We hit the ground running in 2015 as the 84th Texas Legislative Session began in January. As an Alliance of YMCAs, we advocated for multiple policies that would help strengthen communities across Texas. Throughout the duration of the 84th Texas Legislative Session, the Alliance influenced twenty-one pieces of legislation, provided six public statements on Y priorities in House and Senate committee hearings, and our grassroots advocates sent more than 150 letters to legislative members on behalf of their communities. We also established the Texas YMCA Legislative Caucus, the first of its kind in Texas and only the second in the nation. Through this Caucus, we will have a stronger voice and presence at the Capitol and ultimately continue to promote our mission of a healthy spirit, mind, and body for all. It’s exciting to be a part of a movement with incredible advocates.
Every single day our staff advocates on behalf of the communities we serve through the programs at local YMCAs. Whether it’s the Y’s Diabetes Prevention Program which is targeted towards the estimated 1 million Texas adults who are undiagnosed as pre-diabetic or our early readiness and youth programming which serve more than 630,000 Texas children and teens, Texas Ys are dedicated to meeting the needs of each community. We’d like to close the year out by sharing inspirational and heartwarming stories from participants and members in local Ys across the state. Stories like Klein’s – a two-year-old who is enrolled in YMCA night-time childcare while his mother is completing her bachelor’s degree and working full-time. Our mission is also seen clearly through stories like Jeanne’s – a cancer survivor and participant in the YMCA of Greater Houston’s LIVESTRONG program who is finding a whole new community of support from fellow survivors. I could go on and on about the countless inspirational stories from our members.
I am privileged to be a part of such a wide-spread, impactful Movement. All around the state, Texas Ys are working hard to promote our three focus areas: healthy living, youth development and social responsibility. Through this recap of 2015, you’ll see how local Ys are fulfilling our cause and demonstrating that the Y truly is so much more!
James P. Finck, Chair
Texas State Alliance of YMCAs
Like many Odessa parents, Chelsie Montgomery dreams of giving her child a better life. She loves her son, Klein, but was faced with tough choices when it came to childcare and its traditional operating hours. She is a student at the University of Texas of Permian Basin (UTPB) and also works full-time to provide for Klein. When she discovered the Odessa YMCA's night-time care, it was an answered prayer.
"One day, I'll be independent," Montgomery said teary-eyed about pursuing her education. “The Y supports me in my goals.”
She's relieved that she doesn't have to worry about her 2-year-old son Klein while she's hitting the books.
"The staff takes such great care of my Klein," Montgomery said, adding that his teacher Bianca always has a smile. But it's not just the Odessa YMCA's level of care--it's what Klein is learning that has her impressed.
"They are teaching my child and getting him school ready," she said. "The Y has already taught him all his ABC's and he's not even three."
Ms. Montgomery is one step closer to providing the life she has been tirelessly working toward as she will graduate this summer from UTPB with her bachelor’s degree.
My son, Major, has attended the YMCA at Tyler for the past four months. We relocated to Tyler, TX approximately six months ago. When searching for daycare centers, I looked for environments that were conducive for learning and were family oriented. Before Major was born, doctors told me that there was a chance that he could have some sort of genetic abnormality or disability. Consequently, I began to prepare myself to endure a life supporting a special needs child. Major was a premature baby, weighing only 3lbs. 6oz. Once he reached 4 lbs., he was released to come home. Shortly thereafter, he began physical therapy to assist with development. It was later determined that Major has a hemi vertebrae. When I see my son interacting with other children, it brings me joy. From second trimester until his birth, I was told he would have challenges learning and with his development. But that is not where his story ends…
Today, Major is a bright, bubbly and extremely intelligent three-year -old. Since enrolling into the childcare program at the YMCA of Tyler Texas, he has learned to not only spell his first name, but the middle and last as well. The teachers are very supportive and nurturing. He knows his colors, numbers, shapes and now is learning letter sounds. I believe we made the best decision to enroll Major into this program. Early childhood education plays a vital role in setting the foundation in a child’s development. I know that Major is off to a great start.
The Fort Worth City Council has agreed to a $2.3M forgivable loan to the YMCA of Metropolitan Fort Worth to construct a full-service aquatic facility in southeast Fort Worth. Fort Worth will also provide $59,000 annually to help provide operational funds and maintenance of the center.
The aquatic facility is part of the YMCA’s larger capital development plan and also fits within Fort Worth’s Aquatics Master Plan.
“It is with great pride and anticipation that we finalize the partnership between the City of Fort Worth and the YMCA,” said Councilmember Kelly Allen Gray, in whose district the facility will reside.
Construction on the new aquatics facility could begin as early as July 2016, with swimmers making their first splash as soon as May 2017.
At Fort Worth Metropolitan YMCAs, swim lessons are offered throughout the summer in an effort to educate and protect as many children as possible. The YMCA also works with the Fort Worth Drowning Prevention Coalition to teach basic water survival skills to children and adults. Through this collaborative effort, 408 non-swimmers are now safer in and around water and parent/caregiver education has been provided to 575 community members who are now ambassadors for water safety within their community networks.
“This partnership will deepen the long-standing relationship the YMCA has enjoyed with the City of Fort Worth for many years, “said YMCA President and CEO Tony Shuman. “We look forward to using this as a tool to teach swim lessons to local youth and avoid the growing statistic of pediatric drowning in our state and county.”
George Ann Harvey has been a member of the YMCA of Greater San Antonio since October 2014. About three years ago, she was diagnosed with diabetes, had a stroke, and fell into a dark depression. When she moved to San Antonio from Mississippi, she did not know anyone, she did not want to talk to anyone--not even her own family. When George Ann began coming to the Y she started doing her workouts primarily in the pool. By doing this, she began to regain movement in her legs, which had been affected by the stroke. Before she stared working out here, the only way she could get around was with the use of a cane. Now, she enjoys her water aerobics and group exercises all without the use of a cane! Ms. George Ann has come a long way and has conquered many challenging obstacles. Friendships and being welcomed into a social environment is very important to George Ann.
More than one in seven San Antonio residents have been diagnosed with diabetes. In an effort to reduce this statistic and promote healthy living in the community, the YMCA of Greater San Antonio and the City of San Antonio Metropolitan Health District have teamed up to fight diabetes through the YMCA Diabetes Prevention Program, the Y Healthy Living Program, and the Diabetes Self-Management Program. The program is free for all participants whether a person is at risk for type 2 diabetes or has been diagnosed as diabetic.
Middle and high school students with diverse backgrounds recently gathered, eager to participate in the YMCA Texas Youth and Government Program conference. Bright faces of America’s future were dressed in business attire, ready to take on real-world issues as a rehearsal for their dreams of the future. More than 1,200 attendees from 72 delegations gathered at the District 5 Dallas conference, held at Centennial High School in Garland.
The morning opened to a full auditorium of students who cheered during a welcome speech by keynote speaker United States Congressman Pete Sessions, representing the 32nd District of Texas.
Sessions spoke about the importance of kids staying off drugs and how success comes with staying “true north with God, family and country.”
Sessions also reminded those in attendance that how you talk to people and treat people makes a difference. He added, “Experience life in a way that brings honor, character and purpose.”
The Texas Youth and Government Program conference is a means for local clubs to simulate the legislative and judicial sections of government in the United States.
“All middle and high school students from private, public and home school are welcome, as long as they are affiliated with their local YMCA Youth and Government club,” said Jennifer Struble, District Director of Youth & Government and Association Teen Program Director at YMCA of Metropolitan Dallas.
Students achieved hands-on learning by putting what they have learned in their clubs into practice while maintaining the four core values of the YMCA: respect, responsibility, honesty and caring.
“This conference is also a qualifying and preparatory conference for the State Youth and Government conferences held in Austin in January and February, as well as the Model United Nations Assembly in April,” Struble added.
YMCA Texas Youth and Government Program organizers believe it is paramount that young people learn how to be responsible citizens and future leaders.
“Without their knowledge of basic government processes and the inspiration to be engaged in their communities and with their government leaders, democracy is in danger,” Struble said. “Our program motto coined by our founder, Clement P. Duran, is ‘Democracy must be learned by each generation in order to survive.’"
“This program is not only for the government nerds and the academically driven,” Struble concludes. “This program brings out the very best in every teen.”
On June 29, 2010, the Vasquez’s welcomed a new member to their family—their daughter Addyson Nikole. Addyson was born with Tretralogy of Fallot and Pulmonary Atresia, a congenital disease. Addyson underwent two open heart surgeries at five days and eleven months old to repair the hole in the walls between the right and left ventricle, as well as, enlarge the pulmonary artery. The pulmonary artery did not heal completely, which has caused the right side of her heart to swell. Eventually, Addyson may undergo additional surgeries to replace the artery with an artificial valve. Due to her swelling, Addyson visits the doctor every six months and her heart continues to function without any affects to her everyday activities. “We just make sure we keep her heart healthy by eating right and exercising,” Jamie Vasquez, Addyson’s mother states. “We have the Y to thank for that.” Addyson, now age four, has played every youth sport at the YMCA of Arlington including Soccer, Ballet, Basketball and her favorite, T-Ball. Being the active child she is, Addyson doesn’t let her heart condition become a barrier in her life. She is always reminded that she is a warrior and the “Warrior Scar” on her chest reminds her of her willingness to never give up. “We treat her like a normal kid,” Jamie states, “Because of the Y, Addyson has been able to fuel her energy through the Y sports programs. The Y has taught her about becoming and staying active, a trait that she will carry with her throughout her entire life.”
It’s in movies, daily conversations, in schools. It breaks up and brings together families. It can affect every part of the body and every person on the planet.
Try as we might to ignore it, cancer demands our attention. The Y has programs in place to support these overcomers and guide them to regain their strength after fighting such a difficult battle.
Cancer is devastating in many ways. “Not knowing what the outcome will be is emotionally devastating,” said Sheila McGill, Healthy Living Director at Katy YMCA. “It’s devastating financially because it’s so expensive with the treatments, doctor’s appointments and hospital bills. It’s physically devastating. One round of treatments can knock you out for a week.”
Y member Jeanne is familiar with this devastation. The months following her stem cell transplant and cancer treatments left her feeling weak and isolated. Simply walking down the hall made her tired.
Jeanne heard about the LIVESTRONG program at the Y and decided to sign up. LIVESTRONG helps cancer survivors improve their physical and emotional well-being. Some days participants go swimming, some days they take a yoga class and some days they just get outside to be active.
LIVESTRONG Coach Karen Peters said she has had participants come in to class who could barely walk. After four weeks of participating, these individuals were taking line dancing classes.
Jeanne says the class was the first “cancer perk” she experienced.
“The program is primarily an exercise program,” said McGill. “It focuses on getting cancer survivors back to their regular level of activity. More importantly, it provides a social setting to bring people together and help them know they are not alone.”
The Y provides this program with a community of support and a safe place to meet together. The first meeting of class is a time when participants can share their testimony or just listen to others’ stories. Because the class is normally around five to seven people, it’s easy for classes to bond quickly. This bonding and vulnerability helps participants heal.
“The Y is a place for all of us to heal and strengthen our spirit, mind and body,” said Charlotte Vargo, Healthy Living Director at Langham Creek YMCA. “Cancer survivors can do this in the pool, group exercise classes, wellness center or simply meeting with friends in the lobby for coffee. As a pioneer for healthy living, the Y offers community support in an environment hospitals and clinics cannot.”
LIVESTRONG is funded through each Y center’s Annual Campaign, so it is available as a free service to anyone who qualifies. Participants also have free access to the entire Y facility.
“Our goal is to introduce them to a lot of different classes, workout equipment and water activity so they can find out what they like and do it on their own after the class,” said McGill.
Thanks to her participation in LIVESTRONG, Jeanne rebuilt the muscles that had deteriorated as a result of the disease. It wasn’t easy, but she saw improvements in how she felt and what she could accomplish.
Jeanne’s story is a testament to the impact the Y and LIVESTRONG have on a person’s life. “The LIVESTRONG program helped me so much,” said Jeanne. “I got my strength back so I got my independence back, which encouraged me and gave me hope.”
The class is offered to all ages of people from all walks of life. It brings together people who may not think they have much in common and forms a community that gives and receives help from one another.
“The Y is part of the support system that survivors need,” said Vargo. “We are all survivors in some way or another. We all fight battles, but it is an easier fight when we have a community behind us.”
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!