Amanda White, Children’s Learning Center Director at the Midland YMCA was one of six to be selected by the University of Texas School of Public Health, Michael & Susan Dell Center for Healthy Living and CATCH Global Foundation as a 2016 CATCH Texas Champion. Amanda was awarded the CATCH Champions Award for her untiring dedication to creating and supporting healthy environments for the children of Texas and supporting Ys across the state in maintaining their commitment to the HEPA standards. Amanda is also a Certified CATCH Trainer for the Texas State Alliance of YMCAs.
It’s hard to believe we are at the close of another year! Collectively as an organization, YMCAs across the state of Texas have a lot to be proud of. In addition to serving as President & CEO of the Austin Metropolitan YMCA, I have had the privilege of serving as the chair of the Texas State Alliance of YMCAs for the past five years. It’s truly been an honor to help lead this Movement and deliver our cause on a statewide level. Beginning in 2017, I’m pleased to pass the baton to the incoming chair Tony Shuman, CEO of the YMCA of Metropolitan Fort Worth. Under his leadership, I know the Alliance will continue to grow and thrive. As I close out my term as chair, I would like to highlight stories of how volunteers and communities are coming together to support their neighbors as well as share our advocacy priorities for the upcoming legislative session.
Throughout this entire year, Texas YMCAs have been working hard to deliver our cause and strengthen the communities we serve. The YMCA is a volunteer-driven organization and their dedication to our cause is at the core of our efforts. We could not do the work we do without the support of our volunteers. For example, the YMCA of Greater El Paso and Rio Grande Valley mobilized volunteers to advocate for a local policy that would help reduce the occurrence of underage drinking and overall promote healthier behaviors for El Paso youth. At our Wichita Falls YMCA, staff and volunteers partnered with the local fire department to support Luke, a five-year-old boy who tragically lost his mother as he and his father began the healing process. Whether it’s working collectively to impact one family or hundreds of families, Texas YMCAs truly believe that we are stronger together.
As we head into a new year and the 85th Legislative Session, the YMCA remains committed to keeping youth development, healthy living and social responsibility at the forefront of the state legislature’s agenda. We have filed legislation to create a voluntary program that would recognize and incentivize out-of-school time providers to prioritize nutrition and physical activity in their programs. We want to support parents as they seek quality care that will allow their children to have the opportunity to be active and develop healthy habits that will follow them into adulthood. In addition, we are also working with statewide partners to emphasize the importance of drowning prevention programs and strategies. Our Texas YMCAs provide over 90,000 swim lessons each year because we believe that learning to swim is an absolute necessity and we want to empower youth and adults to be safe in and around water. Lastly, we will continue to cultivate our Texas YMCA Legislative Caucus to be a powerful voice and advocate for the 200+ Texas communities we serve.
More importantly, I know the communities we serve will continue to be positively impacted and strengthened as the new chair and YMCAs across Texas work to promote healthy living, youth development, and social responsibility.
James P. Finck, Chair
Texas State Alliance of YMCAs
YMCA of Greater San Antonio Brings Together Anti-Bullying Advocates to Shine a Light on the Power of Community
It is a story that we have come to recognize when we turn on the evening news. Bullying affects millions of students every year. According to stompoutbullying.org, cyberbullying is at an all-time high. Nearly 35% of kids have been bullied online once, while 53% of kids admit to having had said something mean or hurtful to someone online.
In May of 2016, the Alamo Heights community in San Antonio took headlines when a well-known 16 year-old boy took his own life after being bullied on Facebook and through text messages. Even after transferring to different schools, the bullying did not end and charges were never filed. While it is clear that something must be done to hold “bullies” accountable, something also must be done to prevent those who are being bullied from feeling that the only solution is to take their own life."
In October, the Westside Family YMCA held an event to begin closing that gap. They came together with the local group Isaac’s Foundation for Suicide Prevention, the San Antonio Police Department, the San Antonio Fire Department and more, to host an anti-bullying awareness event. The free event honored a 7 year-old boy named Drevan who has twice tried to commit suicide due to bullying.
The Westside Family YMCA gifted Drevan’s family with a full scholarship to the YMCA and a Y board member gifted Drevan with swim lessons.
The relationships that came out of the October event are just as powerful as the event itself. Our strength is definitely in our community and we will continue to connect people of all backgrounds to bridge the gap in community needs.
El Paso Adopts Social Host Ordinance to Reduce Underage Drinking and Promote Public Health and Safety
On December 6th, the City Council of El Paso became the first city in Texas to adopt a civil Social Host Ordinance to help reduce underage drinking.
Youth and young adults are particularly vulnerable to alcohol-related consequences, including sexual assault, unplanned sexual activity, sexually transmitted diseases, unintentional injuries, and school and legal problems. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates the cost of underage drinking in Texas to be $1.8 billion per year. If allocated based on population, the city of El Paso’s share of this amounts to nearly $48 million in healthcare, lost productivity, criminal justice and traffic crash costs.
The YMCA of El Paso serves as the backbone organization for the Shift+ initiative. The goals of the initiative are to reduce underage drinking and binge drinking in the Paso del Norte region. YMCA of El Paso staff members Holly Mata and Daniela Marquez coordinate the initiative and the Alcohol Impact Network, which includes community members, public health and safety organizations, schools and non-profits, and local coalitions. According to Daniela, “our network is focused on doing everything that we can to reduce alcohol-related harm and make sure our youth grow up safe and healthy. We know that most youth who drink, are drinking in social settings like house parties, and these parties put our kids at risk for many problems. We are so excited that the City of El Paso just adopted a strong Social Host Ordinance! It takes a whole city working together to keep our children safe, and we have a valuable opportunity with this ordinance to do just that. We congratulate the City Council for doing the right thing to protect our youth.”
Communities create and control the environments in which young people learn about alcohol and are at risk for alcohol-related problems, and civil social host ordinances are an increasingly common strategy at the local level.
Jana Renner, Associate Program Officer for the Paso del Norte Health Foundation, said “A Social Host Ordinance won’t stop underage drinking completely. But it will provide a law enforcement with an additional mechanism to help prevent some of these parties – which are particularly high-risk settings for our youth – and will help them hold people accountable when they do happen. These ordinances also provide a platform for community outreach and education, and they promote adult responsibility and public safety”. Bill Coon, YMCA of Greater El Paso and Rio Grande Valley CEO added that “Creating healthier environments and reducing alcohol-related harm is what the Shift+ initiative is all about. So of course it aligns perfectly with what we do at the YMCA: we support youth development, healthy living, and social responsibility. We look forward to supporting our partners in public health and law enforcement as we all work together to keep our kids safe.”
The ordinance will take effect in 180 days. The network will be working with other community agencies and organizations to educate the community about the ordinance, as well as other strategies to reduce underage drinking and alcohol-related harm.
For more information on the Shift+ initiative, email Holly.Mata@elpasoymca.org.
Luke, a five-year-old participant in the Wichita Falls YMCA pre-k program, tragically lost his mother in a fire when he was only one. Growing up without a mother has been tough, but there was something else that plagued him just as much. Luke said, "the firefighters did not save my mom." He had developed a deep resentment about it at his tender young age. Feelings of loss and bitterness showed itself in anger.
When YMCA leaders discovered what was going on, they sprang into action to help. They requested a conference with Luke's dad, Michael. Michael was nervous about the meeting because Luke had been kicked out of another preschool. He was doing the best he could to raise Luke as a single parent. Shica Gavaldon, a YMCA Early Childhood Site Director, told Michael, "We'll work with you if you work with us." Shica, along with School Age Coordinator, Shelly Donaldson, and Branch Director, Belinda Cavitt, found a counselor for the dad and son who would help them at no charge. Michael agreed to go.
YMCA staff contacted the Wichita Falls Fire Department and explained the situation of Luke and his family. Fire Marshall David Collins arranged a day that he hoped Luke would never forget. He gathered a team of firefighters at Station Eight and told them about Luke.
Luke and his dad were VIP guests at Station Eight. Luke got to turn on a firehose, ride in their biggest truck, tour their sleeping quarters and then was fed a lunch fit for a king, all with his new friends the firefighters. They talked to him, listened to him and encouraged him. At the end of the visit Luke asked Shica if he could be a firefighter when he grew up. She said, "You can be anything you want to when you grow up!"
Much healing has taken place over the last several weeks. That extends to Luke's dad, who was away on a fishing trip when his wife died in the fire. Michael smiles and interacts with Y staff much more than he did when he and Luke first arrived. The Y staff has taken both of them in. They've let them know "at the Y, we're your second family."
Luke still has good days and challenging ones, but he knows he always has someone he can talk to at the YMCA. Whatever he grows up to be - a firefighter or something else – Luke will always have a special place in the YMCA family.
Elizabeth Viera never thought the Odessa YMCA is where her four boys would learn how to pray. She also didn’t think the Y would be her solution to balancing work and caring for her children.
“Finding childcare with the hours I need for care and covering the cost is difficult,” Viera said. “The Odessa Family YMCA childcare made the difficult situation of working and providing for my children possible with their night-time care and childcare scholarship.”
The YMCA Make-A-Difference Scholarship more than lived up to its name for her family—not just financially, but because of the care her and she and her family receive from the Y on a daily basis that makes all the difference.
“They are like family. The staff was there for me during tough times,” Viera said. “My favorite Y event is Thanksgiving. I have no family in Odessa so Thanksgiving is usually just me and my boys. I love the Y Thanksgiving feast because all Y children and their families are together.”
But more than the food and fellowship – it’s words of support that Elizabeth heard from role models like Vicky at the Odessa YMCA.
The simple encouragement made all the difference for this struggling mother-of-four.
“The staff noticed my boys did not have enough clothes,” Elizabeth said. The solution? The Y worked together to connect her with services in Odessa that could provide clothes for her children.
Most importantly, the faith taught, lived and displayed at the Odessa YMCA stands out.
“I can’t say enough about the Y, the staff and what they mean to me and my boys.”
This fall, the Midland YMCA hosted another Community Day for all to come to the Y and experience all we have to offer the Midland community. The day was filled with pink colors throughout the activities to raise awareness and show support for breast cancer.
All guests were welcome to participate in classes as well as learn more about our community partners including the School of Massage Therapy, School of Cosmetology and United Blood Services who collected 12 units to help those in need throughout the Midland community.
For all of the adventurous guests and members, the YMCA held the first annual Flip for a Cause event. Participants first went through a rigorous obstacle course full of huge hay bales to climb over and ditches to crawl through. After an exhausting run through the course, participants then had to flip tires as many times as possible – demonstrating lots of strength and heart!
Funds raised through this event were directed to Gifts of Hope, Midland. Gifts of Hope is a local organization that provides support to cancer patients in the Permian Basin. They help with medical/dental bills, transportation costs to and from treatments, groceries for families going through the treatment process and lodging for those in the counties surrounding Midland. Because of the strong community support, multiple cancer patients & their families will be given the resources they need to continue fighting.
YMCA of the Golden Crescent’s Early Learning Center Provides Opportunities for Growth & Development for All Children
This summer, the YMCA of the Golden Crescent welcomed a new participant at their Early Learning Center. It was a learning curve for both the family and YMCA staff as they worked to personalize the learning program to fit his special needs. When he first entered the program, he was non-vocal and had sensory sensitivities that needed to be taken into account in order to aid in his growth and development.
After a tough first week of adjusting to his new learning environment, growth was already beginning to happen! He was enjoying himself, smiling, playing and even taking a nap! His parents were so impressed with his participation in nap time because they were having problems getting him to fall asleep on his own even at night. Day by day this little boy was making progress in multiple development areas.
Summer came to a close and it was time for him to go back to a private school that he attended during the year. His parents were so torn over the fact that he was going to be leaving. Over the next few months, YMCA staff continued to support his parents as they made the transition back to school. The family shared that he made so many gains while with the YMCA and they want him to continue that growth.
YMCA staff can’t wait to see how this little boy continues to grow and develop!
“When I walked in the Y, in August of 2013, I felt like I belonged.”
It was a long road for David. Sixteen years ago, he lost his legs in a horrific car crash. The former paramedic firefighter battled through severe depression, drug and alcohol addiction before finally getting his life back on track.
After cleansing his body from years of abuse, David heard a radio commercial about the Y and decided to go the Benbrook Community Center YMCA to see if he would feel welcome. Immediately he knew it was.
“This is the place I was searching for. It has spiritually empowered me.”
And with his Y family by his side, he ran his first 10K in the Fort Worth YMCA Turkey Trot race last year and is currently training to run in future marathons as a double amputee.
David says the support he gets every time he visits the Y is something that can’t be measured. “I feel like one of the bricks of this building; like I belong.”