Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Nate Tells Us Y Strong Kids Matters

Here it is..... The official start of the seemingly endless Strong Kids reminders. You're reading this because you don't really know what Strong Kids is about. Well.... in a nutshell this program offers an outlet and opportunity to under privileged kids through the YMCA. Your donations help supply scholarships for membership, summer camps, sports, and the other endless activities the Y offers. As well as providing programming for the mentally or physically disadvantaged. Just to give you an idea here are the numbers for last years assistance.
'Last year we served 18,507 youths at the Y. We provided 2,101 youth scholarship memberships and nearly 200 summer camp weeks to underprivileged youth ages 5-14. We also provided programming to an additional 312 participants who are physically or mentally disadvantaged. We do this amazing work with your generosity and support.'
Everyone's got their own reason's for giving back. In this case, the reason I like Strong Kids so much is because it has had a direct positive impact on my life and the life of my family. I am just simply wanting to give back what has been given to me. When Rachel and I moved to Springfield 15 years ago we were broke. Right out of college, single income with a stay at home mom, no family support system, and very little room for the non-essentials. We found the YMCA and the Strong Kids Scholarship opportunities and all of the sudden we were able to provide our kids with things that we thought were just simply out of our reach. Not only our kids but also for Rachel and I as well. This is where our kids learned to swim, play soccer, baseball, even a little karate. They've gained so much confidence from all of the staff -- from the day care ladies all the way to the summer camp counselors. My kids have almost literally grown up inside this YMCA. This program has given us so much more than a monetary scholarship. It has given and continues to give my kids a wonderful childhood. Rachel and I were lucky. We saw first hand how this program helps our community and the kids in it. This is Y this program means so much to us.
Fast forward to now.... Rachel and I are both well into our careers. Our kids love sports, reading, art, and genuinely care for others. My son is working to join the swim team. My daughter wants to be a professional soccer player. They know nearly every Y staff member by name. Rachel works the front desk once a week, I've coached soccer, baseball, football, and have had the wonderful opportunity to teach Ultimate Workout. We are there almost every single day..... This place has become a fixture in our life. We've found an escape, found friends, found a community, and found sanity.
People have taken notice of the effect this place has had on our family. A very good friend of mine from Monitcello, IL brought this to my attention. He saw how much the Y has had an impact on our lives. How much our kids lives revolve around the Y. His literal statement was, 'Every community needs a place like this. They just don't exist much anymore.' Because of what he's seen through the eyes of the Johns family he's now working with his city officials to get a YMCA brought to their community. Imagine.... generosity of our Y members 15 years ago helps a single family. That family's growth helps inspire others. One of those inspired brings a whole new facility to a community that will serve thousands of other families. That's more than charity... That's real momentum for awesome."
Create some awesome, and make a difference in your community today. 

Monday, May 2, 2016

Special Needs Programming Boosts Sadie's Skill Set and Self Esteem

Meet sweet and sassy Sadie. Sadie is a nine year old, second grader at Rochester Elementary school that has Down syndrome. Her disability doesn't hold her back from doing ANYTHING! This girl is absolutely amazing!

Sadie and her family have been members of the YMCA for about five years. When her parents joined the YMCA, they enrolled Sadie in swim classes. Her parents felt it was imperative for her to learn how to swim. Sadie didn't just learn how to swim, she has mastered this sport. Her mother recalls her being invited to a school friend's swim party last year. Sadie was one of the only children at the party that could swim on her own. Sadie looks forward to her once a week swim lesson. She is a strong, confident swimmer thanks in part to the Special Needs Adaptive Program, (SNAP) at the YMCA.

In addition to swimming, Sadie also participates in the YMCA' s Bowling Program, Saturday Strikers. This program is geared towards individuals with physical or mental disabilities and is financially underwritten from funds raised for the YMCA's Strong Kids Campaign. She enjoys her time at the bowling alley and it is yet another sports she can play.

Sadie is also active in a wide range of Special Olympics competitions. She has participated in the soccer and basketball programs as well as softball, track and gymnastics. She loves dancing and takes tap, ballet and hip hop in addition to being a participant in the Special Needs Cheerleading Program.

Additionally, Sadie has competed in the "Miss You Can Do It" pageant and "Miss Amazing" pageant. These are both pageants that are specifically designed for girls with disabilities to help build confidence and self-esteem.  She is also involved in the United Cerebral Palsy's Horseback Riding program. There really isn't anything this kid has not done.

Staying active and busy has helped Sadie stay physically fit as well as increase her socialness and mental capabilities. All of these things help boost her self-esteem and determination. Her mom says she likes to keep Sadie busy! Yes, Sadie is busy, but I don't think Sadie would want it any other way!

Learn more about the Springfield Y's special needs programming

Building Confidence & Support: Strengthening Abilities through the Strong Kids Scholarship Fund

If you walk into the Strike and Spare West Bowling Alley on any given Saturday morning, you will find it hustling and bustling with about 60 individuals that participate in the YMCA’s Saturday Strikers Bowling Program. This program is more than just bowling; it is an opportunity the Y has used for over 30 years to provide those with special needs a chance to grow and develop new skills. This program provides 42 weeks of bowling at no cost to its bowlers. In some circumstances, the program also pays for transportation to the bowling alley. This is all funded through donations to our Strong Kids Campaign.

There are so many that benefit from this program. Three such individuals are Jerry, Rebecca and Renee.

Jerry is a 10 year old boy who has been diagnosed as developmentally delayed with attention deficit disorder. His adoptive parents say that being in school was hard on him because he was bullied for being different than his classmates. They made the decision to have him home-schooled by his sister. Although Jerry’s family has been Y members since 2010, they only recently enrolled him in the bowling program.

Jerry is quite a bit younger than most of the bowlers in this program, however, he gets along famously with everyone. He often encourages others to do their best either by a shout-out or high-five. His parents have seen a dramatic difference in him since he has started this program. The highlight of his week is coming every Saturday to meet up with his friends and play the sport he loves. As his confidence grows, so does his independence. His parents feel this was one of the best decisions they have ever made for him.

Renee is a 41 year old woman who has been in the Saturday Strikers Bowling program for the last three years. She was diagnosed with a brain tumor in high school which caused serious short-term memory loss. She records everything on her cell phone and frequently refers to it so she knows where she is expected to be and what she is supposed to be doing. Although Renee is independent and enjoys her job working for the State of Illinois, her real connection to others is through this bowling program. She says the bowling program has empowered her, giving her more confidence and self-esteem. She grew up knowing she is a little different but with this group she sees that she is just like everyone else.   

Rebecca is a 40 year old woman who spent a lot of time as a young child in and out of residential institutions. She was taken away from her mother at a very young age and luckily landed with her current parents who love and care for her. When they adopted her at age 15, life was extremely difficult and it took a long time for everyone to adjust to their new roles. Rebecca had anger issues, but her adoptive parents have helped her learn the skills she needs to deal with these issues. One of Rebecca’s biggest challenges is organization, so when she organized her bowling team to compete in the Special Olympics, her mom was ecstatic. Rebecca and Renee, along with two others, brought home a Gold Medal last year. They are looking forward to competing again this year and are hopeful they will be just as successful.

Jill Steiner, Human Resource Director for the Y, has led this program for ten years. She says, “Each individual brings something unique to the program and, together, all the bowlers make every day so much brighter. Each of the bowlers, their families, their support and caregivers, and our many friends of bowlers give it life, purpose and a very bright future.”

Learn more about the Springfield Y's special needs programs.

Gaining Independence: Ruth Builds Strength and Confidence

In 2013, Ruth thought she had pneumonia. It turned out that it wasn’t pneumonia, but that she needed open heart surgery.  The surgery itself was a huge wake up call for her. After her surgery, Ruth was referred to Memorial’s Cardiac Rehabilitation located in the same building as the Gus and Flora Kerasotes YMCA. This program allows cardiac patients to be monitored by a nurse while growing stronger using the fitness equipment within the YMCA. She worked with Grace, a nurse with Memorial’s Cardiac Rehabilitation program, to rebuild her strength.  Despite her hard work, she was still having issues with balance and coordination.

Grace felt Ruth could benefit from the services provided at Memorial SportsCare. As luck would have it, Memorial SportsCare is also located in the same building as the Gus and Flora Kerasotes YMCA.  Ruth continued her journey with Josh at Memorial’s SportsCare and it was there that she saw really big changes in her life. Josh challenged her to work hard and get stronger. The therapy not only made her physically stronger, but increased her confidence. She had been using a cane (which she affectionately calls Ethel) for the past three years and felt that she would never get rid of it.  Josh was confident she would eventually walk without it. He challenged her to leave “Ethel” in the lobby and walk in unassisted. This was terrifying to her, but she trusted Josh. Now, she leaves “Ethel” at home and is so excited about the independence she has gained.

Her husband is a heart patient as well, and he is the motivation for her to get to the Y three times a week. They spend about four hours at the Y using the different equipment. Ruth likes to use the elliptical machine and the NuStep Recumbent Trainer. She admits she doesn’t love working out, but she knows the exercise is so important and has given her the freedom, the coordination, and the confidence to be able to do so much more in her life. 

Ruth is looking forward to the Springfield Heart Walk that will take place on May 14th at Lincoln Park. She is excited about being able to participate in the walk without her cane. In September, she and her husband are taking a trip to the Smokey Mountains. She said her goal is to go hiking with no walking aids. She can’t wait to say she did it. She radiates pride with the accomplishments she has attained. She looks and feels great!

Building Strong Careers: Billy Gets His Start at the Y

Billy grew up in a single parent home with his father.  When he turned 18, he and his father had a falling out and Billy moved out of his father’s house. He moved in with a friend and his family. The mother of the friend knew Billy needed something to occupy his time so she went to the Kerasotes Branch to see if they could add him to her membership. The staff at the Y told her to send Billy in and he could apply for a scholarship membership. Billy thought he was just going to get a membership to a fitness facility.  But what he got that day was invaluable friendships and skills he still uses today.

The membership personnel were so impressed with Billy that they asked if he would like to apply for a front desk job at the Y. He did and was immediately hired. Billy says, “The Y really started the good things in my life rolling.” While working at the front desk, he developed many long lasting friendships with his co-workers and members. He says, “Working at the Y never felt like a job. It felt more like a place to go and be part of something bigger.” In addition to working part-time, he also took a full-load of college credits. Although it was a busy time, it allowed him to save enough to buy his first car. He says he still has the car to this day and that car is a constant reminder of his first job and the lessons, friends and “family” he made while he was here. 

Billy spent most of his time at the front desk, but he also spent some time working in Child Watch.  Growing up as an only child he didn’t have a lot of practice with younger kids. He says it is in Child Watch that he discovered his true calling. He says, “God put kids in my life so I could see the value they add to me and what I add to theirs.” He has taken that love and those learned skills and extended it into his personal life.  Billy serves as a youth minister for the Pasfield Southern Baptist Church.  He spends most of his Sunday afternoons with a group of young boys teaching them life lessons and the importance of God and faith in their lives. He says he really enjoys this ministry and wouldn’t have realized he enjoyed working with kids if not for his experiences at the YMCA. 

A lot of things have changed for Billy since he first stepped foot into the Kerasotes Branch. With encouragement from his supervisor at the Y, he received his associate degree in Math and Science from Lincoln Land Community College. He has since reconciled with his dad and moved back home. Currently he is employed at Marine Bank as a Personal Banker. As a member of the Y, he enjoys taking yoga and the body conditioning classes as well as spending some time in the gym playing basketball. Billy says, “The YMCA is really more than a place to work out, it’s a place where the employees really make a difference in someone’s day.” For Billy, the Y has made more than a difference in his day; the Y has made a difference in his life. 

Interested in working for the Y? Check out our current job opportunities

Building Strong Bodies: 75 lbs Lost

Jamie decided in July of 2015 that she needed to get healthy. She knew she needed to change her lifestyle by eating healthier and introducing exercise into her life. Before July, she had never even thought about exercise. She knew she couldn’t do both so she concentrated on what she was putting into her body first. She started to eat fresh fruits, vegetables and lean meats. To her surprise, she lost quite a bit of weight. 

She was certain in December 2015, that it was time to introduce exercise into her routine. She knew she needed cardio and weight lifting to help tone and get her into shape and help her reach her weight goal. She surveyed her friends for the best wellness facility to help her on her fitness journey. 

She decided to join the Springfield YMCA. When she walked in, she immediately felt she was in the right place. From the front desk, to those assisting her with learning the equipment, everyone was so friendly and accommodating. Jamie has taken advantage of the personal training offered at the YMCA and is so glad she did.

Since January she has been working with Natalie, a personal trainer at the Kerasotes Branch. She works with Natalie once a week and then does her own workouts four days a week. Natalie is behind her every step of the way whether it is a monthly fitness challenge, a reminder of the importance of food journaling or an encouraging word to keep her lifting heavier and longer. Jamie says, “I love working with Natalie because she is a great accountability partner, and she is realistic in her expectations of me; but all the while keeps me really motivated."

She also loves that she is a member of the YMCA. She feels like it was the socially responsible thing to do as the YMCA isn’t just a gym. It's great place for everyone regardless of age, income or background. It allows individuals the opportunity to learn, grow and thrive. Jamie says, “I am sure glad I have made the decision to join the Y. It has made a world of difference and I can’t wait to go every week!”

Congratulations to Jamie for her hard work and determination and for making the Y her choice for getting healthy. Feeling like you need help jump-starting your journey? Check out our trainers