All Are Welcome at the Y

No matter where you come from or where you’re going, the Y community welcomes you.

For many Americans, the zip code you’re born into has a huge impact on your ability to determine your future. The Y strives to change this reality, by opening its doors to all, creating opportunities for children, adults and families to learn, connect, grow and thrive.

We believe everyone deserves the same opportunities, no matter who you are or where you’re from, because in one of the wealthiest countries in the world, five numbers (your zip code) shouldn’t determine your destiny.

From early learning to college prep, year-round meal programs to mentorship, the Y’s programs and services help ensure everyone can flourish, regardless of who they are or where they’re from.

Here’s how people from your neighborhoods are using Y programs to achieve a better life, and improve the lives of those in their community.

Zip code 95126 – Central YMCA

Bella and her two young daughters joined Central YMCA after leaving an abusive home environment. Searching for a safe space for herself and her children to heal and discover new positive family dynamics, the Y offered a fresh environment for their family to start anew.

Getting back on their feet had been emotionally and economically exhausting.  Financial assistance helped Bella get a family Y membership and swim lessons for her daughters. On swim lesson days, Bella would bring the girls to Kid’s Club so that she could have some time to herself for a workout class and a shower with peace of mind. Her daughters loved the Kid’s Club staff and felt safe there.

From there they would head to the pool for swim lessons. Her older daughter, Miriam, had limited experience in pools, but took to swimming “like a fish!”  By summer’s end, she passed her swim test, gained confidence, and felt immense pride. Miriam’s accomplishments in the pool inspired her younger sister to work towards the goal of passing the swim test herself. Bella is confident that with the support of Y staff, both her daughters will be strong confident kids and swimmers by next summer. “Without Central YMCA, I would have felt lost. We get so excited to come to the Y and forget our troubles for a few hours every day. I’m just so grateful.”

Zip code 95014 – Northwest YMCA

As a father, Shin Choi has enjoyed connecting with his children through the exploration of the great outdoors, thanks to his involvement in Northwest YMCA’s Adventure Guides program. Choi joined Adventure Guides to spend quality time with each of his children, and his family was able to share the experience with friends too. Today, his eldest daughter is in college but they still remember enjoying Adventure Guides together. Shin Choi shares, “I have memories for a lifetime with all my kids – priceless.”

Zip code 95070 – Southwest YMCA

A new member to Southwest YMCA, Chusak Chamkasem, took his wife’s advice in joining. Already a member, his wife understood just how much her husband’s health could benefit from consistently swimming at the Y. He was reluctant to join, but with encouragement from his wife and the enthusiastic Y membership staff, he made the commitment to improve his health.

When he arrived at the Y, his heart health needed improvement, and he was dealing with severe sciatic pain in his leg. Chusack started by walking slowly in the pool and was pleasantly surprised to find that it was not exhausting, but rather, energizing. From there, he increased his activity level by jogging in the pool with a kick board. 6 days a week he did 35 laps of the 25 ft pool, taking him anywhere from 45 to 60 minutes. After almost 2 months of consistent work at the Y, he found the sciatica in his left leg had decreased dramatically. His motivation to continue working on his health has increased each day with the encouragement from Y staff, and the tangible improvements to his health.

Zip code 94303 – Lewis and Joan Platt East Palo Alto Family YMCA

Kim’s first experience with the Y was as a young child. She learned to swim at the East Palo Alto Family YMCA, and spent many summers participating in day camp. As a middle schooler, Kim participated in the Youth Institute program, and transitioned into Youth and Government when she entered Castalleja High School.

This year marks Kim’s fourth year in the Y’s Youth and Government Program. She has taken on new challenges, and grown as a leader over the course of these 4 years, serving as the East Palo Alto YMCA’s Delegation’s President this year. Her involvement in the program has helped Kim grow. She has developed public speaking skills and become a confident young leader.  Kim has embraced her leadership role, inspired to help other students have the same positive experience that she has enjoyed.

Zip code 94303 – Palo Alto Family YMCA

Suhani Sethi was 12 years old when she moved from India with her family to Palo Alto, CA. She remembers how scared she was starting a new school in a new environment. Her mother signed her up for Palo Alto Family YMCA’s Youth & Government program, Model United Nations, and originally Suhani tried her best to get out of it, “My mother, adamant as ever, dropped me off at my first meeting and sat outside because she thought I would try to leave.”

Over time, Suhani fell in love with the program and realized how close she had become with fellow delegates and how much the experience meant to her. She had found the place of belonging she had been longing for. Suhani was such an active participant in the program she decided to run for and was elected President of the Palo Alto delegation. “I got to learn new things with my peers while simultaneously leading them in group activities. Model United Nations provided learning opportunities for me while also providing a second home.”

Four years later, Suhani continues to thrive in Youth & Government in the high school program, Model Legislature & Court, and was recently appointed as a committee chair for a Legislative House in the statewide program.

Zip code 94040 – El Camino YMCA

While it’s hard for 10-year-old Wynter to decide who her favorite basketball player is, one thing is clear—she likes to be on the court. Her Aunt Vanetta was in search of a welcoming place where she and her niece could work out together to help Wynter reach a healthy weight for her age. The Y offered Vanetta a place to support Wynter’s health, and nurture their growing relationship.

“At the Y, I found a family-friendly place where my niece and I could exercise. The Y has helped me mentally and physically, and has helped my niece emotionally, as she lost her mother a few months ago and faces some health concerns. Exercising together has been awesome. She dances and sings on the machines and makes it very fun. She gets so excited about basketball, her new favorite activity.”

Zip code 94061 – Sequoia YMCA

Despite frost and freezing night-time temperatures, 10 middle school students from Redwood City had an amazing time exploring and photographing fall colors and scenes in Yosemite. Partnering with Parks in Focus, the Udall Foundation, the Yosemite Conservancy, and our very own donors, Sequoia YMCA was once again able to provide these students the opportunity of a cost free, once in a lifetime camping trip to Yosemite National Park. The original August trip was delayed due to the forest fires in Yosemite and rescheduled for this fall. From seeing Half Dome courtesy of Glacier Point, to a sunset hike up Sentinel Dome, the pictures from these participants of this photography camp truly speak for themselves.

Additionally, all participants and staff participated in a stewardship project to help keep Yosemite safe and beautiful! This year’s project was weeding plants that do harm to the park, as well as planting new plants in areas that were destroyed due to cars driving over them and people hiking off trails through them.

“Many of our local youth have never had the opportunity to explore our national parks or experience sleeping outdoors,” said Julie Wesolek, executive director of Sequoia YMCA. “We are proud to be able to partner with Parks in Focus® to provide amazing opportunities that foster resiliency and a love for the outdoors. The focus on photography and conserving our public lands is the icing on the cake.”

Zip code 95037 – Mt Madonna YMCA

A woman walking by the Gilroy wellness studio heard the beats of the music and decided to walk in. Immediately welcomed by Y staff, she began to ask questions about what classes were offered. As she learned about membership and group fitness classes, another member jumped in to say simply, “come and join us!”

Drawn in by the enthusiastic welcome, the woman agreed, “Okay, I will try it.” Blown away by the amazing welcome she signed up for the Y that day. A single mom, she was new to the area, looking for friends and a place to belong. Her teenage son has disabilities, so she hoped to be able to bring him with her when she came to workout.

The Y staff immediately let her know that as an inclusive organization, he would of course be welcome at the Y. Her face lit up with a huge smile and hugs of gratitude were shared. The following week, mother and son came to the studio. Everyone in the facility was welcoming, caring and happy to see them. Now they attend the Gilroy wellness studio 4-5 times a week. She has made friends and, thanks to the Y she feels welcomed in the community, engaged, socially and emotionally part of the YMCA family.

Donors, volunteers, members, Y staff, and community members like YOU help millions of people develop the skills and relationships they need to be healthy, confident, and connected– helping the Y build equity in communities across the country.

Recipe for the Perfect Photo – Youth, Yosemite and Fall Weather

Despite frost and freezing night-time temperatures, 10 middle school students from Redwood City had an amazing time exploring and photographing fall colors and scenes in Yosemite this fall.

Parks in Focus®, a program that connects middle school youth from under-served communities to nature through photography and outdoor learning, has worked with Sequoia YMCA for 4 years in a row to facilitate opportunities for Bay Area youth to visit, explore, and photograph Yosemite National Park. In partnership with Parks in Focus, the Udall Foundation, the Yosemite Conservancy, and generous Y donors, Sequoia YMCA was able to provide these 10 students a cost free, once in a lifetime camping trip to Yosemite National Park.

From seeing Half Dome, to a sunset hike up Sentinel Dome, this program offered youth a chance to explore the outdoors and learn photography skills. “Many of our local youth have never had the opportunity to explore our national parks or experience sleeping outdoors,” said Julie Wesolek, executive director of Sequoia YMCA. “We are proud to be able to partner with Parks in Focus® to provide amazing opportunities that foster resiliency and a love for the outdoors. The focus on photography and conserving our public lands is the icing on the cake.”

Working alongside park rangers and professional photographers, the teens sharpened their photography skills while hiking and taking in stunning views of Half Dome, El Capitan, and Yosemite Falls.

In addition to capturing breathtaking photos, the teen participants and staff joined in a stewardship project to help keep Yosemite safe and beautiful. They helped restore native plant habitat by weeding plants that do harm to the park, as well as planting new plants in areas that were destroyed due to cars driving over them and people hiking off trails through them. The teens were sworn in as Junior Rangers a culminating ceremony.

Sebastian, Age 11, describes, “This was a great experience, the best trip I’ve ever been on. It was great to figure out how to make food without a kitchen and learn how to use shadowing to make my photograph stand out.”

Generous support from the Yosemite Conservancy, participants were able to keep their digital cameras as an opportunity to continue their photographic explorations.

Photo highlights from their adventures are displayed at the Ansel Adams Gallery and other venues each year. “Yosemite Conservancy donors make it possible for us to provide this life-changing opportunity for kids to visit Yosemite,” said Yosemite Conservancy President Frank Dean. “We are delighted to support Parks in Focus® and its efforts to inspire a lifelong appreciation for our national parks by giving kids the chance to discover nature through a camera lens.”

You can view more of their photos here

Best Photos by Kids

Best Photos of Kids

Have a Healthy AND Happy Holiday Season!

Maintain Healthy Habits

If you’ve been hitting the gym multiple times a week, squeezing in extra servings of fruits and vegetables each day, or taking the stairs instead of the elevator, keep it up! Don’t let the holiday season be a reason to stop pursuing your goals. While the holidays might not be the best time of year to set new goals, stay the course working towards the goals you have in place.

With a little commitment and support from the Y community, you can maintain the healthy habits you’ve been working towards all year long.

Manage Stress

The holiday season is a box full of cheer tied up with a ribbon of stress. From searching for the perfect gift, to feeling the strain on your wallet, to hosting family and friends, the holidays can feel overwhelming.


Prioritize self-care to manage stress by staying active, connecting socially, and getting plenty of sleep. Take a yoga or Pilate’s class at your local Y, grab coffee with a friend, or treat yourself to an extra hour of sleep. Lean on family, friends, and neighbors to keep your spirits high and your stress low.



Travel Safely

Whether you’re traveling across town or around the world, plan to travel safely. Always wear a seat belt, and make sure to buckle your child and use any necessary safety seats. Never drive under the influence. Be responsible for your safety and the safety of others by limiting your intake, or assigning a designated driver.

Know Your Spending Limits

Set a budget for gift giving and stick to it. Financial stress can feel extra pressing during the holiday season, but planning and creativity will get you through the holidays on a budget.

Consider giving handmade gifts, or the gift of time. Cooking someone a meal, giving new parents a night out while you babysit, or offering to clean someone’s house are gifts that recipients will love and will cost you nothing. It’s easy to be swept up in the consumerism of the season, but remember that it isn’t about money or gifts. Focus on enjoying quality time with loved ones to avoid stressing over less important things.

Indulge Smart

Opportunities to overindulge are everywhere from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Eve, but use these strategies to keep your appetite in check.

Don’t skip meals with the goal of “saving calories” for a big feast. This strategy often backfires, leaving you feeling full, sluggish, and off-track. Instead, have a healthy, protein packed snack like string cheese, almonds, or yogurt to prevent over-eating later. Allow yourself to indulge in your favorite holiday treats, as long as you pick and choose tour splurges, and truly savor each bite.

Feed Your Heart by Feeding Others

Every November, YMCA Adventure Guide families’ team up to build Thanksgiving meal boxes to donate to low-income families in the Y’s Grant-funded Afterschool program. Y staff from both Adventure Guides and Afterschool Grant-funded care facilitate the inter-program giving by personally loading the boxes into their vans for delivery to the 6 afterschool sites.

Audrey Voss, Youth and Family Outreach Director at South Valley Family YMCA, describes the giving experience, “It’s been a great way to give back right in your own backyard and it fosters a sense of connection. I know the kids decorating the boxes feel like they were part of a family’s Thanksgiving that they never even met and they love that.”

In 2016, Adventure Guides families pulled together 60 boxes to share with those less fortunate. Last year in 2017, South Valley’s Adventure Guides made 80 boxes. This year, 109 meal boxes were created, more than any year yet.

The continued generosity within the Y community allows more and more families to benefit from the rewards of giving and receiving Thanksgiving Boxes each year.

Community Leaders Support Local Youth

YMCA of Silicon Valley donors “ignite the spark” to help local youth thrive.

Donors from across Silicon Valley were honored on Sunday November 4, 2019 at the YMCA of Silicon Valley’s Ignite the Spark Dinner. Over 200 attendees, all Y supporters, came together to celebrate the positive impact donors have made in the past year.

More than 12,000 donors and 7,000 volunteers joined YMCA of Silicon Valley to strengthen and support the community.

Last year alone, donors contributed more than $4.2 million dollars to the Y, making financial assistance possible for more than 18,000 kids, individuals, and families across Silicon Valley.

Kristin Burt, Principal at LUCHA Elementary School in San Jose, presented alongside her son, Callum, who participated in the Y’s Summer Learning Program alongside many peers able to join thanks to the Y’s financial aid offerings.

Principal Burt described the impact of the program, “This summer, 1,268 students enjoyed enriching educational experiences through Summer Learning Programs. I witnessed first-hand the power of a stimulating and supportive summer environment.”

Callum described how much fun he had in the program, describing how grateful he feels that other kids his age are able to enjoy the experience as well, thanks to donors and community leaders.

During the evening, Ed Bowen was honored as the 2018 Red Triangle Award recipient for his incredible 49 years of service and remarkable generosity.

Ed brings together the best of financial and real estate expertise to create safe, supportive environments for local youth to learn, grow, and thrive. His deep commitment has changed lives, especially for kids who have attended YMCA Camp Campbell, located in the heart of the California Redwoods.

All those who attended the event left inspired, content in the knowledge that igniting a spark for youth to grow will set the world aglow and brighten futures across the bay area.

Thank you for supporting the Y! 


Lowering Risk, Gaining Energy

Risk of developing type 2 diabetes is at an all-time high. In fact, more than 84 million Americans have pre-diabetes, elevating their risk of developing diabetes.

It is critical that people with pre-diabetes or a high risk of developing diabetes act NOW to lower their risk. While diabetes has no cure, pre-diabetes can be reversed through proper nutrition, physical activity, and lifestyle changes.

Changing your lifestyle is easier said than done, which is why the Y offers the Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP). Designed to support participants each step of the way, a trained lifestyle coach introduces topics in a supportive, small-group environment. Participants receive continuous support and encouragement as they explore how healthy eating, physical activity, behavior changes and weight loss can reduce their risk of developing diabetes.

Sarah, pictured right, before beginning the Y’s Diabetes Prevention Program.

42 year old mother of three, Sarah Maxey was one of these high risk Americans just nine months ago. Sarah has struggled with her weight her entire life, and making lasting lifestyle changes on her own proved frustrating and delivered unsatisfactory results. When she received an official diagnosis of pre-diabetes, heading into the New Year, she resolved to make lasting lifestyle changes.

Sarah was excited to find the YMCA’s Diabetes Prevention Program, which is part of the CDC-led National Diabetes Prevention Program and uses a CDC-approved curriculum. As a member of Valley Health Plan, Sarah’s insurance covered the program fee, allowing her to participate in the program at no cost. In addition, the YMCA of Silicon Valley offers a free membership as part of the program, providing access to the gym, pool, and fitness classes to encourage participants to be physically active.

From the moment she began the Y’s Diabetes Prevention Program, she was fully committed. “I was doing everything they said. One of their recommendations is to watch your fat grams. With my weight, I get 50 fat grams per day. When you make nutrition changes by yourself, you wonder, is it sugar, is it fat, is it carbs? But with this program it’s clear. I started to lose the weight, and then once they opened up the gym membership it started to go off a little bit faster.”

The clear cut guidelines gave Sarah the tools she needed to make smart food choices, while still enjoying the foods she loves. “The instructors provide you with the guidelines. It’s like they know where you are mentally every session. They know when to ask, do you need to restart? Do you need to revamp your food choices? Do you need to go back and look at your notes?” With help from supportive instructors, Sarah was mentally prepared to make healthy choices at every turn. Sarah’s children are very supportive of her healthy lifestyle at home, making her health journey a family effort.

With every pound lost, Sarah’s energy level increased, supporting her motivation to keep up with the program and commit to the gym.

Sarah and her daughter enjoy being active together.

Currently, Sarah works out 6 times a week at Central YMCA, often joined by her daughter. With a starting weight of 271 pounds, Sarah is down to 229 pounds and still going strong.

“I’m finally able to shop in a normal store and that’s really exciting for me. One of my goals was to be able to ride the rides at Great America with my children. I used to hold the bags but now I actually can ride the roller coasters, not just the ones without a seatbelt.”

Sarah’s energy levels are at an all-time high. Just waking up in the morning to take care of her kids used to zap Sarah’s energy supply. Thanks to the YMCA’s Diabetes Prevention Program, she has the energy to be the mom she wants to be, and then some.

“I’m going to stick with it.” Sarah says of her new lifestyle, “The gym membership is a key part of it. You can’t eat well and not exercise — it doesn’t work. It’s a full picture.”

The Y’s Diabetes Prevention Program has helped Sarah turn her life around, but she feels confident that she now has the tools to support her daughter, who shares her higher risk of diabetes.

Sarah’s daughter has learned what foods fuel a healthy heart and body through her health journey. The two hit the gym together regularly, having fun with yoga balls, taking family ZUMBA classes, and encouraging each other on family hikes.

Sarah leads her family on a hike.

Sarah hopes to serve as a source of inspiration for her children, and other people with pre-diabetes. “It’s about health first. The way you feel inside is most important to me. Being able to sleep, not being in pain, having patience with my kids, and knowing that I don’t have to worry about health issues like a heart attack or high blood pressure. You have to focus on that.”

42 pounds lighter and so much healthier than when she started, Sarah isn’t done yet. She is determined to keep up her healthy lifestyle to lose another 80 pounds, and ultimately be healthy enough to summit Mission Peak, a Fremont mountain with an elevation of 2,517 feet, with her family by her side.

A 100 Year Journey

Prepared to celebrate his 100th birthday on October 27, Antonio Ridolfo, affectionately known as Tony, shares his secret to healthy aging.

While he admits good genetics play a role in longevity, the key to a long and happy life lies in the people you surround yourself with. Good friends, strong family ties, and a supportive partner make every day worth living.

Tony’s life experiences have taught him the power of being part of a strong community. Growing up in an Italian immigrant family, his cultural ties never held him back from befriending people with different backgrounds. “I was fortunate.” Tony recalls, “I grew up in a big depression. It wasn’t so bad. In fact, as a youngster, I enjoyed most of the things that I did because everyone else was in the same boat, and we grew very close.”

He’s grateful to many of his teachers and classmates for encouraging him to continue his education, and enabling him to do so by opening doors and offering opportunities he never thought possible. The gesture of one teacher, Mr. Farkas, stands out clearly even 75 years later.

Tony recalls the encounter, “He said, ‘Tony, I thought you were going to college?’ I didn’t have enough money to even dream about going to college. He said, ‘If I get you a scholarship, will you go to college in September?’ So I said yes. I pursued school and received my Masters and PhD.”
Tony enjoyed a rewarding career as a pharmacist and medical professor. Now retired, he still believes strongly in the power of education and he donates his personal resources in the hopes of opening the door to education for the next generation of youth.

Since his wife passed over 12 years ago, Southwest YMCA has become his support system. A member since 2009, the Y is a place where Tony can take the values he’s treasured throughout his life and connect with like-minded individuals to make an impact. His strong sense of community, passion for education, and desire to help others make the Y community the perfect place for him.

Attracted to meeting new people and learning about journeys that differ from his own, he enjoys time spent at the Y. “You make friends. That’s what keeps me coming back. People are great and I’ve been very fortunate to meet them.”Whether he is chatting with new people in the lobby, taking aqua aerobics classes to stay active, or playing bridge in the rec room with friends Tony has a knack for making those around him feel a part of the Y community — his community.






As he approaches his 100th birthday, he shares sage advice for his younger self that all can benefit from, “Always be helpful, but also, really be mindful of what people need. Always strive to help people. There’s always someone worse off than you.”

Tony is filled with gratitude for all those who have been a part of his journey and contributed to the accepting communities he’s cherished throughout his life.

The ABC’s of Dealing with Bullies

Dealing with bullies is an unfortunate reality faced by 1 in 7 students grade K – 12 nationwide. Bullying is at epidemic proportions in this country, and millions of children and youth face similar situations every day in school. Together, we can put an end to this behavior.

Just like youth weren’t born knowing the alphabet, no one is born equipped to handle bullies alone. That’s why YMCA of Silicon Valley’s Project Cornerstone strives to empower youth with the skills they need to stop bullying and create an inclusive and compassionate culture.

Anne Ehresman, Executive Director of YMCA of Silicon Valley Project Cornerstone shares, “Our hope is that by teaching youth positive values, and giving them the tools to support one another, that bullying behavior becomes less prevalent in the community. We can create a safe and supportive culture when we teach youth how to prevent and address bullying behavior and equip adults to respond appropriately.”

Whether it’s you, your friend, your child, or a student who’s being bullied, be prepared to stand up to bullying, be it online or in person. Here are some tips and techniques for bullying prevention, easily remembered as the ABC’s.

The ABC’s of bullying prevention:

A – Adult
The single most effective way to stop a bullying situation is to get an adult involved. When it comes to bullying, there is no such thing as tattling. Confiding in a trained adult, like teachers or counselors, is the best way to stay safe and put an end to bullying.

** Adults, learn how to help when youth confide in you.

B –Body Language
Bullies tend to look for victims who don’t have a lot of self-confidence. Fake it until you make it by standing up straight, making direct eye contact, and walking with shoulders back, to deter bullies from choosing you as a target.

C – Comebacks
A creative verbal comeback can help diffuse a bullying situation. The following types of comebacks can help depending on the specific situation.

  1. Pretend to agree. Rather than arguing back if a bully says something rude like, “You stink!” try agreeing to confuse them, saying, “Stinking is my specialty!”
  2. Be honest. If the bully says, “Hey, you have really ugly clothes!” Try telling them the truth, saying, “Wow! This is my favorite outfit. Sorry you don’t like it!”
  3. Use humor. If the bully asks, “When was the last time you washed your hair – its nasty!” Respond comically, “Hmmm… I think it was when George Washington was the president of the United States. When was that, 1776?”
  4. Be direct. Calmly look the bully in the eye and express that you are done being bullied, “I’m tired of this and I’m not going to take it anymore.”

D – Draw Attention
In a threatening or unsafe situation, use your voice to let other people know you need help. Loudly yell things like, “Stop that now!” or “Leave me alone!” Whatever you shout, what matters most is using a loud volume.

E – Evade
The best fight is the one never fought. Avoid bullying encounters by walking away, sticking with friends, or standing near a trusted adult.

F – Friends
There is safety in numbers. Sticking with friends and people you trust to be UPstanders, someone who will do the right thing, will discourage a bully from choosing you as a target.

If you or someone you know uses these techniques and bullying persists, speak up and take action.

Even if you aren’t the one being bullied, you have a responsibility to take action. Six out of 10 teenagers say they witness bullying in school once a day, meaning that those 6 people have the ability to help stop bullying in its tracks. When bystanders intervene, becoming UPstanders, bullying stops within 10 seconds 57% of the time. Bullying is a serious issue that needs to be addressed before the situation escalates.

YMCA Project Cornerstone has compiled a plethora of resources to help adults offer guidance, youth become UPstanders, and everyone to get the help they need.

Giving Help to Others the Way I Was Helped

cancer survivor

Karen is now a Wellness Coach at Sequoia YMCA

Karen Biddle is a cancer survivor. She was diagnosed with estrogen receptor positive breast cancer in September of 2016. Soon after, she had a double mastectomy and reconstruction surgery as treatment for her breast cancer.

Prior to her diagnosis, she had been struggling with depression from the loss of her mother due to ovarian cancer the year before. Her cancer diagnosis put her in the fight for her own life. After the treatment was done, she felt all alone again. Her body felt worse, she was weak, and had aches and pains from the side effects of the tamoxifen. She knew she needed to exercise to start feeling better but didn’t know how she was going to do it by herself. She went to the local library looking for something entirely different and saw a flyer about the Living Strong Living Well cancer survivor program at the Y. She realized right then that she had to try and be in this program – that God was leading her there – so even if there was a waiting list she knew she would get in – so she called and signed up.

At the first class, the YMCA staff was very welcoming. The Living Strong instructors were also very attentive, supportive, caring, encouraging and compassionate. They were of course knowledgeable, but it was their hearts that really made the difference for her.

“The program helped me with my focus, concentration, memory, balance, coordination and strength. The most important thing I received from the program was that it brought my soul back to life. I am no longer alone. The wonderful women of the small group gave each other support and encouragement to keep going on our journey back to good health. We had fun, danced and laughed together. I am truly grateful and blessed to have had the opportunity to be a part of such a wonderful program that helps people get their body and their lives back – it truly helped me Mind, Body and Soul. “

After her twelve week program, Karen began volunteering for the next Living Strong Living Well group. She was instrumental in providing the same kind of support as others had provided her. Since that time, Karen has joined the staff at Sequoia YMCA. She enjoys staying active; from her high school days of being a pompom girl at Sequoia High School to earning her Kettlebell certification and most recently completing her Living Strong Living Well certification. As a former Living Strong Living Well graduate she enjoyed the program so much she wanted to pay it forward. She has compassion and the drive to help adult cancer survivors increase their quality of life.

wellness coach

Karen is glad to coach others on their journey to healthy living

“I am so happy to be able to give help to others the way I was helped. It is so rewarding to give back and be a part of other people’s journeys to good health and wellness.”

Strong Bodies, Strong Minds

The Y’s Living Strong Living Well program connects people recovering from any cancer — from thyroid cancer, to lung cancer, to breast cancer. Participants strengthen in spirit, mind, and body, regaining strength, rebuilding muscle mass, and increasing energy. Under the guidance of trained support staff, program participants recover together, building confidence as their bodies heal. The program  is offered at no cost, thanks to support from generous donors, the Stanford Health Improvement Program, and the Y.

Jeff, a Living Strong Living Well program participant from Palo Alto Family YMCA was initially diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2017. Later that year biopsy results revealed he also had bladder cancer. He went through two surgeries to remove the cancerous regions, and in February 2018 he began chemotherapy treatments.

Jeff, back row fourth in from the right, is back in action with his competitive softball team.

As an active member on a competitive softball travel team, getting back on the field after treatment motivated Jeff to recover. Down 20 pounds from the 2 surgeries and chemotherapy treatments, his energy was at an all-time low. Realizing that he couldn’t jump right back into his normal life without support, he joined the Y’s Living Strong Living Well program to build strength and confidence.

“It was almost like group therapy in a way, because everyone would do their strength training together, and then would move into stretching and meditating as a group, and we did all of it together,” Jeff describes the program experience. “For me this was a tremendous help. Getting myself back to playing condition and building strength was huge, but also being around other people going through similar things really helped me heal mentally.”

Now 6 months out from treatment, he is cancer free and grateful to the Living Strong Living well program for giving him his confidence back. “It was a tremendously uplifting and revitalizing experience.” Jeff continues to practice many of the strength and stretching routines at home as he continues to rebuild strength.

Audrey shows off her blessings of hope bracelet while at the doctors.

When breast cancer survivor Audrey was first diagnosed, she was overwhelmed with resources and support groups to choose from. The more she read and researched, the more obvious her choice became. Other programs offered support when you needed it, boasting low commitment, and schedule flexibility. Audrey’s approach to beating cancer did not align with these programs.

Fully committed to beating cancer and living life to the fullest as she recovered, she wanted a support program that would connect her with other committed cancer survivors and dedicated instructors – making South Valley YMCA’s Living Strong Living Well program the perfect fit.

The program offered Audrey the support and encouragement she needed to start taking small steps towards better health. In Audrey’s case, this was quite literal. She started walking on the treadmill at the Y. She enjoyed the results so much that she began to walk on her own too. Audrey explains that with every step on the treadmill, she felt her battle with cancer fall further behind her. Now a Living Strong Living Well program graduate, Audrey continues to walk daily.

Throat cancer survivor, Joe, became a member of Living Strong Living Well program after he had finished cancer treatment, but still wasn’t mentally or physically well. Counselors, doctors, and family members encouraged him to strengthen his body, advising that the mind would follow suit. Ready to make a positive change, Joe enrolled in Living Strong Living Well at Southwest YMCA. Sure enough, his strength returned with the support of program members and staff.

As his mental and physical health improved, Joe decided he wanted to give back. At the conclusion of the 12 week program, he had made up his mind. He would volunteer as a Living Strong Living Well Coach. Now 3 years from his initial cancer diagnosis, Joe is coaching a new batch of Living Strong Living Well program participants. “I want them to know that they have already overcome one of the hardest things possible and that they can get their strength back.”

Learn more about Living Strong Living Well here.