Impact – YMCA Stories
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When Erika joined YGEO (Y Youth Guided Employment Opportunities) Program at the Marystown YMCA she wasn’t sure where the program would take her. YGEO provides youth facing employment barriers with career and employment training followed by a quality employment placement with a local business.
Throughout the program, Erika gained valuable certifications such as First Aid, WHMIS ASIST, and gained confidence while making new friends. Since completing YGEO Erika has been employed for over eight months. “I would recommend YGEO 100%. I have come so far in the past year, it amazes me. I am definitely a better person since completing this program.”
The Ings soon started coming to the YMCA in the evenings to spend time together as a family. Trent and Lisa reflect that their younger children have been coming to the YMCA nearly all their lives, participating in programs that have helped build long lasting friendships, confidence and athleticism. “The kids always feel their best when they’re at the YMCA.”
The YMCA has also been a place where Trent and Lisa spend quality time together as a couple, taking in fitness classes, having coffee at the café and connecting with new friends. “We have met so many likeminded people here,” says Lisa. Trent especially likes the Fall. “After the summer, it’s like a reunion with old friends. People start to trickle back and catch up.”
The Ings have a family slogan: “No matter what the question is, the answer is always the ‘Y’.” If they’re having a bad day they come to the YMCA. “The minute we walk in, a staff smiles and greets us by name. Right away we start to feel better. You may think you’ll use up all your energy by exercising, but it actually gives you new energy.” “Exercise is the answer to so much, it’s the best pill you could ever take”, says Trent. Lisa continues, “When you add the community connection, it’s the perfect recipe for a healthy life.”
Neil joined the Marystown YMCA when it first opened in 2016. He joined for the pool, but then discovered pickle ball and as a former tennis coach he was intrigued. He now volunteers to teach pickle ball to 16 members who never miss a day. He describes pickle ball as a good aerobic sport, especially for those over 50 years of age.
Many older adults live with depression and anxiety, which often leads to social isolation. But what if they knew there was a place to go? Neil says the YMCA is good therapy for those struggling with their mental health. “You can’t play pickle ball or swim and be anxious at the same time.”
Neil says it’s the exercise, but also the social connection that lifts his spirits. He credits this to the fellowship with his YMCA friends and the courteous staff who always offer a helping hand and cheerful smiles.
“If I’m feeling down I go to the YMCA because I know after I’ve spent time there, those feelings will have passed.”
Growing up, Alex wanted to be a professional snow border, but there wasn’t a snow boarding community in the province that could support his goals. So, he decided to create one. His journey started in grade 9 when he developed the idea for Voltfuse, originally an initiative to support participation in snowboarding, later evolving into the successful specialty headwear and apparel brand that it is today.
In high school, a teacher recognized his potential and encouraged him to apply for Kevin O’Leary’s Future Dragons Fund which he won. This experience was the confidence boost he needed to submit his business plan to the YMCA’s provincial Enterprise Olympics conference, a pitch event for students enrolled in a high school Entrepreneurship course. He was selected to represent his school, Exploits Valley High in Grand Falls-Windsor, and placed first at the event that year. “That’s when I realized, hey, I’m an entrepreneur. Up until then I didn’t know what an entrepreneur was.”
Alex says the event introduced him to concepts that would ultimately help him grow his business. “The Enterprise Olympics Conference was a pivotal moment not just for me personally, but for my entrepreneurial career. It was an incredible experience.” He has since attended Enterprise Olympics as a guest speaker to share his story with a new generation of young, aspiring entrepreneurs.
Alex has completed a business degree at Memorial University and Voltfuse is progressively growing each year with new product lines and marketing initiatives. He recently produced a short film, “The Trail”, an experience which reminds him how far he has come. “I’m amazed that I have the opportunities and financial ability to bring people together on an international scale to develop creative content, when eight years ago I was a kid printing t-shirts in my basement.”
He credits the YMCA for playing an important role in his entrepreneurial journey. “There’s really nothing else that fosters entrepreneurship in the province that can match what the YMCA is doing with Enterprise Olympics.”
At five years old, Jasmine was diagnosed with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder and Autism Spectrum Disorder. Her social skills development is five years behind that of her peers. Her father Will, a single dad at the time, tried various after school programs and camps, but kept coming back to the YMCA, at the suggestion of his new partner Joanne, whose own two children had experienced YMCA programs. “The YMCA has a very, very different way of doing things that others don’t even come close to. The staff are able to recognize special needs and then give their time, effort and dedication to that child. It’s not just about supervising children and that makes all the difference in the world.”
At 17, Jasmine has grown into a talented young woman, with exceptionalities in math and music and a passion for sports. But growing up wasn’t always easy for Jasmine as she experienced bullying both in school and online. She got through it with the help of her family, her friends and the YMCA. “The YMCA has been a big part of my life, I still remember the first day I walked into the After School Program”, says Jasmine. Since that day more than 12 years ago, she has gone on to participate in Easter and Summer Camps, Leadership Development Camps and is now a volunteer and staff with the same camps she experienced as a child.
Jasmine says that the YMCA helps her to be more social and brightens her mood. Will agrees. “If it wasn’t for the YMCA she would not be as far ahead socially as she is now, of that I’m sure.” Will also feels that growing up in the YMCA has helped shape his daughter’s values. “As a YMCA Camp Counsellor she can now teach other kids what she has learned and she gets a lot of satisfaction from that.”
“In my opinion the YMCA is the best path for the development of a child facing adversity. I only wish all parents knew that this was an option.”
2014 was a momentous year for Greg. It’s when he won his battle with addiction and started a new life with the help of the YMCA.
“I had been doing drugs most of my life, but the last six months almost took me down” says Greg. He had been struggling to get sober, but his old life held too many triggers. “You can’t keep your old acquaintances and hangouts, there’s nothing there for you.”
He says his confidence was low after years of destroying himself. Coming to the Ches Penney Family YMCA for the first time wasn’t easy, but it was the breakthrough he needed. He built new relationships with members and staff and, most importantly, he met his girlfriend. “I found a home at the YMCA.”
Greg reflects on the past four years and is amazed how his life has turned around. “Now, the YMCA is my ‘fix’. I can’t believe life can be this good.” He hopes his story can be an inspiration to others struggling with similar issues. “Maybe someone who is hurting the way I did reads this and finds a smidge of hope. Hopefully you find an out like I did. Just don’t give up.”
Leigh Ann joined the Marystown YMCA to help manage a serious health condition. She quickly realized that although she would learn a lot about fitness, the YMCA held more for her than improved physical health alone. “Before joining the YMCA I had very few friends, but I have since met so many people here and we have developed lasting friendships.”
She describes the Marystown YMCA members and staff as her YMCA family. “Everyone is so friendly, we pick each other up.” When she turned 50, she had her birthday cake at the YMCA. When she had surgery and couldn’t exercise, she still came to the YMCA to connect with friends.
Leigh Ann says the facility is now an integral part of the community and being a YMCA member affects her in every way. “If I’m having a bad day I come to the YMCA, this is my happy place”, says Leigh Ann. “Life is so much different when you feel connected and supported.”
Ann Marie came to the YMCA during a very stressful time in her life. She was losing her father to cancer, unemployed, and unhealthy. “When you’re obese you have a host of health problems that you blame on other things, you never want to believe it’s the weight.”
Ann Marie heard about the YMCA’s Financial Assistance Program. “I didn’t have any money, but staff helped me find a membership cost I could afford.” She made a promise to herself to come three days a week and since then has lost 140 pounds. She says that the sense of community at the YMCA was an important part of her journey. “I was surrounded by people of different backgrounds and abilities, trying to improve their lives. It made me want to improve mine too.”
Ann Marie is now pursuing a career as a weight loss coach and personal trainer and hosts a healthy living radio podcast called “Annii Gets Healthy“. “People think that good health is out of grasp, something other people do. It’s how I felt all my life, but it’s not true. It just takes determination and everyone has that inside of them.”
Ann Marie attributes her success to exercising and changing her diet, and to the YMCA. “You gave me an opportunity when I had nothing, I couldn’t have done this on my own. As a charity, the YMCA has helped so many people. We need to celebrate that.”
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