The YMCA has long been known as a place that brings neighbors and communities together, and that is especially true on Houston’s Northside.
Marie Arcos served as the Executive Director of the M.D. Anderson Family YMCA, where she has worked since 2001.
Arcos grew up on the Northside and as one of seven children she learned how important it was to do her part to help not only her family but her community at large.
"My parents volunteered at the YMCA before I even got involved and that's how I started as a face-painter,” Arcos recalled.
Her ambitious spirit and knack for drawing people to various causes was apparent at an early age. While she was in high school, Arcos helped raise money to offer a free prom to her fellow students and she didn’t stop there.
"Even as a teen and a young adult we helped raise money for our local park because we didn't have lights. So the city said, 'Raise the money, you can have the lights.' So we raised the money and we got the lights."
Since she began her career at the M.D. Anderson Family YMCA, Marie has dedicated countless hours to applying for grants to improve the facilities and grounds and to create new programs for children to learn about art and apply to colleges.
"It's a place where people can come together and make the opportunities we have for them come alive,” Arcos said. “It’s important that they have people here that care about them, and will listen to them."
People like Marie Arcos have made the Y feel like a second home for parents like Jennifer and her son Justin.
“To me, she cares,” Jennifer said. “She cares about the community, she cares about the children and she cares about the families. And in return, we care about her."
Jennifer’s son Justin learned to ride his bicycle at the Y and is now training to compete in a triathlon.
Most of the Executive Directors at the YMCA of Greater Houston rotate among 36 locations, but Arcos has remained at the same location in the neighborhood where she grew up -- a source of pride for her and for the families who grew up around her.
"It's a beacon for a safe area in the near Northside. It is home. The YMCA allowed for my children to touch people that were successful, to see people and understand that when you're in this neighborhood, there is an opportunity to be successful,” said Melody, whose two children have been attending the Y for the past 15 years.
Arcos has welcomed nearly 9,000 children into her YMCA since she began working there and has seen many of them grow up and go on to attend college. She has recently transitioned to a new role coordinating community development efforts on the Association level.