Mariah was born with cerebral palsy (CP), a condition that affects the brain and the neurological connection it has with the body movement and muscle coordination.
Mariah’s diagnosis has led her to face many challenges but the real story is how she continues to overcome them.
In 2014, Mariah joined the DR Semmes Family YMCA to train for the Texas Regional Paralympic Games where she competed in the 100m run.
After the Paralympic Games, the Y hadn’t seen much of Mariah until she rejoined last summer. She had one goal in mind, to regain the strength she once had. With most of her time spent in a wheelchair, her strength and mobility had tremendously decreased, which caused her to rely heavily on her wheelchair and feel insecure without it.
Now, Mariah has an entirely new outlook. After receiving assistance from the AlterG Anti-Gravity Treadmill, she is now able to walk on a typical treadmill all by herself. The AlterG relieves an individual from their full body weight, allowing them to walk without the risk of injuring themselves. The DR Semmes Family YMCA is the only facility that has this type of treadmill in the city of San Antonio.
With the encouragement and innovation of her wellness coach, Erron, Mariah has maintained focus on her fitness and mobility goals and gained a new friend. Her favorite exercise is ball slams but she also enjoys the arm bike.
“I describe the Y as the place where I have a blast,” says Mariah.
Mariah is a graduate of Texas Lutheran University and currently works for the University of Texas at San Antonio’s Small Business Development Center. To learn more about Mariah’s story, click here to watch a short video.
In March, Texas leadership and volunteers joined over 300 Y advocates at Y-USA’s National Advocacy Days. The Texas delegation met with Congressional offices to ask for their support of the Y’s national advocacy initiatives; including 21st Century Learning Programs and the Child Protection Improvements Act. Thanks to work of YMCA Advocates, the Y was successful in working with congressional leaders to include the Child Protection Improvements Act in the recent omnibus bill. In addition, increases in funding for prevention programs at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 21st Century Community Learning Centers and the Corporation for National and Community Service were included in the bill. As part of our intentional efforts in merging youth development & social responsibility, two Texas Youth & Government representatives served as youth advocates during National Advocacy Days and took part in various workshops and Congressional meetings. In addition to visiting members of Congress in Washington D.C., the YMCA of Greater Houston also hosted Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee and Congressman Pete Olson at YMCA branches in their respective districts.
Local YMCA Associations across Texas recently recognized state legislators who have been strong champions of the Y’s work to nurture the potential of youth, improve communities’ health and give back to its neighbors.
Senator Donna Campbell (SD-25) and Representative Lyle Larson (HD-122) were both recognized by Sandy Morander, President & CEO of the YMCA of Greater San Antonio; Representatives Sarah Davis (HD-134) and Dwayne Bohac (HD-138) were recognized by Paul McEntire, President & CEO of the YMCA of Greater Houston; Senator Kel Seliger (SD-31) was recognized by Shane Moore, President & CEO of the YMCA of Moore County; and Representative Paul Workman (HD-47) was recognized by James Finck, President & CEO of the YMCA of Austin.
“The Y is not just about physical fitness,” said Senator Donna Campbell. “It’s also about the emotional and spiritual support. You may or may not realize that the majority of young adults, ages 17-24, are not fit to serve. They are not fit to enlist. They fail the enlistment, so they’re not eligible for multiple reasons, but primarily, physical fitness. [The Y] is making our youth ready for the military. That’s a huge thing, a huge thing for our youth. It’s a huge thing for our national security. Truly, what you’re doing is supporting the national security of America, one Y at a time.”
Each elected official had the opportunity to meet with Y staff, volunteers and members who shared about the Y’s benefit to their families and friends and impact the Y has in each community.
Representative Lyle Larson highlighted his personal connection with the YMCA that includes playing football as a student at Coker Elementary and later as a volunteer coach. He shared his appreciation for the work the Y is doing and how the Y is meeting the needs of the community as a whole regardless of age, income or background.
“The Y is a conduit to the community. The government can't serve all these young folks and we’ve got to have groups like the YMCA that can work with the kids and the families, provide a space that can keep them out of trouble and give them something productive to do,” said Representative Larson. “It is interesting, a lot of times people look at the Y and they think there is a socio-economic barrier, but no there is not. The Y meets everybody's needs in the community and that is what's enriching about it.”
To view pictures from all of the 2018 YMCA Champion Award presentations, click here. Additional recognitions will be taking place at local YMCAs across the state as the year progresses. For more information, please contact Christianna Burwell, Public Policy & Legislative Affairs Manager, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Moody Foundation has granted $6,250,000 to the YMCA of Austin in support of the Phase I campaign goal for Camp Cypress, an 85-acre overnight and day-camp along Onion Creek in northern Hays County.
With a vision to create a natural oasis in close proximity to the Austin-area for Central Texas youth and families, YMCA Camp Cypress aims to become the most accessible and affordable camp and retreat center in the region.
“At the Moody Foundation, we believe every Texan should have the opportunity to learn about the natural world around them,” said Ross R. Moody, trustee of the Moody Foundation and CEO of National Western Life Group. “Camp Cypress will help Austin’s underserved populations, including economically disadvantaged individuals and those with special needs, engage with their environment in a new way. Through our support of Camp Cypress, we’re proud to help create new learning opportunities for generations to come.”
Although the YMCA of Austin has had integrated hands-on outdoor learning and activities through summer day camp and parent/child camping programs since the 1970s, it is also the largest YMCA in the nation without a specific campus for overnight camping and related activities.
This grant brings the YMCA of Austin’s total to $15 million in its Phase I fundraising goal to raise $18 million for Camp Cypress. Phase I will include a dining hall, treehouse cabins, two bunk cabin villages, a 12,000-squre-foot enclosed competition aquatic center (which will also support all swim programming for the Hays Consolidated ISD), 700-foot dual zip lines, climbing wall, archery range, ropes course, entertainment amphitheater, open-air sports space and accessible trails. All of these amenities and activities will utilize universal design to be accessible and welcoming to people of all abilities.
“Today’s future scientists, problem-solvers and environmental stewards are being shaped by their outdoor experiences,” said Elizabeth Moody, trustee of the Moody Foundation. “Camp Cypress has the opportunity to help mold tomorrow’s leaders and give outdoor experiences to children for the first time, and we are proud to be part of this project.”
The Camp Cypress property was donated to the YMCA of Austin by George Yonge in 1999 with the desire to establish a camp for kids to explore the great outdoors. The property boasts a pristine, scenic and diverse 85-acre nature preserve located along a half-mile stretch of Onion Creek just off Old San Antonio Road in Buda, Texas. Located 15 miles south of downtown Austin off I-35, Camp Cypress gives children, teens and families a chance to experience the outdoors through YMCA programs.
“There is a clear need to preserve more natural spaces in Central Texas where kids can be physically active, connect with nature, and just play and explore in a safe environment,” said James Finck, YMCA of Austin President & CEO. “We’re addressing a need to provide an accessible overnight camp experience; one that is closer to the city, affordable to all families, and welcoming to people of all abilities. All this while holding true to our character values taught at the YMCA - there is no greater place for that to happen than at an overnight camp. It’s a life-changing experience these kids will never forget. We’re excited to partner with the Moody Foundation to bring Mr. Yonge’s vision to reality.”
The YMCA of El Paso will receive $1.3 million from the Paso del Norte Health Foundation for the Shift+ and A Smoke Free Paso del Norte initiatives. The Shift+ initiative aims to reduce underage drinking and binge drinking in all ages. The Smoke Free Paso del Norte initiative works to prevent the initiation of smoking among youth, promote quitting among adults and young people, eliminate exposure to secondhand smoke and eliminate tobacco-related disparities among population groups. On December 6, 2016, the City of El Paso became the first city in Texas to adopt a civil Social Host Ordinance (SHO) to help prevent underage drinking parties. The YMCA of El Paso has been actively involved in preventing underage and binge drinking for the last several years and most recently co-hosted a responsible beverage service training for businesses that sell and serve alcohol. For more information on this initiative, visit http://www.elpasoymca.org.
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!
It’s hard to believe another year has come & gone. Our advocates hit the ground running for the January kickoff of the 85th Legislative Session. Through our staff & volunteers’ efforts, we were able to influence 22 pieces of legislation and meet with more than 200 legislative offices during the 140 days of the regular session. The Y’s presence & mission has never been stronger at the Texas State Capitol. The summer of 2017 was easily one of our busiest times as thousands of children and families flocked to our facilities, summer camps, and swim lessons. A huge part of our summer programming was centered around our commitment to teaching children and adults how to be safe in & around water. Our efforts did not go unnoticed as the YMCA was honored to be recognized by Congressman Roger Williams during National Drowning Prevention Month.
Perhaps the most life-changing moment this year was watching Texas communities pull together during the devastation that came from Hurricane Harvey. The Y was humbled to play a part in immediately responding to individual needs & we are still committed to helping our communities restore hope & build stability – we’re not going anywhere. Texans are strong & resilient and I have no doubt that we will continue to rebuild & create opportunities for growth.
With this being my inaugural year as chair of the Alliance, I was and am still inspired by the incredible work Texas YMCAs carry out on a daily basis. I’m proud of the milestones we experienced this year, but I’m even more proud of the day-to-day impact the Y has in the communities we serve. The stories featured in this last newsletter of 2017 provide just a small glimpse into what happens each & every day at our YMCAs as we work to fulfill our mission to build a healthy spirit, mind and body for all.
Wishing you & your family a happy holiday season and a safe & healthy new year!
Tony Shuman, Chair
Texas State Alliance of YMCAs
The Safety Around Water program motto is “Teaching children how to be safe around water is not a luxury; it is a necessity” is something the Armed Services YMCA (ASYMCA) of Killeen, Texas, believes passionately.
With a partnership with the Killeen Independent School District, the ASYMCA made a concerted commitment early on to help educate the community about water safety in order to reduce the number of youth-related accidents and fatalities in and around water. Dr. John M. Craft, KISD Superintendent, said “The district believes the Safety Around Water course has truly benefited the students within Killeen ISD. Teaching children how to be safe around water exemplifies the community’s willingness to work with the district in a collaborative manner. We embrace the notion that the Armed Services YMCA is willing to help our students learn more about safety skills.”
The ASYMCA Killeen’s Safety Around Water journey began in 2015 with one school and more than 100 students completing the program over the course of a month. This past fall, 487 third-grade students from four schools completed the program. By the school year’s end, 7 schools and 900 students are expected to have successfully completed the program.
The success of the program has it destined to be included in the KISD 2017/2018 third grade curriculum, which reaches an estimated 4,000 students annually
26-year-old Daniel Velazquez cannot just say hello.
"Let me get one, sister! Don't be like that, you were gonna drive right past me," Velazquez said in a loud voice as he insisted on fist bumps from a YMCA member in a wheelchair.
When he got the fist bump, "Bam! Alicia's in the house!" Velazquez said near the top of his lungs.
Since January, Velazquez has been greeting members in this fashion three times a week.
His big personality lights up every shadow, and he embraces moments to lift someone’s spirits. He willingly dives into a profound conversation about faith, throws back a joke when you give him a hard time, and determinedly gets to know everyone around him. Daniel makes it his goal every day to be a smiling face when members arrive for their workouts and finds something unique about each individual to compliment them on in efforts to brighten their day.
Velazquez has touched so many lives, one woman responded by writing a letter to the YMCA, in which she called him hope for "those that come in carrying heavy baggage and overwhelming circumstances."
"That warms me," Velazquez responded when we asked him what he thought about the compliments. "I'm here, doing a lot more than I think."
To get a better idea why so many people think Velazquez is an inspiration, we have to go back to 2012.
On November 16, 2012, Daniel had just learned he was promoted at work and afterward was in a motorcycle accident that would drastically change his life forever. Velazquez was hospitalized and unconscious for 11 months, three of them in a vegetative state. That meant he couldn't feed himself, breathe on his own or even dream. But nearly a year later on September 9th, 2013, he woke up. He didn't remember a thing.
Life before this motorcycle accident was pretty carefree and often careless with the expectation of invincibility despite Daniel frequently playing with fire. Daniel’s past consists of a DUI, trespassing, battery on a law enforcement officer, and violation of his probation. If you know him now, this might be surprising to learn. Daniel’s an illustration of how important it is to let your past guide you, not define you.
He is still in recovery to this day, progressing little by little. Some days are better than others, and he often finds himself struggling to be patient with the process. With the help of his family, friends, and team of doctors, Daniel has made tremendous physical and mental strides both on land and in the pool. Reaching goals he was warned he may never reach, Daniel continues to push to grow stronger and heal faster every time he goes to the gym.
As a nine-time convicted felon turned committed believer, Daniel has a mission in life to heal, help others heal, and spread good as far as he can reach. Through his experiences – before and after the wreck – he savors each moment he has to give thanks and appreciation for those around him.