It’s hard to believe that it’s already spring. For our Texas State Alliance of YMCAs we jump-started our year with a focus on advocacy. At the start of the 84th Legislative Session, we presented our members and their staff with our advocacy priorities. For our Youth Development focus area, Representative Carol Alvarado championed our recommendation to create a Distinguished Afterschool Health Recognition program (DASH) for out-of-school time providers that successfully promotes healthy eating and physical activity standards. DASH, or HB 1172, has been referred to the House Public Education Committee, and we are working to secure a hearing. We believe this bill will allow out-of-school time providers like the Y to ensure that kids continue healthy habits after the school day ends. There have been several pieces of legislation relating to building healthier environments for our children, both in school and out of school, and it’s encouraging to see state leadership prioritizing the health and future of our children.
We have some very exciting news in regards to our commitment to Social Responsibility. The YMCA officially has a legislative caucus here in Texas! The YMCA Legislative Caucus is the first of its kind in the South and the second in the nation. Representative Eddie Rodriguez and Senator Larry Taylor are championing this effort and both serve as the inaugural chairs. Moving forward, this caucus has tremendous potential to advocate for issues that affect Youth Development, Healthy Living, and Social Responsibility. Our initiatives to strengthen communities will be brought to the forefront of the Texas legislature, and we will continue to cultivate positive change for all Texans.
Locally, our YMCAs remain busy living out our Mission and cause to build healthy spirits, minds and bodies for all. From literacy education, to support for military veterans, to quality learning opportunities that develop younger generations like Youth & Government students; the Y is so much more. We exist for the purpose of strengthening community. People from all backgrounds and walks of life come together to volunteer and help our community become stronger through the work of the Y. At the root of it all, the Y is so much more than just a building. We’re a community, a cause, and a movement.
James P. Finck, Chair
Texas State Alliance of YMCAs
In 2008, I found myself unable to work due to back pain & was told by two doctors I should have a spinal fusion. I wrote the above recommendation on my office wall right above the computer monitor as a reminder to try my best to exercise and avoid surgery. I started riding an exercise bike at the YMCA and then went to water aerobics classes three days a week. The classes were basically all women and I was told to spin around like a ballerina, but the important part was that I was pain free in the pool and I was able to do things that would have been impossible outside the pool. Over time, I was able to add different machines to my routine and I could feel the benefits.
Let's be honest, exercise can be very boring and I would continually tell myself that other things were more important than going to the YMCA. In 2012, I again hurt my back and was in severe pain that made me unable to work. It was then I realized that good health wasn't just 3 out of the 7 days in a week, but it would have to be a daily priority. Over time, I again was pain free and continued to add different machines and routines. I was feeling the results of exercise and a healthier diet and that fueled my motivation to continue. For the last several years I have been totally pain free and I am feeling better than ever. My wife, Shelley, started attending the YMCA also and likes the Body Pump class. In addition, our little redhead enjoys regularly attending events & classes.
In hindsight, looking at the before & after pictures, I credit God and the YMCA for making our family healthier and happier. Thank you YMCA & God bless you!
-Nathan, Shelley & Clarissa Browning
The Texas State Alliance of YMCAs convened in Austin in February for their biennial State Advocacy Day and Alliance meeting. More than fifty CEOs, staff and volunteers attended sessions around the Alliance’s work with community partners and proactive legislative agenda. Representative Carol Alvarado and Senator Jane Nelson were recognized as the 2015 State Alliance of YMCAs Legislative Champions and were honored at a reception held in their honor. On February 11th, advocates took to the Capitol to visit their legislators and witnessed a reading of a legislative resolution declaring it YMCA Advocacy Day at the Capitol. Special thanks to the following legislators who sponsored Senate Resolution 108 and House Resolution 351 for their support and commitment to the YMCA: Senator Kirk Watson, Representative Joe Pickett, Senator Paul Bettencourt, Representative Lyle Larson, Senator Jane Nelson, Representative Jason Villalba, and Senator Royce West.
In February, Texas leadership and volunteers attended Y-USA’s National Advocacy Days. The Texas delegation met with eleven Congressional offices to ask for their support of the Y’s national advocacy initiatives; including the Medicare Diabetes Prevention Act. For the first time, Texas Youth & Government representatives, Derrick Golden and Francesca Reece, served as youth advocates during National Advocacy Days. These youth took part in various workshops and met with Congressional staff to advocate for Y priorities as well as share their personal stories about youth development and healthy living.
The YMCA of Greater Houston along with six volunteers and board members met with their Congressional offices to specifically discuss the Y's thoughts on the Child Protection Improvement Act and the Medicare Diabetes Prevention Act. Both of these policy efforts have the potential to impact and improve the nation's health and well-being of our children and communities.
In February, Francesca Reece (Trinity High School, Fort Worth) and Derrick Golden (Lakeview Centennial High School, Garland) from the Texas Youth & Government program represented Texas at National Advocacy Days in Washington, D.C. On the subway ride from the airport, they realized this trip was different than any other they had experienced; they weren’t there to sight-see, they were there with a purpose. They enjoyed getting to know other delegates from around the nation, listening to speakers and seeing sights such as the Smithsonian and the White House, but their involvement in policy discussion and advocacy was at the heart of their experience.
As they moved into policy seminars at the historic Mayflower hotel, they learned that the Y was bigger than they believed it to be. They heard key information and statistics from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and the American Medical Association as it relates to the Y’s legislative priorities of Child Protection Improvement, the Medicare Diabetes Prevention Act and opposing charitable deduction limits and caps. They also were excited to hear from FEMA administrator, Craig Fugate, Chief Public Policy Officer for the Y, Neal Denton, and Y of the USA’s very own President and CEO, Kevin Washington. Inspired by U.S. Surgeon General, Vivek H. Murthy, and his desire to stem the ever growing issue of Diabetes in America, both of our delegates felt called into action for the Diabetes Prevention Act. Derrick learned that leadership means sometimes leaning back and letting the stronger person lead. That person was Francesca. Her grandmother, for the last 15 years of her life, was not mobile due to diabetes related issues, and ultimately lost her life because of the disease. Francesca could speak knowledgably and passionately about this issue from a personal view point, lending more gravity to the cause. In meeting Congressmen Brian Babin, John Carter and Lamar Smith, along with a very special meeting the Scott Cunningham, staffer for Congressman Kenny Marchant and former Texas Youth & Government Governor, they learned that everything they assumed about government gridlock was different. Compromise isn’t always about belief systems and stubbornness; sometimes it is just about logistics. They also learned that the Y is more diverse than they believed. Both having come from diverse backgrounds, they walked away at ease knowing that the Y is truly dedicated to serving all of the community.
Francesca and Derrick landed in snowy D.C. expecting to be treated like minor league players, the token youth saved for a photo opportunity. Instead, they were fully integrated into the big league process of policy meetings. In Youth & Government, they simulated the process for many years, taking it seriously. This experience in D.C. showed them that what they learned in the program was the perfect jumping off point to their discussions with advocates and to their future careers in public policy. Both have expressed that this visit sparked a desire within them to serve the Y and its cause to strengthen communities, perhaps for their lifetimes. That is the heart of teen programs like Youth & Government – connecting young people to a cause they believe in and giving them an opportunity to make a difference.
Chuck Rahe is an American hero who is a special part of the Wichita Falls YMCA family. This former Navy Seal has been a submariner in the Atlantic, a Quartermaster on an aircraft carrier in the Mediterranean Ocean, a member of the elite Underwater Demolition Team, and a “River Rat” in Vietnam. He has proudly served his country in peacetime and wartime operations.
Chuck grew up on the East Coast in a very poor family with 11 kids. Family hardships led him to live in a Lutheran home from age 6-13. When he was old enough he enlisted in the Army. He worked as a diesel mechanic and was a part of the National Guard, helping keep peace at riots.
At heart, Chuck wanted to be part of the Navy. He loved the Navy’s traditions. He was comfortable around water as he had grown up around it, and he said the uniforms were nicer than the Army – “women liked them better.” In 1970 he joined the Navy and served for 16 years.
During those years Chuck served his country around the globe, from the Arctic Circle to Granada. He has been in combat in Vietnam, Beirut, and Iran. In Vietnam, Chuck’s duty station was a 31' river patrol boat. His unit was assigned to patrol rivers in South Vietnam that were vital to transporting supplies and weapons. During this duty he regularly encountered communist forces who sought to kill his comrades and him. These were difficult years as Chuck says “your mind takes a photo static picture of certain scenes.” Years later, those memories have caused Chuck to suffer flashbacks and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Chuck was honorably discharged from the Navy and is extremely grateful to the VA for helping him find treatment and medication for his PTSD. Staying on an even keel is a daily challenge for Chuck and the YMCA has positively impacted his life in a huge way. Chuck arrives at the Wichita Falls Downtown Y daily with a smile and a work ethic which is likely similar to his “get it done” days in the Navy. He works out diligently in the weight room for a minimum of two hours daily to relieve stress. The Y has helped Chuck turn a disability into a blessing. He has become Mental Health First Aid certified and proudly leads a PTSD group at the Helen Farabee Center as a Military Veterans Peer Network facilitator. In fact, Chuck goes to Faith Mission once a month to reach out to veterans who would benefit from being part of the group.
Chuck is a Christian and he says "sometimes that's hard to live up to," but his giving attitude and cheerful disposition speak volumes about who he is. He says his faith is the base of “light” in his life. “It can change your heart if you want to be changed.”
He has a son, daughter, and granddaughter who live in Vernon, TX. His face lights up when he speaks of his granddaughter, Lillyana. “She was only 4.1 pounds when she was born and I stayed with her in the hospital until she was strong enough to go home.” He’s confident he can teach her about life and Christianity. One would think some of those lessons would include hard work, persistence, and joy. Chuck is a special part of the Wichita Falls YMCA family!
Texas Health Southwest and YMCA of Metropolitan Fort Worth Collaborate to Open Community Wellness Center
Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Southwest Fort Worth has collaborated with the YMCA of Metropolitan Fort Worth to provide a new wellness opportunity for residents in Southwest Fort Worth and surrounding areas. The facility, which opened in March 2015, is open to the public as well as hospital employees. It is located on the first floor of the Professional Building across the Harris Parkway from Texas Health Southwest hospital.
“Having healthy employees is an added way to help ensure our patients are receiving quality care in their time of need,” said Fraser Hay, professional support services officer at Texas Health Southwest. “Partnering with the YMCA means being able to work jointly to keep the community healthy and help reduce some of the preventable conditions that are rapidly growing in North Texas. We’re putting our money where our mission is by expanding our facility so that it not only cares for those who are ill, but supports maintaining health and well-being.” Once completed, the 10,400 square foot facility will feature a variety of instructor-led exercise classes and individual cardio and strength-training equipment. It will be open seven days a week. Members can participate in traditional YMCA offerings, including the Life-Changing Challenge, a 21-day value-added program designed to help develop a habit-forming workout routine to achieve a healthier lifestyle. Fee-based personal training sessions will also be available for those who choose to work individually with a trainer.
The Wellness Center will also feature a cardiac rehabilitation program which helps cardiac patients restore and maintain their health while working to reduce the risk of future heart problems.
“Collaborative efforts such as this project have proved very successful within our YMCA and we are excited to begin this new venture with Texas Health Southwest, our first partnership within a hospital environment. We feel the mission and goals of our two organizations fit very well together as we seek to encourage our community toward healthier lifestyle choices,” added Tony Shuman, President/CEO of YMCA of Metropolitan Fort Worth.
“As growth in our community continues, so do the needs of the people who live here,” said Joseph DeLeon, president at Texas Health Southwest. “Our organizations are aligned by similar missions which are aimed at helping North Texas residents improve and maintain their overall health and well-being. This collaboration speaks to our commitment to providing a wide range of services in the most convenient setting and helping our employees and community maintain their health and well-being.”
For more information on class offerings or for a YMCA membership, visit www.ywellnesscenter.org.
YMCA of Port Arthur Texas, with funding from the United Way of Mid and South Jefferson County, began the Y Reads With You Literacy program four years ago. Starting off in just one school, they’ve seen the program grow to four schools that serve nearly 130 children. The Y Reads With You is making a tremendous impact in the lives of the children and families they serve. The teachers and families report improvements not only academically, but also in the overall well-being of the students.
“I like Y Reads because it helps me with my reading. I am improving every day and now I have 45 activities and six awards. It helps me because we read a lot of stories in reading class and when the teacher calls on me I read and then when I am finished she says good reading. Y READS is very helpful in many ways and I want to be in it next year.” - Rylan Johnson, 4th grade Y Reads participant
“Y Reads helped me with reading and spelling and helped me improve my English. My teacher helped me to go back to the story and find the answer. I try my best and I get achievements. I have 69 activities. I believe that Y Reads helps me so much on reading and with my classes. THANK YOU Y READS FOR ALL YOUR HELP!” - Cesiah Ramirez, 4th grade Y Reads participant
For more information on the Port Arthur’s Y Reads With You Literacy Program, please contact Leah Sam at firstname.lastname@example.org
Six students from the YMCA of Arlington Youth & Government program attended the Texas Youth & Government YMCA State Conference at the State Capitol Building in Austin, on January 29-February 1, 2015. After a promising four months of preparation, and being the first year for the YMCA of Arlington to participate in the program, the six students were able to pass five mock bills amongst their colleagues at the State Conference.
YMCA Youth & Government, a program that involves thousands of teens nationwide in state-organized model-government programs, grants teens the opportunity to discuss and debate issues that affect citizens in their state and to propose possible legislation to make state government more efficient. As a result of the program, young people learn about the democratic system and are trained in parliamentary procedure, legislative committee process, debate, press relations, and lobby techniques. Delegates learn by doing and have the opportunity to try their hand at leadership in an open and receptive learning environment. The six students, Dani Smith, Nicholas Shepard, Chyna Lester, Mabel Sodeinde, Ossmar Cardiel, and Emmanuel Mariscal, all freshmen at International Leadership of Texas High School, proposed bills to their chamber from abolishing the death penalty to levying any additional taxes or health insurance payment until minimum wage was increased. Out of the six proposed bills, five were voted on and passed in their chamber of 1,400 YMCA Youth and Government students across Texas.
“I’m proud of the hard work these young adults have put in these past few months,” Jordan Taylor, YMCA of Arlington Youth, Teen and Family Program Director stated. “I’ve had the privilege of watching them grow each and every week, from students who just wanted me to tell them what to say, to confident future politicians who seek to debate me over why the Texas voting age should be changed to 16.”
Upon the beginning of the program, the Y gained support from the Hatton W. Sumners Foundation Grant in the amount of $12,500 to begin Youth & Government program at the YMCA of Arlington. With this funding the program was able to cover the costs of student supplies, financial aid to join the program, and transportation support that sent them to the State Conference in Austin.
For more information on the YMCA of Arlington Youth & Government program or if interested in participating please contact Jordan Taylor, at JordanT@ymca-arlington.org or 817-419-9629 x4700.
The YMCA of Greater Williamson County with the support of board members, John Smith, Charlie Culpepper and Will Peckham, CEO Jeff Andresen, Executive of Licensed Child Care Brian Spence and the Leander Independent School District’s Veronica Sopher, were able to start their first Youth and Government program in August of 2014 at Leander High School. Principal Tiffany Spicer and Yearbook Teacher Danielle Bell, along with YMCA staff Sophia Griffin, were charged with developing their own Y&G program that would help guide students to becoming educated and involved citizens. Starting with around twenty students and ending with a core crew of seven, these high school students worked hard for several months honing their journalism skills to create a strong Media team. Students wrote articles, learned about new social media mediums, took beautiful photographs all while discovering the importance of being engaged with their state’s political process. At the Austin District Conference in November, Junior Jack Densmore, Seniors Juan Miguel Perez and Caroline Cravens each won a Distinguished Delegate award. All seven Leander students received recognition during the awards ceremony for their quality work and dedication. The entire team was accepted to the State Conference, which took place in January at the Texas State Capitol. Exceeding expectations, Jack Densmore and Juan Miguel Perez, again, won Distinguished Delegate awards and the Leander team was awarded with the title of Distinguished Delegation. The YMCA of Greater Williamson County is very proud of the work these students have accomplished and look forward to the expansion of their Youth & Government program on the firm foundation this team has built.