Building Relationships at the Association Office

Great day at the Association Office today. Katie Jilek from YMCA Camp Jewell led our Association Staff in a fun, laugh filled workshop on “Getting to Know You.”  Our CEO, James Morton, and the assortment of admin staff and VP’s prepared skits, brainstormed ideas, and had lots of fun.  Most importantly, the workshop reinforced the importance of being intentional with all of our actions and putting relationships with each, the branches, and all we come in contact with.

Thank you, Katie, for your time and talent!

We Belong at the Y

Hearing those words last night was a dream come true for me. “We belong at the Y.”  I had the honor of attending the final class of a pilot program of the Farmington Valley Y called Change for Life.  Last night represented the culimination of work that began in February of this year on developing and implementing a program for morbidly obese individuals.  That meant participants needed to lose at least 80-100 pounds or have a BMI greater than 35.

At first, the group was quiet and afraid.  They had tried losing weight in the past and failed over and over and over.  We assured them that this program was different.  That it was about changing your lifestyle, not about just shedding pounds.  Afterall, we only had 12 weeks and this wasn’t a TV show.

At our graduation potluck, I would swear that a different group of people walked in the room.  The group was laughing, chatting, oooh’s and aah’s could be heard as people fussed over the foods brought to the dinner.  “Who are these people?”, I thought.  These people aren’t shy or intimidated or quiet.  That’s when I began to hear members of the program saying things like:

“People don’t judge me here” and “I’ve found balance and acceptance in my life” and “I’ve never taken any time for myself, and now I do.  I am important.”

One woman said she felt like she was always being carried by others that she could never be on her own.  Now she says she says she explores life and has a second chance.

The comment that stood out to me the most was “I belong here.  I belong at the Y.”  Wow!  When I imagined this Y and this job and how we fit into our community, this is exactly what I thought it would be.  A place where anyone could come to find hope, inspiration and health in a safe, caring environment.  Where people of any shape, size and background learn, grow and thrive.  I’m not sure I could be in a better place personally or professionally.  I am thankful for this group of 12 that showed us all that this dream is nowa reality.

Unplanned laughter!

As YMCA professionals, we are all juggling a large number of tasks and managing a lengthy “to do” list.  Sure, we keep smiles on our faces for the members, but sometimes inside we are screaming “how am I going to get this all done!”.  That stress can easily lead us to forgetting the fun part of our jobs…and the fact that we work with amazing people!

At yesterday’s weekly management team meeting at Indian Valley Family YMCA, we found ourselves making “small talk” while we waited for a delayed staff member.  Before we knew it, that convesation turned into one of the funnest, and funniest conversations I have had in a long time!  We all ended up laughing so hard our stomachs hurt!

This experience reminded me (once again!) how important it is just to have fun with one another….the “to do” list will still be there when we are done!







Smiling through Adversity

If you’ve ever stepped foot into Wilson Gray YMCA, you would probably notice Chris Nunez. He greets anyone who walks through the door with a welcoming smile and friendly conversation. He is apart of the membership staff. He has no problem informing you on upcoming events, giving you a tour of the facility or having a conversation about his beloved Dallas Cowboys.  The only problem he may have is using the stairs.

Chris was born with spina bifida, a birth defect in which bones of the spine do not form properly around part of the spinal cord.  Some would say that Chris has had a disadvantage since his youth. But he has never let that slow him down. He admits that the disease wore on him mentally and physically as a youth, but he learned to embrace his differences. Adapting to everyday society was anything but easy. He remembered his first years in school having to learn how to endure the haunting stares and endless teasing from his peers.

Physical challenges weren’t any easier for Chris. As a youth he was able to walk with crutches and leg braces, but was wheelchair bound after 12 surgical procedures limited the use of his legs. Chris constantly found himself having to work harder to attain goals that came so easily to his classmates. But with hard work and a great attitude, Chris pushed through all the adversity he faced.

Finding reassurance through numerous sports and activities, Chris excelled in sports. This gave him an avenue to express himself and find comfort in others with disabilities. To this day he still enjoys working out and participating in basketball leagues.

While working at Y, Chris has found that he enjoys numerous components of his job. Being in an active environment has inspired him to stay in shape and encourages him to help people transition into healthier lifestyles. He also enjoys the opportunity to constantly meet different people on a day to day basis and create friendships with positive members and co-workers. He is an inspiring voice within the Y family and continues to make in impact on a day to day basis.

Think Strong. LIVESTRONG.

Inspirational words from our Survivors!

H ope

O ppurtunity

P erseverance

E nthusiasm

“Dream like you will live forever and live like you’ll die tomorrow.”

“Live life. Live happy. Live strong.”

“Live, love, and stay strong!”

The Downtown LIVESTRONG at the YMCA has a brainstorming session where we break into small groups and try to develop the group motto for the current session.  We do this as one of the mind, body, and spirit portions of class.  I like to do this activity a few weeks in when we have become a true family.  Above are examples of what we brain stormed as the FALL 2012  LIVESTRONG at the YMCA motto!  These quotes are inspirational, motivational, and all around moving.  And the winner is…..



One Girl’s Box of Junk…

Here I sit at my desk, gazing into this box of errant, fake-blood soaked limbs, styrofoam skulls, and lengths of rusty, spooky metal chains, and I think, ‘Ohhhh, I love my job!’  We’ve just finished our first planning meeting for our annual Halloween Spooktacular, and I’m beyond inspired.  A new, part-time staff member joined in to help, and her unique experiences with haunted houses coupled with her artistic talent will mean terrific things for our event.  In years past, this event has come across as tired; many of our staff members talk about ‘the same old thing’.  As we started discussing our ideas today, we felt an excitement that can’t be explained and a sense of glee for this year’s event!  This is free, open to the community, and in many cases, the only type of Halloween celebration in which some of the children who attend will participate. 

As I think about the enormous effort that goes into organizing this terrific event, I get tired…then I think of the frosting-covered faces of toddlers who have been to our cupcake-decorating station; I think of the screams of pure delighted terror out of giggling crowds of pre-teen girls; I think of the school-aged kids who wear and compare their home-made costumes with pride.  In order for all this to happen, our dynamic, incredible team puts forth sincere effort in order to coordinate, create, be cost-effective, and happily present this wonderful holiday event to our community.

You see a box of junk, and I see teamwork, dedication, inspiration, family cohesiveness, and community collaboration. 

Erica Donovan
Wheeler Regional Family YMCA

Hero’s from all corners

Camp Jewell YMCA was honored to host The Women’s Wilderness Institute- Women Veterans Retreat this past week. WWI is a non-profit women’s organization based in Boulder, Colorado.  Over 30 women, veterans from Iraq or Afghanistan spent 6-days at Camp Jewell with the WWI & CJ staff.  The women came from all corners of the USA including, Maine, Hawaii and Alaska.  They participated in an intensive immersion experience of supportive and challenging activities in our peaceful natural environment.  The retreat allowed these women to connect with other women veterans and learn tools for dealing with post-traumatic stress and other issues that commonly affect women veterans.  The retreat provided a format for sharing experiences, and education about stress, resilience and life skills.

The Camp Jewell staff was thrilled to be able to work with an organization that is as empowering as Women’s Wilderness Institute.  Their mission is to build courage, confidence and leadership skills for girls and women through the challenge and support of wilderness- and community-based adventures.   It seems as though that was absolutely accomplished.  Our hats off to this great organization and all of its incredible participants!

Our Kids are Amazing – Wheeler YMCA

After someone suggested that her job is simply just “babysitting”, Amazing Kids Supervisor, Diane Santee was set out to define what Amazing Kids/Child Watch REALLY is!

“Babysitting does not describe the care in my dept. Amazing Kids are about fun! Any where from playing a new version of hide and go seek with Finding Nemo, and watching the excitement when the kids found him, to learning new dances like the YMCA, Cotton Eyed Joe, and Beany Bag dance to theme days surrounds current events such as the Olympics, opening day of baseball and celebrating Christmas in July.

Amazing kids are about story time.  They love books that they can interact with.  Some of their favorites are Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible no good Very Bad Day along with Green Eggs and Ham and What do Snowmen do at night. We introduced the Reading Tree for the 2011 summer, where children listen to stories and did a project pertaining to the story.  This program helped with the children’s summer reading.  Parents were very receptive to this new program.

Amazing kids are about forming friendships, children with children, staff with children and staff with parents. Amazing Kids is an information center that promotes all YMCA functions in a creative way. Amazing Kids are about the Y core values. We introduce the children to them and show them how to apply them in and out of our dept. and with other children and staff.

You know your deptartment is running with excitement when the youngest members of the YMCA ask their parents to go to the Y.  Many members say “I didn’t feel like coming today, but my child kept asking to go to Amazing Kids.”  So the parents pack up their work out bag and come to The Y.

That’s the impact that my staff have on these children. Is it just a babysitting department while you work out?  No.  Are we busy in the Amazing Kids dept.?  You bet we are!  And we love it! The Amazing Kids staff truly enjoy their job and it shows.  The success of the dept. is a team effort that shines through out the Y.  I am very proud to be a part of such a rewarding job.

Working with children certainly have its rewards and when a child walks into the lobby and sees me and runs to me to give me a hug and calls my name that is priceless.  I know why I have been here for 8 years.  You know it’s not just me. It’s my staff they get the same reaction from children.  I am proud of my staff and my department.”

Diane Santee, Amazing Kids Supervisor


FootLights auditions are on the way; this year’s theme is Self-Recreation. The focus this year is to increase youth awareness and understanding of their responsibility in good decision making of choices regarding their future. 

 One of the first audition was with a eight year old Gjamory’a (the g is silent) who came into the FootLights office full of excitement until she found out that her mom could not come into the audition with her.  Tears immediately flutter down her face and after 5 minutes of discussion with Program Coordinator, Mom, Dad and Grandma Gjamory’a decided to perform her audition with Footlights Program Asst. Lael who took her in for her audition.  To Lael’s surprise Gjamory’s provided a drama, dance and song piece.  Gjamory’s might just be FootLights rising star.

Kids Tri…REALLY Hard!!

Early yesterday morning, I received an email from April asking if anyone on our Leadership team would be available to help with the afternoon’s Kids Triathlon as she would be shorthanded.  Now, I always support everything we do here, and share in successes with enthusiasm and pride.  Having said that, it’s no secret that my interests have always leaned toward the ‘mind’ and ‘spirit’ part of our mission rather than the ‘body’ aspect.  While I’m thrilled to cheer on our members, motivate our participants, and help my colleagues in any way, I’m typically on the sidelines when it comes to actual involvement.

I’ve been hearing so much about this Kids Tri Club – members are posting on Facebook, there’s an enormous buzz around our building, and staff and volunteers have been working to market this in exceptionally creative ways.  Of course, I wouldn’t know a Triathlon if it kicked me, but I sure am happy to see everyone so excited.  When April asked for help at stations around the sidewalk that surrounds the building for the biking part of the Tri, I checked my schedule and found I’d be able to help.  Not knowing what to expect, I marched out to the corner  at 4.30pm and waited.  I had been told my job would entail making sure the participants stayed on the sidewalk and to warn pedestrians of incoming bikers.  There I stood, in the pleasant late afternoon coolness in our main driveway, feeling happy to help.

As I write this, I’m still finding my eyes welling up.  A volunteer about a hundred yards away began clapping and cheering – here they come!  I stood, transfixed, as I watched the approaching bikers.  The first group consisted of three kids of about 10 years old; as I saw them careening toward me, I was awestruck.  Droplets of water from their swim were sailing off their bodies, catching the sun and creating an amazing glow.  As they drew nearer, I saw the most intense looks of focus and determination on their young faces…I was humbled and very, very impressed.  They expertly navigated the curves of our sidewalk and were gone in a flash to continue their course. 

Some younger children began arriving, and they were no less tenacious.  One boy of about six said, “This is super hard!!” on his way by…every lap.  It was truly an incredible thing to witness – many of these kids had been motivated by their parents who were involved in our Adult Tri Club, but others simply saw our promotions and wanted to give it a ‘Tri’.  Not all of them will go on to be athletes, but what an incredible thing to be able to say they’ve done. 

I can’t wait until next week.

Erica Donovan
Wheeler Regional Family YMCA