As we head into the last few months of the year, I take this time to reflect on the work that’s been done & what’s still ahead for Texas Ys. Over the last several months, our Texas Ys have been working tirelessly to deliver our cause. We’ve made tremendous progress in our anti-hunger, drowning prevention, and advocacy efforts, but what resonates the most with me is the resiliency demonstrated by our Texas Ys and communities. One of the main reasons the YMCA exists is to strengthen the communities we serve. That means being there for our neighbors in the good times & the really tough times. We had a tangible opportunity to support our neighbors just a few weeks ago as we witnessed the devastating impact of Hurricane Harvey in more than sixty Texas counties.
Immediately following the storm, our YMCAs sprang into action to support first responders, community members, and local cities’ efforts to rebuild & restore. Despite being faced with their own major damages at several facilities, the YMCA of Greater Houston served as staging shelters for evacuees, provided housing for the National Guard, and established a pop-up childcare facility in the George R. Brown Convention Center emergency shelter. This childcare operation served hundreds of children and allowed parents the peace of mind knowing that their children were safe & secure as they began navigating the rebuilding process. Several of our Texas Ys opened their doors & hearts to evacuees and first responders by offering use of their facilities free of charge. Whether that meant a place to charge phones, grab a cup of coffee, take a shower, or simply relax with a workout, the Y was there to support.
As an Alliance, we’ve sent staff, supplies and also made a $50,000 contribution to local YMCAs in Houston, Port Arthur, Victoria and Corpus Christi to assist with their recovery and rebuilding efforts. We’ve also seen nation-wide support from our Y family & we are all incredibly thankful for the support as we work to continue to meet the needs of our communities. Texas still has a long road ahead, but the YMCA is committed to standing hand-in-hand with all Texans as we continue on this journey to restore hope and build stability. We know that we are truly stronger together.
Tony Shuman, Chair
Texas State Alliance of YMCAs
Artie Woods is accustomed to big numbers. He’s 76 years young, he’s worked in law enforcement for 39 years, and he’s been a YMCA member for 34 years. Throughout his career, he has shared a message with thousands of students that emphasizes the importance of getting a good education, being a good citizen, and staying away from drugs.
This friendly man, who has never met a stranger, had a scare in 2016 when he passed out cold. Tests revealed that his heart had 70-90% blockages in five arteries that led to bypass surgery and subsequent rehab. Of course, he doesn’t do anything small. After his rehab at the hospital ended, he came to the Y where he doubled rehab exercises. Now he says, “I feel like the bionic man with no super powers.”
Artie has always strived to make a difference. That drive beams forth to this day, as he is energized by people and making a positive impact.
“I was on the band wagon fighting drugs long before that was cool. Drugs take smart people and make them average and it’s downhill from there. Drugs are like a rock thrown in a puddle. A person who does drugs has bigger and bigger and bigger problems.”
While Artie clearly loves kids, he enjoys interacting with adults as well. He says, “All grown ups are is big kids. I have as much fun with adults as kids, especially the older ones.” He is very thankful for all of the friends he’s made all over the world.
“Sometimes adults get the urge to exercise and then they go out and do too much. Then they hurt and quit. You have to continue to exercise to be healthy. We can be our own best friend or worst enemy. No excuse is worth your life.”
He speaks from experience. After his heart surgery, he had his gall bladder removed in June 2017. He returned to Y promptly afterward.
Artie Woods is pure sunshine walking into the Wichita Falls YMCA. When he strolls up to the check-in desk, the staff already knows he wants locker #47. He gives smiles and receives plenty in return. He is a vital part of the YMCA family!
Youth at the YMCA of Greater San Antonio Learn Life Skills via Robots inside the International Space Station
All young people should be prepared to think deeply and well so that they have the chance to become innovators, educators, and leaders. For the past three years, the YMCA of Greater San Antonio has been engaging youth in creative and inspiring activities through a program called Zero Robotics. Zero Robotics is a robotics programming competition where the robots are SPHERES (Synchronized Position Hold Engage and Reorient Experimental Satellites) inside the International Space Station.
This past August, teens from the Davis-Scott Family YMCA and Y Teen summer day camp site at Alazan-Apache Housing Community, traveled to NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston to compete in the Zero Robotics championship. The competition was no easy task as they were up against peers from all over the U.S. as well as teens from Russia. However, they maintained their confidence and at the end of the day their dedication and 7 weeks of learning how to code paid off. The state of Texas placed third overall and the team from the Davis-Scott Family YMCA ranked third out of ten teams in Texas’ category.
The YMCA of Greater San Antonio hopes to continue this program and engage additional teens in 2018. The youth currently impacted are underserved middle and high school aged youth who are engaging in an opportunity that would not have been presented to them if it hadn’t been for the Y. It is the Y’s hope that by engaging them in STEM projects they will want to pursue a higher education in a STEM field of study.
The STEM skills they obtain through the Zero Robotics Program will promote life skills such as teamwork and problem solving. The program also connects youth to adults in STEM related careers, providing them with positive support. For more information on the program, contact the YMCA of Greater San Antonio.
Elena Dinkin, 61, who manages Active Older Adult programs at the YMCA of Greater Houston, has always wanted senior citizens to have a blast. When she created the “Be a Kid for a Day” fieldtrip to the YMCA’s Camp Cullen in Lake Livingston, seniors hopped on board to go canoeing and zip lining – having the time of their lives.
One of those seniors was John Zanders, 91, who is one of twenty Holocaust survivors living in Houston. Zanders has struggled with isolation and depression from the age of 13, when he narrowly escaped Nazi Germany and resettled in the United States without his parents.
In the words of Zanders’ daughter, Lharissa Jacobs, “Elena invited Dad to be a part of the bridge club at the Weekley YMCA two years ago. Not only is Dad obsessed with bridge now, but he never misses a game day and he is no longer depressed. One of my sisters called me and asked what kind of magic we had worked on Dad because he was no longer complaining of being lonely and down.”
Grateful for Dinkin’s attention to her father, Jacobs nominated her for a 12-county, regional contest for those who actively support senior citizens. The contest was sponsored by TexanPlus, a local health plan, and the Houston Astros.
Competing against four other nominees for votes, Dinkin won, earning the YMCA $25,000 for senior programs. She was awarded the title of “TexanPlus Champion” at a Houston Astros game where she threw the first pitch.
“I love what I do and never felt the need to be honored,” Dinkin said. “But knowing that the YMCA now has $25,000 for seniors is so exciting. We are the largest growing population in the United States and need so much support.”
More than 30,000 senior citizens belong to the YMCA of Greater Houston, and many have seen their quality of life flourish under the caring vigilance of Dinkin. Treating them as if they were her own family, Dinkin has delivered a personalized touch to those looking for a place to exercise, play bridge, garden, go on senior fieldtrips and make lifelong friends.
Dinkin, a former medical social worker, finds that the little things change the lives and health of her older clientele. Seniors say she uplifts their lives, especially those who are alone, feel isolated, and often suffer from depression.
Working with an expansive team, Dinkin brings presenters to the YMCA to discuss many topics, including health issues, health insurance, current events, retirement living and end-of-life care to more than 1,200 seniors a year. She makes it possible for 50-80 seniors to obtain health screenings, including bone density, blood pressure, and blood sugar tests every month.
After putting Zanders on the lecture circuit at the YMCA and allowing him to share his Holocaust survival story, Dinkin said he exhibits much relief after decades of emotional struggles. At last, he feels part of a greater family and admits that his witty sense of humor has awakened again – often wearing an “Am Single, Will Mingle!” sign on his t-shirt.
“I can’t think of anyone more deserving of this honor,” Zanders said. “I don’t know what we would do without Elena.”
The El Paso Armed Services YMCA (ASYMCA) Child Development Center held its Annual Back to School Bash in great fashion. The Back to School Bash is a program that helps minimize the financial hardship for low-income military and civilian families. The event was a fun filled day for the entire family. Every year the EL Paso ASYMCA hosts a Back to School Bash and by far this year was the most successful affair because of how many children were impacted by the event. More than 300 backpacks filled with school supplies were given away which is an increase from the previous year.
Diana Bengson with the El Paso ASYMCA said, “The difference this year was marketing and community partnerships. Marketing allowed us to reach out to several organizations who donated and contributed to this event. Our major sponsor for the Back to School Bash was University Presbyterian Church who provided great support by donating $2,500. Also, we teamed up with the Fort Bliss Child and Youth Services who transported their children from all their schools on the installation to enjoy the day.”
Panda Express (Panda Cares) was on site to feed the children in attendance. They originally planned to feed 400 children, however those plans quickly changed due to how many children showed up for the event. Fortunately, through their swift action various El Paso Panda Express locations were called and within minutes an additional 120 meals were provided for the event.
Joe Pritchard, the Executive Director of the El Paso ASYMCA expressed, “Today was a blessing that comes from serving the needs of others and seeing the smiles on the children’s faces when they received the school supplies. Our staff is grateful to have the support from the community.”
YMCA of Metropolitan Dallas Facilitates Opportunity for Understanding between Teens and Law Enforcement
During the summer, the YMCA of Metropolitan Dallas hosted "The Law & Your Community", presented by Edwin Debiew of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE) in partnership with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) Community Relations Service, for eighty teens from the Dallas community. "The Law & Your Community" is a nationally recognized hands-on interactive training program for young people ages 13-18 designed to improve their communications with law enforcement officers and their understanding of federal, state, and local laws. Components of the program include citizenship, law literacy and law enforcement engagement.
One might attend an event such as "The Law & Your Community" expecting a somber tone. However, as soon as the presentation started, this presumption was dispelled. While the subject material was treated with an appropriate level of seriousness, the interactivity by the presenter kept the participants engaged. During one segment, the presenter and several of his colleagues demonstrated a role-play exercise serving as passengers in a stopped car, while two YMCA counselors served as police officers that had pulled them over. While participants initially looked on at the staged erratic behavior of the passengers and the tense stance of the police officers, they discovered the parallels between the situation playing out in front of them and the ones they had heard about on the news.
"The Law & Your Community" brought into conversation the pressures on police officers and the concerns of young people in the metropolitan area. While one event is not enough to eradicate the atmosphere of conflict that can arise in this type of conversation, this event was an important step and is part of wider goal to empower youth in the area through presentations, programs and forums in which they can learn about their rights as citizens and their role in shaping their own community as part of a higher goal to bridge gaps in understanding within different groups. The YMCA of Metropolitan Dallas looks forward to the opportunity to continue partnering with NOBLE and DOJ in order to foster a culture of respect and understanding between police officers and community members. The mission of the DOJ Community Relations Service is to work with all parties to facilitate mutual understandings and solutions to the community's challenges is in alignment with the mission and cause of the YMCA to strengthen the foundation of community.
The YMCA of Corsicana is pleased to welcome Thomas Burns as its new CEO! The YMCA of Corsicana has been home to Thomas since 2008. He began as a Sports Director, planning and supervising all youth and adult sports programs. In 2012, Thomas was promoted to Senior Program Director/IT Director. In addition to duties as a Sports Director, he assumed responsibility for membership development and marketing, corporate membership acquisition, and the IT Department.
Prior to the Y, Thomas served as Assistant Coach, Director of Basketball Operations for the United Basketball League, Texas Wranglers in Dallas, Texas from January 2008 to July 2008. He assisted in the development and growth of professional athletes and scouted future players.
Volunteer work in which Thomas is currently engaged in includes serving as a YMCA Peer Coach, a member of the board of directors of the Corsicana Education Foundation, and a Site Based Committee Member with Sam Houston Elementary School.
Thomas earned a Bachelor of Science degree in exercise and sport sciences from Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas.
Terry Seth, the former CEO at the YMCA of Corsicana, recently retired after 40 years of dedicated service to the YMCA.
YMCAs in Texas recognize the opportunity to strengthen our cause and impact more lives and that’s why we’ve launched membership reciprocity. With our new membership reciprocity agreement, Y members can simply present their active YMCA membership card and photo ID at any participating Texas YMCA to enjoy free access. This opportunity enhances the value of a Y membership and allows Texas Ys to collaboratively impact more lives and strengthen community. Stop by your local Y or click here for more information.
Are you passionate about healthy kids? Preventing chronic disease? Reducing health disparities? If so, we need you! Advocates are the backbone of any cause-driven organization. We know that when engaged advocates connect to a cause, they have the potential to inspire and spark change! Please join the YMCA's advocacy network by TAKING ACTION here! Together, we can fight childhood obesity and make Texas a healthier place for our kids to live!