conference for two consecutive years. In the after school program, Norjelly receives help with her homework and also participates in fun activities such as arts and crafts, group discussions and games.
Norma has noticed a great improvement in her daughter and is very grateful to the Y. “She’s much more sociable, is active and involved, her grades have improved, and she talks about her future, about becoming a lawyer one day,” she says.
Manuel, Neveah, Jacob and Pablo - YMCA Day Camp
Gloria currently has temporary custody of her four grandchildren because her daughter, Belkis, was killed in a domestic violence situation by the children’s father. Belkis was an active member at the Y and would always talk about how her children enjoyed going to the center with her.
At the Y, Gloria has found a safe place for her grandchildren. Manuel, Neveah, Jacob and Pablo are enrolled in day camp. “They look forward to coming to the Y and don’t want to go home at the end of the day,” Gloria says.
Spending time at the Y keeps the children from feeling depressed and keeps their minds occupied. It also allows Gloria time to take care of legal issues and attend court appointments regarding the children.
“The Y has helped me a lot because I don’t have family here to help. The kids are safe and having fun, and they tell me great stories,” Gloria says.
Lucas - YMCA Day Camp
Like most 11-year-old boys, Lucas could not get enough of television and video games. His mom, Leticia, worried about how he struggled with homework and making friends at school.
She enrolled him in STEM Day Camp at the Y. She knew he needed to be active, and she hoped he would become more engaged academically. The structure of the lessons worked well with Lucas’ learning style. “For the first time he was really interested in something academic,” said Leticia.
The Y offers STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math)-focused day camps during the summer to keep campers active and engaged. They can also be the spark that lights a life-long interest in science.
When Lucas returned to school, his teachers noticed a difference in him too. His grades improved so much that he applied and was one of the few students accepted into a STEM-focused middle school. He hopes to one day become an engineer.
Eliminate Chronic Disease and Childhood Obesity
Adelaide - LIVESTRONG at the YMCA
Adelaide is a 74-year-old breast cancer survivor who is recovering from a knee replacement, vestibular issues and other physical challenges that make exercising a daunting task.
She joined the YMCA to participate in water aerobics classes but soon learned about the LIVESTRONG program and decided to give it a try. LIVESTRONG at the YMCA supports adult cancer survivors who are trying to reclaim their normal lives both physically and emotionally.
“After our first meeting, I knew I had met a group of interesting, strong participants who would bond quickly with each other and with our coaches,” she says.
Adelaide has found the strength and support she needed to get back to her old, familiar lifestyle. “The LIVESTRONG leaders have taken us a long way in a short time, and for me this journey is adding up to be one huge blessing for which I am very grateful,” she says.
Lynnea - YMCA Diabetes Prevention Program
At an annual physical exam in the latter part of 2014, Lynnea was diagnosed with prediabetes. She was advised to lose weight and exercise more. Her doctor provided her with specific counseling, but she subsequently learned about a much more extensive program for individuals with prediabetes at the YMCA.
She joined the YMCA Diabetes Prevention Program knowing how damaging diabetes can be to a person. In the classes, Lynnea had access to health education, wellness and nutrition tips as well as her support group.
Lynnea has changed her lifestyle drastically. “My husband and I have both become more conscious of our intake of fats and also of the need for daily exercise. We now look at food labels at the grocery store and prepare meals more responsibly,” she says.
Lynnea has lost 20 pounds and no longer has prediabetes. Her blood glucose level has also dropped eight points.
Matthew - YMCA Youth Sports
Matthew is a typical 10-year-old who loves to play sports with his cousins and friends. Yet, when Matthew was six years old, he was overweight, shy and was anxious around others. His father Florencio had a stroke that left him partially paralyzed and unable to play sports with his son. Playing basketball, soccer and NFL flag football at the YMCA helped him fill that void.
When Matthew scored a touchdown during the last game of the season, “The whole team cheered for Matthew, who was proud and had a smile from ear to ear. I wanted to run into the field to celebrate with him,” Florencio says.
Matthew is much more outgoing and participates as a team leader. When interacting with his teammates, no one could ever tell that he once felt out of place. “I’m not nervous anymore because I get to play with my family and best friends,” he says.
Khloe and Aubrey - Water Wise
Sorayda came to us during the summer with her daughters, Khloe, four, and Aubrey, six, through the Water Wise program. Neither Sorayda nor her daughters knew how to swim. “The girls were afraid of jumping in the water,” she says. “I was very uncomfortable and uneasy. I felt like their lives were at stake.”
With the family living in an apartment complex that had a swimming pool, Khloe and Aubrey were able to access the YMCA’s Water Wise program to learn how to swim and how to be safe around water. Every day they developed new skills and techniques, and their mother would join them in the water after the class to help them practice, facing her own fear as well.
At the end of the summer, after taking daily lessons, Aubrey accidentally fell into the pool and, to her mother’s relief, was able to swim to the edge and get out by herself.
Karina, Melissa and Anthony - Swim Lessons
Karina, the young mother of Anthony and Melissa, was really insecure about her swimming skills before coming to the YMCA. “I had a phobia when being in or even just around the water,” she says.
After signing her children up for swimming lessons and watching them prosper, Karina decided to learn to swim at the Y as well. “I want to be a role model for my children,” she says. After a few swim sessions, Karina is now able to cross from one side of the pool to the other.
Anthony is making great strides himself, as he is now able to float and swim a decent distance. “Even though he’s only four years old, he started becoming very competitive, and I’m now considering looking at swim teams for him to join,” Karina says. Melissa also started showing more interest, asking her mother for more time with the instructor so she could improve her techniques.
Armaan - Go for Green
Armaan is a regular participant in YMCA Day Camp. His confidence in his swimming abilities flourished in the Go for Green program. “Armaan definitely feels more confident and comfortable in the water,” says his mother Maryam. “Before he joined day camp, I was unsure and worried. When kids don’t know how to swim, anything can happen.”
Go for Green offers free swim lessons to all day camp participants who don’t know how to swim. Campers are required to test their swimming skills, and they receive green wrist bands when they demonstrate their ability to perform basic skills: floating, submerging, stroke development and crossing from one side of the pool to the other.
Now, Armaan has a big dream: “I want to become a professional swimmer and participate in the Olympics one day,” he says. His mother, very proudly, agrees. “He really wants to become a swimmer, and it’s all because of the Y.”
Jenysis - Go for Green
At YMCA Day Camp, we strive to keep all children safe in the water by administering a mandatory swim test that evaluates their skill level.
On her first day of camp, Jenysis could barely keep her head above water. Having never received swim instruction, she was discouraged and wanted to improve.
As a part of the Y’s Go for Green program, Jenysis received free swim lessons during YMCA Day Camp pool time. Participants learn basic swim skills including submerging, floating and stroke development in order to make them feel safer and more aware in water.
Jenysis passed the swim test and earned a green swim band that demonstrates she can safely swim from one side of the pool to the other. Her mom is glad that Jenysis is safer around the water and proud of her accomplishment. “She had a goal and she accomplished it,” said Erica. “I just love how the Y encourages children to learn new skills.”
Create Opportunities for Social Equity
Melanie, Melissa and Matthew - Community Outreach
Melanie, Melissa and Matthew have been a part of YMCA Community Outreach programs for the past three years. The children have participated in many Y programs such as day camp, teen camp, achievers, as well as attending YMCA Camp Cullen at no cost through scholarships.
Their parents, Sandra and Jorge, work full-time and have peace of mind knowing their children are safe and in a reliable environment. They even trust the Y to look after Melissa, who struggles with juvenile diabetes.
“Melissa’s health is a big concern for us,” Sandra says. “It makes us very happy to know that the Y cares for her while she’s attending programs. The staff always communicate with me about her well-being and keeps me informed. It reassures us, and I’m very grateful for that.”
Melanie, Melissa and Matthew build relationships with other kids and teens, stay active, learn, and are surrounded by role models who challenge them to succeed.
Rayshawn - Apartment Outreach
When Rayshawn began attending the Y’s Apartment Outreach program, which provides after school care and day camp at his apartment complex, he was shy and struggling with his grades.
His mother, LaToya, was concerned. “He was making Cs and Ds and was really frustrated with himself,” shared LaToya.
Participating in the Y’s program helped him improve his grades and his outlook. Rayshawn built relationships with Y staff members who helped him with his studies and motivated him to excel. His grades improved, and he made the A/B honor roll for the entire year.
Y team members also secured a scholarship for Rayshawn to participate in youth sports. Sports sparked a change in Rayshawn. He grew more confident while learning the value of teamwork. Always known for his polite disposition and good manners, Rayshawn has emerged as a leader on his teams. In fact, he was named captain of his Y baseball and basketball teams last year.
Fadi - Community Outreach
When Fadi first started participating in after school, day camp and youth sports programs at 10 years old, he had behavioral issues and struggled with poor grades. Fadi also didn’t follow instructions or respect authority.
His coaches made an agreement with him. If he kept his grades up and held himself responsible for his own actions, Fadi would be able to play sports at the Y for free.
Fadi, now participates in the Y’s Community Outreach program and volunteers as a Counselor in Training at Y day camp and helps children with their homework. The positive influence of counselors and coaches in his life gave him real aspirations. Besides being a basketball coach, Fadi wants to go to college and work as a day camp counselor, impacting the lives of many children like him.
His mother, Fatiyauh, has seen clear changes. “His self-confidence and social skills have grown tremendously,” she says.
Kieran and Finley - YMCA Adaptive Sports
Kieran, 8, and his brother Finley, 9, both have autism. They have been involved for four years with the YMCA Miracle League program, designed specifically for children with disabilities. YMCA Miracle League allows children with mental and physical disabilities to play team sports in a safe and barrier-free environment.
“Kieran and Finley have gained a huge amount of confidence, and they feel included, like typical kids,” says their mother, Shannon.
Adaptive sports, like YMCA Miracle League, make sure children with disabilities have the same opportunities to play sports as other children. They also give parents a chance to rest and watch their children having fun and making friends.
Because of her children’s disabilities, it has been difficult and often expensive to involve them in mainstream sports. The Y has changed all of that. “The Y has provided us with a way to enjoy life outside of constant, intense therapy,” Shannon says.