YMCA Camp – Forming Tomorrow’s Leaders

Jordan Sanchez, Sequoia YMCA Staff

Jordan Sanchez, 17, is a Leader’s Aide at Sequoia YMCA Summer Camp program where he helps implement games and activities for the campers in a small group setting. In addition, he is responsible for the general safety and development, growth and skill achievement for the campers in his group. Jordan grew up in the Palm Park area of Redwood City attending Hawes Elementary School and McKinley Middle School. He currently is getting ready to start his junior year of high school at Summit. Jordan has been a part of the Y family since he attended our SPLASH Safety Around Water program when he was in grade school. Through this community program, his mother signed him and his sisters up for swim lessons. Jordan loved swim lessons and still talks about the influence CJ, Angelica and Alfonzo had on him. When summer came around, he begged his family to sign him up for summer camp. When he was in the 6th Grade, his parents enrolled him in Explorer Camp. His sisters attended High Five and Discovery Camp. His camp leader, Jesus Rivas (Jesse) was his role model. “Jesse was really cool, he put himself in our shoes, understood our point of view and made me want to be like him.”

Jordan returned to the Y this summer putting the leadership skills he learned in Leaders in Training to the test. He is placed with younger campers to help assist the directors, lead games, lead arts and crafts and sing camp songs. Jesse Rivas recommended him for this position. He’s working with our High Five Camp and says ‘”working with 5 year olds can be a little stressful. It’s the first time some have been away outside their home.” This 17 year old really likes working at the Y because the Y had such a positive impact on his life growing up. “Jesse was my leader and Matt was his assistant. Both are really good people who treated me well.” He and friend Tyler, who he met at Y Summer Camp came back together to work this summer. His future plans include returning to work at the Y when he graduates from high school and becoming an ‘actual leader’, “Ahorrar su salario para ir a la universidad” (saving his salary to go to university).

Y programs – creating tomorrow’s leaders.

Small Town Community in the Heart of Tech Land

How could you resist this smile?

While Stacy Olson’s Y story starts with her learning to swim at Sequoia YMCA as a child, it certainly doesn’t end there. Stacy started working at the Y as a Swim Instructor and Lifeguard when she was a teenager and made the Y a career upon graduating from UC Santa Barbara in 2006 when she became the Aquatics Director. She valued all that the Y taught her and how it provided financial support for those who might otherwise not been able to afford opportunities available through Y programs. She still cherishes the memories of the children who learned to swim through swim lessons and the SPLASH program and takes pride in knowing the Y offers lifesaving skills to everyone. You could see what a role model she was when the kids in her swim lessons dressed up as Stacy for Halloween.

Later, Stacy decided to pursue her dream of becoming an elementary school teacher. While in school earning her Master’s degree from USC, Stacy continued working for the Y as a Youth Sports Instructor and Summer Camp Director. When she started teaching full time, she decided to shift from working at the Y to volunteering so she could remain a part of the community and give back some of what the Y gave to her. Seven years later, she can still be seen in the pool filling in as a swim instructor and a water aerobics instructor.

Stacy and family

When asked why she chooses to volunteer for the Y, Stacy said: “I love that the Y represents all of Redwood City. At any given time, there are people from a vast array of cultural, socioeconomic, and political backgrounds gathered together in one space, one community. The Y has provided a social group for my octogenarian grandmother with whom she exercises in the morning. These women are willing to provide her with transportation, call to check on her when they see she has missed a few days, and offer a lovely friendship. Likewise, the Y also provides me with a place to exercise and see old friends, and for my kids to be exposed a diverse group of kind, welcoming people. Plus, the Y has a small town community feel in the heart of tech land and is just a fun place to be!” If you see Stacy at Sequoia YMCA, her husband Jerome, or their two kids, Charlotte and Ryan, be sure to say hello and share your Y story.

My daughter is safe at the Y

When it was time for Camila to start Kindergarten, Yanira was in need for after school care for her daughter. After researching  every available option in Cupertino she found herself in despair. There was nothing available that she could afford, and none of the options was open long enough to cover her work hours.

Yanira called the Cupertino School District and asked them for advice. “What do I do, I can’t bring my daughter with me to work, and the services provided in our community doesn’t fit my needs and budget. The advice I got from the school district was to call the YMCA, they told me they’d be my best option.”

Life as a single mother can be very challenging. After a difficult divorce, Yanira was left with almost nothing. She was lucky that she could move in with the family she currently worked for. They provided Yanira and Camila with a roof over their heads, and a car for Yanira to use so she could drive to work and take Camila to school. “With no family in the area, they became our new family. Camila relates to the children in the family as her siblings, and she loves their grandmother as if she was her own.”

“I suffer from Fibromyalgia. I think it is stress that makes it worse. But I’m hopeful and I count my blessings. The Y is definitely one of them. Thanks to their scholarship I can afford to have Camila in a safe and caring environment every day after school. The summers are filled with fun summer camps and I am amazed how much Camila has developed during her time with the Y. I remember the first year Camila went to camp. She didn’t know how to swim, she didn’t know how to swing on the monkey bars and she came home sad and frustrated during the first week of camp.

Now, two years later, I have a confident swimmer, I watch her swing on the monkey bars on the playground, and every day I am amazed by how much she has developed. I took her to Santa Cruz board walk last summer. When I brought her to the rides for the youngest children she looked at me and started laughing… ‘Mom, I do the big rides now! Take me to the roller coaster!’ My little girl has grown so much and developed into a confident 2nd grader that loves life. For that I am so thankful. I want to give a heartfelt thank you to everyone who donates to the YMCA, it makes a big difference in my life. I hope my story can inspire others in need to seek help and assistance from the Y. You’ll be glad you did!”

Northwest Y
By: Ursula H

Meet Chuck – the luckiest guy at Northwest Y!

Not only does Chuck have the joy of working out with his wife, Jean, every week; oftentimes, he’s the only gentleman in the Aqua Arthritis class. “It would be great if the ladies would bring their husbands or boyfriends once in a while…” says Chuck. “Other than that, my life at the Y is pretty much perfect!”

Chuck was already a Y-member when he was injured in a car accident. After spending 3 months in the hospital, 3 months in rehab, and another 3 months in assisted living, Chuck knew the Y would be a great place for him to gain his strength back after a difficult year. He started out with the Aqua Arthritis class, and a few months later, felt strong enough to add in Personal Training.

“I value the Y, and especially the social aspect of it. It’s always great to see groups of people talking over coffee before and after Y-classes. After personal training class, I enjoy having coffee and speaking with friends who walk by after sessions in the pool. “The best part with Northwest Y is that this Y is small enough to maintain a social atmosphere. I don’t want to belong to a big gym. I feel at home at the Y, because the people I meet here are just like me. I like that when I come to the Y, I’m not the only person who’s 50+. “

Is there anything you’d like to share with our members? “If anything, it would be to ask other members to be considerate of people with limited mobility. We really need access to the 2 shower rooms in the pool area, and it’s difficult for us to wait a long time. Just keep in mind that we don’t have any other options, so if you can use the locker rooms instead, it would be very helpful for us!”

Pickleball – It Really is a Big Dill to Sequoia YMCA Member Chris Fromm

Goofy and Chris

Chris and Goofy before joining the Y

Late for a class, Chris Fromm was racing across campus finishing a blueberry scone. His second one of the day. As he walked into class, he caught a glimpse of himself in the window, and was not happy. Chris thought “What happened to me? I was 170 pounds, I couldn’t button my jacket, and I looked much older than my actual age of 42. I needed a change.”

Too much time on the road, too many late night dinners, and too many excuses to not exercise had taken their toll on him. For months, his wife had been begging him to do a cleanse with her. He decided he could hold out no longer. He had come to a turning point. It was now or never. The money was paid, the boxes arrived, the juice was in the refrigerator, it was go time. But Chris knew diet alone was not the answer. He had always been active, playing basketball, lifting weights, even long walks with the dogs, but somehow other things got in the way.

He was determined to get back to the gym. He joined Sequoia YMCA five months ago and has only missed a handful of days since then, and those days he was traveling. Sequoia YMCA was tailor-made for his transformation. He had been a member at a variety of gym clubs in the past and knew how intimidating and impersonal a gym could be; especially for someone who wants to hide under some baggy clothes. However, he felt immediately welcomed when he entered the Y in Redwood City. The staff were warm, friendly, and personable. The weight room was never crowded and had everything he needed. The pool temperature was perfect, and there are enough machines to meet everyone’s fitness needs.

He knew he needed cardio exercise, but didn’t enjoy standing or sitting on a machine and watching TV or listening to music. He was looking for something different. And he found it in the strangest of places.Pickleball.


Pickleball with Ralph, Spike, Neal and Chris

“Pickleball? Pickleball! At first I thought what in the world is this? Then I decided to play. Hands down, this is the most addictive game I’ve ever played. I’m not sure if it is because of the nonstop action, or the competition, or the people who play, but I find myself looking forward to, no, longing for, Tuesday and Thursday at 12:30. My first game was against Spike and Bill, whose average age is close to 75. They beat me. Bad. I love this game.”

Chris loves this gym. But it’s not so much the game, or the quality of the machines, or the size of the pool, or even the proximity to his house. It’s the people. “This is the “Cheers” of gyms. Everyone does know your name, and I know everyone’s, too. And not just the folks who work there. Yes, Diana and Janet were the “charmers” I first met who introduced me to the game, but I soon met the rest of the staff. They make it a point to know you, not just your name, but to truly know you. I recently returned from a trip and someone said, “So how was New York?” They actually remembered where I was. They care, and it shows in each new staff member they hire.”

Chris Playing Pickleball

Chris Playing Pickleball

Chris had been a member of a lot of gyms, social clubs, and groups but says without hesitation that Sequoia YMCA is the best organization he has ever been a part of. He feels at home there, and truly believes that without it, he would still be avoiding mirrors. He’s now exercising every day, working out with weights five days a week, and has maintained a healthy diet and lifestyle since joining. He has lost 30 pounds in those 150 days, and hearing people take notice of that never gets old!

“To anyone who wants to change, who wants to get active, who wants to improve their mind, body and spirit, there is no better time than now, and no better place than Sequoia YMCA.“

Chemo is not a poison, it’s a blessing.


There is a glow of love, compassion and happiness when you see Gulshan greet members in the lobby at Northwest YMCA. She’s not only a Member Associate at the Y, she is also a cancer survivor… with a lot to be grateful for.

Gulshan was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2000. At her annual mammogram they discovered a small tumor, and she was left with the choice of doing a mastectomy or a lumpectomy. Her lymph nodes were not affected and chemo therapy was optional.

“Don’t be afraid to change your oncologist. I was mortified that I had to make the decision to do chemo or not, and also choose between mastectomy and lumpectomy. I needed an oncologist who was assertive and who could tell me what needed to be done.”

During this difficult time, Gulshan and her husband decided to quit working and focus on her recovery. Exercise and diet became a priority and Gulshan signed up for the Living Strong Living Well™ program at the Y. A strict macrobiotic diet followed by exercise and mindfulness helped her recover. Before she knew it, she was back to work and cancer free.

The years went by and during a month long vacation in Europe, Gulshan noticed that she had a constant low fever. It didn’t worry her much but she decided to see her Doctor when she returned from her vacation. After her checkup she was told she had lung cancer. Just like that. Without any signs,  the cancer had returned. She found her self sitting in the Doctor’s office crying in the arms of her husband. This time Gulshan was convinced she was going to die.

After more tests, they discovered that she did not have lung cancer; instead she had cancer in her lungs. It was Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Chemo was not an alternative this time, it was a must.

“Chemo is not a poison. Chemo is a blessing.” This was the mantra that Gulshan kept telling herself every day. She sat for 6 hours at the time during chemo, once per week for 9 long months. A positive attitude is important when you go through difficult times in life. “I am blessed to have a very supportive family; I felt their love and support every minute and it kept me alive.”

If you were to give advice to someone battling cancer, we asked Gulshan, what would that be?

– “Watch your diet. Cancer loves meat and sugar.
– Do not stress. Don’t stress over small things. Deal with the stress, and then move on.
– Exercise!
– Don’t ask God why. God will test you in life, and make you a better person.
– Life is beautiful. Be nice to everyone. No one is mean, everyone has God within them.
– And last, but not least… Pray.”


Group-Ex Instructor reaches beyond classroom to help members experience the Y

Wellness EventKathleen Raiff has been teaching U-Jam Fitness at the El Camino YMCA for the last five years. The class blends world music, urban dance, and hip-hop into an athletic high intensity cardio workout.

A communications instructor at San Jose State University and De Anza College, teaching is a large part of who she is and she truly enjoys leading classes. It’s clear that her students are more than class participants. After a while, they become friends. Before teaching U-Jam, she taught Hip-Hop classes, Hi-Lo Aerobics and a Moms & Tots class at Rancho San Antonio through the YMCA of Silicon Valley. Continue reading

El Camino YMCA Membership Director wins Regional Award

dakota_patrick_imageDakota Betts, Member & Teen Engagement Director at El Camino YMCA, won the Rookie of the Year Award at the recent AYP-Association of YMCA Professionals Conference (Chapter 82) in Walnut Creek, CA Oct. 8th. The award recognizes a current AYP Member with less than two years YMCA employment in a full-time professional position and someone whose displayed outstanding on-the-job achievement.

Dakota is humbled by the honor and grateful that it came from not only someone he respects as a colleague and mentor but someone he also considers a friend, he said. He was nominated by Patrick Kelley, AYP Member and Membership Director at Palo Alto Family YMCA. Continue reading

Sequoia YMCA Unsung Hero


Julie Wesolek, Executive Director and Janet Thomas

Over 100 service members from Redwood City clubs such as the VFW, American Legion, NFL Alumni, RWC Women’s Club, Rotary, Lions, and local dignitaries gathered at the Red Morton Veterans Senior Center in Redwood City on Saturday, October 1 for a prideful day of commemoration of Redwood City’s Interclub Service Unsung Hero Awards. Janet Thomas was honored as Sequoia YMCA’s Unsung Hero.

Janet exudes energy and approaches all tasks with enthusiasm and drive. Her positive spirit is motivating and inspiring to others, leaving a lasting impression on the people and communities that she works with. Janet has been a job coach for Kainos for the last 27 years. 21 of those years have been spent coaching the Kainos group at Sequoia YMCA. Kainos provides a wide variety of residential, vocational and related services to adults with developmental disabilities so that each individual may maximize his or her potential and become an active member of the community. Janet has excelled in mentoring adults with disabilities in the Redwood City community throughout her career.

In addition to her role at Kainos, she spent 24 years as the night manager at Hope House (retiring in 2015). Hope House for Women, a division of Service League of San Mateo, is a six-month residential alcohol and drug treatment program with mental health services for women who are released from the San Mateo County Women’s Correctional Center or California Department of Corrections, or are homeless. Karen Francone, Executive Director at Service League (Hope House says “Janet is the most humble person I know! She is always available for those in need and gives without expectation or a need for recognition. Her friendship is a true treasure to me, and if Janet was my only friend, I would be fulfilled. She is the real thing, a true unsung hero!”

At Sequoia YMCA, in addition to her role as the job coach for the Kainos group, Janet has been the glue that keeps us together. She’s trustworthy, respected and unites people with a focus towards a common goal. She is such a part of the YMCA that many people assume she is a YMCA staff person!  She is not! Janet knows all the members at the Y, and as staff come and go she has been the constant thread.  She’s certified to teach cycling and dance aerobics, EnhanceFitness and is willing to substitute for an instructor who can’t make it. She has been a community support volunteer for over 10 years and is a major donor.  She is one of top campaigners for the Y’s annual campaign and served as campaign chair and team captain recruiting others to volunteer.

Kainos is just one of the jobs Janet holds.  She also owns and operates a residence for people with developmental disabilities along with her business partner, Jessica Dabbs. She does additional volunteer work with Street Life Ministries and as an usher at her church. For years she has done fundraising for her church district ushers group by managing the concession stand at Stanford football and basketball games. She is on the board of directors for Free at Last, a drug and alcohol program for men and women.

As a native Texan, Janet is an avid fan of the Dallas Cowboys and San Antonio Spurs. She embodies the spirit of an unsung hero – doing great deeds with little or no recognition. Sequoia YMCA was delighted to be able to recognizes Janet’s years of selfless giving of her time and devotion at this community event.

Willingness to Try Something New

Claudia and her son

Claudia and her son

Claudia Cueller joined Sequoia YMCA a few months ago. She started coming to Zumba classes but didn’t know what most of the other classes were about, let alone if they were suited for her fitness level or if they would be a good fit for her goals. The weight machines were also unknown territory –Claudia had tried them before but didn’t really know if there were any specific number of reps she needed to do, or if she was using the machines correctly!

Then, about a month ago, she decided to have a more constant workout routine hoping that adding frequency would get her better results. She started coming 3 to 4 times a week to Zumba classes. After a few weeks, although she was enjoying the classes, she wasn’t seeing much progress in her weight-loss goals. She decided to schedule one of her free wellness coach appointments. It was such an eye-opening experience! Claudia realized that there were so many other activities that she was missing from her workout routine that were key to making a difference to her progress. During the first appointment she learned which other group exercise classes would be a good complement for her Zumba workouts.

In less than a week she had already tried 3 of them! One of them was BODYPUMP. Claudia was determined to learn and got herself in the front row of the class. Joe, the instructor, was so impressed with her focus and effort to maintain good form that he told the class to use her as an example! She’s very proud to see her discipline is earning her recognition at the Y.

On the second wellness coach appointment, Claudia learned to use each of the weight machines and how to incorporate them in her weekly workout routine. As an added bonus, she found out that a few adjustments to her daily nutrition habits would also help with her goals. She is now on a roll and ready to take on the journey ahead! Her courage to try something new, her willingness to learn and apply it to her daily lifestyle, her diligence to make use of the tools and resources that the Y offers, all of them combined have completely revamped her view of wellness and fitness. Claudia is now ready to continue on her personal wellness journey, but this time she has the odds on her side –and we’ve got her back! Go Claudia!

What’s your Y story?