Marco Y rebounds after setbacks: Help from afar eases the burden


Everybody has an Irma story, and Marco’s YMCA is one of extreme gratitude and dogged determination. And, there’s a little bit of a “friend of a friend” scenario thrown in to make it a happy ending of sorts.

Before Irma hit, Y Healthy Living Director Deborah Passero got in touch with her son Jason, who works for Michigan-based Rockford Construction.

A volunteer is dwarfed while working to clear downed trees at the Greater Marco Family YMCA. Submitted.

The multi-state company owner, Michael VanGessel, has been friends with Deborah Passero’s husband Michael for the past 30 years.

When Jason Passero voiced his concerns about the pending hit, Van Gessel immediately put a crew together and headed for Marco.

“He said he was going to meet our needs,” Deborah Passero said.

Upon arrival two days after the storm, the team (along with an auxiliary team from FEMA) was confronted with huge downed trees blocking the Y’s entrance and exits.

Joining the island-wide cacophony of screaming chain saws, the teams cleared the debris, after which senior staffers at the Y began to plan resumption of the organization’s multiple community services and programs.

Seen at the Y during cleanup operations are Michael Passero, Eric Monroe of Rockford Construction, Y CEO Cindy Love and Mike VanGessel, owner of Rockford Construction, which sent a team especially to ease the Y’s cleanup burden.

“It was like unpeeling a layered onion,” Deborah Passero said. “A priority was that we needed to get our [early learning] program going. We serve working people, and many of them faced wage losses while having to clean up their damage.”

In a release put out earlier this week, Passero outlined the relief needs facing the Y itself and many of its members.

A special hurricane relief K-8 camp (normally costing $90 a week) is taking care of 70 Marco children, while about 50 percent of their working parents are on cleanup.

In addition, 10 City employees’ children, 10 Everglades and Manatee children, and 25 Early Learning (preschool) children are being subsidized.

 Some staffers themselves are in desperate need after home flooding and roof damage, and more than 20 have to cope with lost wages in addition to cleanup and repair costs.

The Y campus damages/expenses included the pool, tennis courts and fences, all of which were not insurable.

See photo of the Greater Marco Family YMCA on Sept. 11 after Hurricane Irma.

In the meantime, the Y is striving to attain a sense of normalcy, and by this past Saturday the fitness center and gymnasium were open, with the pool a possibility during the latter part of this week.

Five of our eight tennis courts are operational (booking required), and pickleball is available. Regular class schedule is offered.  Kids Zone is open 8 to 10 a.m., 5 to 7 p.m.   Please download the Greater Marco Family YMCA free app for updates.

Donations to help hurricane-related services or to restore campus facilities are welcome.

To make a gift today, visit or contact Katherine Caskey at