Making A Difference: Giving back, in so many ways
The YMCA was where two of my sons, Scott and Todd, played in a youth basketball league back in the day, and where granddaughter Kristen took swim lessons when she was a year old. That’s what I personally knew about the Y.
But now I know the rest of the story, and I’m amazed at what I’ve learned about the Y’s purpose.
The Greater Marco Family YMCA has been about the business of offering high quality youth development programs for 41 years and providing what they like to call world-class member experiences with exercise classes and the like. That’s what we’d expect them to do. But they’ve also been delivering vital services for senior citizens, enriching activities for families, and providing expert resources to address chronic diseases, according to CEO Cindy Love-Abounader.
“We are one of the primary human service organizations providing support for all ages and all income levels throughout southern Collier County including the City of Marco Island and surrounding areas,” says Love-Abounader. “Our mission is to put Judeo-Christian principles into practice through programs that build healthy spirit, mind and body,” she stresses.
Love-Abounader tells us that “at the heart of the Marco YMCA’s cause is strengthening our community with three specific funding priorities focused on youth development, healthy living and social responsibility.”
Marco YMCA Board President-Elect, Paul Tateo, describes the “hidden work” taking place off the island. “We provide thousands of meals a year, hundreds of after school and summer camp programs for kids from needy families, clothing, reading assistance, and the list goes on,” Tateo says.
The numbers are pretty impressive. The Marco Y touches the lives of more than 10,000 community members each year. Among other things, they annually teach more than 700 people water safety and swimming skills and hold more than 72 weekly classes that promote wellness and help fight chronic disease. But it’s these numbers that surprise me. Each year, the Marco Y provides nearly $700,000 in financial aid for families in need, and each day they feed more than 400 disadvantaged people through their Togetherhood Bread Run.
Togetherhood is the Marco Y’s trademark for volunteerism. The focus is on feeding people through those bread runs, mobile food pantries and senior luncheons which are much appreciated. “Our volunteers see joy on the faces of all that we encounter,” says Togetherhood chair Allyson Richards. “And the thanks we receive often brings tears to our eyes,” she reveals.
Some 2,000 children take part in the Y’s after school programs, summer camps and early learning programs. The kids served attend two schools on the island, three schools in East Naples and Everglades City School.
Then there are specialized summer camp programs for children with chronic illnesses, and Hanna Heidenreich, a chronic disease specialist, conducts Y prevention and intervention programs for adults year around. “We offer Dragon Boat Paddling classes for breast cancer patients and survivors to improve overall strength,” Heidenreich says. “And we have a Rock Steady Boxing class to help those with Parkinson’s disease build core strength and balance,” she adds.
And back to what most people have come to expect of the Y. Board member Chuck Thomas, who is 84 years old, credits his good health to his three or four visits to the Y each week. “If it wasn’t for the Y, I’d probably have trouble walking or getting out of a chair. But thanks to the Y, I’m still doing triathlons and I bike regularly,” he happily reports.
If you’d like to volunteer at the Y, or contribute financially to support their mission, visit www.marcoymca.org, send an email to email@example.com, or call 239-394-9622.
Joe Landon is a communications consultant having retired as executive director of communications for the Collier County School District. Send suggestions for future columns to JoeLandon@Outlook.com.