A Vibrant Spirit of Volunteerism

A vibrant spirit of volunteerism has been at the core of YMCA of Silicon Valley for over 150 years. Volunteers are truly the heart and soul of our organization, essential to fulfilling our promise to strengthen community.

More than 5,700 volunteers give back to YMCA of Silicon Valley annually, and each year the Y proudly honors volunteers that go above and beyond to serve their communities.

This year, 25 exceptional Y volunteers received honors for their outstanding community contributions through activities such as mentoring teens, coaching youth sports, serving on boards, and participating in fundraising efforts. These opportunities help volunteers enhance their personal well-being and develop meaningful relationships, while making an impact in the community.

Mt. Madonna YMCA Youth Volunteer of the Year, Carlos Martinez, and Distinguished Service Award Recipient, Laura Sellheim, pose with their awards.

Each YMCA of Silicon Valley branch honored an outstanding adult and youth volunteer at the 2018 Volunteer Appreciation Event at Avaya Stadium, home of the San Jose Earthquakes soccer team on Saturday, June 9th. Adult honorees were presented with the Distinguished Service Award, while youth received the Youth Volunteer of the Year award, presented by YMCA of Silicon Valley President, Sandy Berlin Walker, and YMCA of Silicon Valley Board of Directors Chairman, David Kennedy.

After the ceremony, honorees and guests joined fellow members of the Y community in the stands to watch the San Jose Earthquakes soccer team play Los Angeles Football Club for the first time. An inclusive organization, the Y was proud to be the featured non-profit on Pride Night. Our Y community joined the vibrant LGBTQ community to encourage the San Jose Earthquakes and celebrate inclusion.

Learn more about our 2018 Distinguished Service Award Recipients, and our 2018 Youth Volunteers of the Year.

Channel Your Inner Child

Omer and his two younger brothers were raised learning that, with vision and hard work, nothing is out of reach. The boys grew up with rich Israeli heritage, among family and friends facing the challenges of immigration. Omer quickly learned that there is great power in building connections with those around you, and great reward in lifting others up.

Omer is a high school junior studying AP Physics and AP Calculus. Starting on the college admissions journey with an end goal of a computer engineering career, it was becoming all too easy for Omer to get lost in the rush of his own aspirations. Had his Guidance Counselor not suggested community service as a way to achieve his college goals, Omer would still be forging down his own path with blinders on. When handed the book of service opportunities in the Guidance Counselors office that day, one option stood out – Kids Club at Southwest YMCA. Reading the description, his little brother came to mind. Omer explains, “In my free time I hang out with my brothers all the time, so I thought doing the same thing with other kids would be a fun opportunity.”

Since he started volunteering with YMCA Kids Club a year ago, life has only grown busier — but Omer continues to make time to give back. Initially motivated by the looming cloud of college applications, his inspiration has shifted with every visit to Kids Club. Today, Omer is entirely motivated by the kids and the lessons they teach him.

High School, Omer explains, is a place where people make snap judgements about one another. Connections between peers fizzle out before they’ve even had a chance to form. Kids Club couldn’t be more opposite. Kids come into the club with open hearts and open minds. Omer describes, “One kids says, ‘Hi’, another says, ‘Hi’ back, and the next thing you know they are best friends, sharing toys and laughter.” Omer laments that connections aren’t that simple at every age. Volunteering with kids has inspired him to challenges himself. Every day is an opportunity to channel his inner child when interacting with his own peers — and he has a handful of new friends to show for it.

The best lesson YMCA Kids Club imparts is the beauty of being yourself. “One little boy, about 3-years-old, comes in all dressed up every time.” Omer elaborates, “He wears a fireman’s costume, and he just absolutely loves showing it off.” This little boy has no fear of judgement, no doubt that he can’t become a fireman someday, and no hesitation in sharing his dream with others.

The spirit Omer see’s in young kids like this one, including his own youngest brother, is a quality Omer hopes to nurture in himself, and all the kids he works with. A reserved child, Omer grew up shy and often afraid to be himself. An older family friend was a source of inspiration for Omer, showing him by example that being uniquely yourself was something to be proud of. However, the message didn’t really click for Omer until his little brother came along.

“Honestly, my little brother is my biggest inspiration. He is 7 years old and he never gives up or backs down.” Watching young kids approach with world with tenacity, determination, and a fearless sense-of-self has given Omer the courage and confidence to be himself, and to connect with people whom he might have dismissed with a snap judgement previously.

Omer hopes to use his time at Kids Club to nurture the dreams of every child. Most of all, he hopes to internalize the lessons the kids teach him, and use the knowledge to make the world a better place.

Giving his time back to the community has taught Omer invaluable lessons. He says, “I think we can all learn something from their approach in acceptance and generosity of spirit.”

Generations of Service

When asked how he became involved as a Y volunteer, Dean Chu flashed back a generation. “As a kid, I saw my dad volunteering at the Y”, Dean recalls. His father played various parts within the Y community as Dean grew up, serving as a camp cabin counselor, parent volunteer, and eventually on the camp committee. Y programs provided a foundation for family bonding, as camp outs, weekend adventures, and service projects were family functions for the Chu’s.

Through his service, Dean’s father instilled the values of commitment to community, continuing to serve and engage with the Y long after Dean was grown. His commitment lives on today through Dean’s continued service.

Dean’s own service started at just 9 years old, when he volunteered loading Christmas trees at the Y’s annual tree lot. He continued service throughout his teen years, volunteering as an assistant coach for his younger brother’s youth sports team. His service was tested when he embarked as a counselor on a canoe trip in his late teens. The kids outnumbered the counselors 75 to 10, but nonetheless, Dean cites all of his Y experiences as rewarding. It must be true, as after a brief hiatus during college and the start of his professional career, Dean reunited with the Y and hasn’t stopped serving the Y community since.

When Dean created a family of his own, he made sure that the Y was an integral piece of his children’s lives, as it was in his own childhood. The Y provided a unique opportunity for him to connect with his two daughters through the adventure guides program. Dean accompanied his daughters on adventure guide trips, and incorporated his love of water sports into Y programs. Dean has been an integral part of the Northwest YMCA for almost two decades now and served on the board of managers for the past 12 years.

Dean triumphed in his professional career, serving as Mayor of Sunnyvale, but his passion for service to the Y remained resolute. In fact, Dean cites his time in Y programs as a young man as critical in development of his leadership skills.

Now that his daughters are grown, Dean continues to serve his community, honoring the legacy of service his father left behind. He shared his wish for the next generation of Chu’s, saying, “I hope that my kids have seen all of the community volunteering that I’ve done with the Y and other organizations, and I hope they carry that forward.”

To honor his commitment to the Y over years of service, YMCA of Silicon Valley is pleased to recognize Dean as a 2018 Distinguished Service Award Recipient.

Teaming up for Mental Health

A  current junior at Gunn High School, Amber Fu has already made a profound impact on the health of her community. Honored as a 2018 Youth Volunteer of the Year award recipient, she has worked hard to create positive change. Amber began raising awareness for mental health when she was in middle school, following heartbreak close to home.

In 2009, a series of suicides swept through the Palo Alto area, shaking the community. “It’s deeply sad,” Amber said, struggling for words. “It’s hard to describe what it actually does to the community.” In the wake of tremendous tragedy, the community began to discuss why these deaths had happened, but few possessed the knowledge needed to prevent future deaths. “[The community] didn’t understand how to help and how to talk about mental illnesses or disorders.”

Inspired to turn her immense sadness into something productive, Amber looked for ways to continue the conversation, and turn it into action.

She began to educate herself on mental illness and suicide prevention measures, in case she ever needed to help a struggling friend or family member. By the time another cluster of suicides struck, Amber had realized the power of knowledge and awareness. Ready to make a difference, she started a chapter of the national organization, Bring Change to Mind, at Gunn High School. The club aims to raise awareness and teach habits that improve mental health. “We talk about how mental health effects family and friends, and what we can do to help create a conversation so that people feel more comfortable talking about the subject,” Amber describes.

While Amber continues to lead her peers towards better mental health through her club, Bring Change to Mind, she has expanded her reach to help the entire community, through the annual Palo Alto Community Health Fair.

For the past 3 years, Amber has played a huge part in bringing the health fair to life. Her club, Bring Change to Mind, has a booth each year and Amber contributes to the event as a whole. With each passing year, Amber’s responsibility has grown under the guidance of Palo Alto Family YMCA Executive Director Lee Pfab, and Board Member Jade Chao. Thanks to her outstanding mentors, she has learned critical leadership and organizational skills throughout the planning process.

The Palo Alto Community Health Fair takes months of planning and tons of hard work, but for Amber, it’s all worth it to see the community come together in the spirit of health. As an added bonus, she is able to take the new skills learned from her Y mentors back to her club at Gunn High School to put on bigger and better events. Amber is excited to reach more students and prevent suicides on a larger scale.

What’s next for Amber? She’s plans to study psychology and neuroscience at a top college or university, to continue making an impact for those with mental illness.

Overnight Camp 101: Camp Campbell is Calling!

Worried your child isn’t ready to head off to overnight camp? Think again! Camp Campbell’s Associate Executive Director, Stacey Otlin explains that often, parents actually struggle most when their child is away from home. Parents are left with unfamiliar free time while kids are surrounded by peers and counselors providing the experience of a lifetime.

Camp Campbell leadership veterans, Stacey and Trevor, came to chat with parents and kids about how to prepare for a week of overnight camp, and why it’s well worth it! They gave the inside scoop on all the benefits campers experience from overnight camp, and strategies to ease apprehension while leaving the nest for a week of adventure.

Prepare you and your child for overnight camp this summer with answers to questions from real parents answered by overnight camp experts!

What will my child gain from attending overnight camp?

Children and teens who attend overnight camp experience a strengthened EQ (emotional quotient) and develop the core competencies needed to form connections with others confidently. Technology is a huge element of life today, and while it brings many good things with it, kids are struggling to connect with peers in the same way as previous generations.

A technology free week at camp reintroduces campers to social cues, helping them respond appropriately to physical and facial cues, and better interpret social situations. Camp creates a culture of inclusivity and kindness that allows campers to develop these critical social skills without fear. Campers build self-confidence through connecting with others.

So my child can’t have a phone? Not even to call home?

Take notes here parents. Stacey and Trevor both have over 10 years of overnight camp experience, and both agree that children are less likely to suffer from homesickness if the parent and child begin the week prepared for the fact that they will not be communicating through technology.

In fact studies show that a call home escalates a child’s level of homesickness. So leave the cell phones at home, and let the campers immerse themselves in planned technology free activities.

Will my child be well supervised?

YMCA Camp Campbell has 60 trained staff members on hand for 250 campers, creating a 1:6 counselor to camper ratio. Your child will receive personalized attention around the clock. For many campers, the personalized attention creates an even better learning environment than school offers.

My teenager doesn’t listen to authority. Will they listen to a counselor?

Camp provides a unique learning environment. While counselors are thoroughly trained and equipped to educate and advise, they are typically between the ages of 18 and 24, making them close enough in age to retain the “cool” factor needed to be a positive role model. Unlike parents or teachers, counselors connect with campers as supervising peers. They are trained to use their influence to make kindness “cool” at camp!

What if my child gets homesick?

Homesickness happens. Fortunately, the experienced counselors are trained to help kids cope with these feelings. Counselors act as surrogate caregivers to campers, and use behavior management techniques to redirect camper’s yearning for home into excitement for the activities at hand. Connections formed with other campers, and counselors also help kids to combat feelings of homesickness.

What can I do to prevent my child from being homesick?

There are steps parents can take to set campers up for success.

First, be sure that your child feels included in the decision making process. If your child feels like they didn’t have a choice in attending camp, choosing activities, or even in what they packed, they are more likely to experience homesickness. Let your child be an active part of the decision making process, from enrollment to packing, and they will be more successful! Look through camp options and discuss them together.

Second, remember that your children feed off what you’re feeling. If you show feelings of anxiety about being separated from your child, they will feel more anxious about the impending separation themselves. If you seem nervous they won’t make friends, or will get hurt, or anything else parents worry about, be sure to keep these worries to yourself, so as not to pass them onto your children. Regardless of what you might be thinking of feeling, focus on how you want them to feel about the experience. You want them to have fun, make friends, and enjoy nature? Talk about how you are so excited for them to do those things!

Homesickness can be a self-fulfilling prophecy, so assure your camper that they will be just fine, and they will be!

Lastly, campers who have prior experience outside of their comfort zone are better equipped to adapt. Show your child that trying new things can be fun before the week of camp begins. Encourage them to step out of their comfort zone, for example, allow them to sleepover somewhere new without you for a night. Even the simplest of new experiences can demonstrate the benefits of trying new things.

How do I know my child will be safe?

YMCA Camp Campbell takes safety seriously. Full time medical professionals are on site at all times, and additional doctors and nurses are just a short drive away. The camp maintains a close relationship with local law enforcement, fire fighters, and emergency responders, staying up to date on emergency protocols should something happen. Counselors and camp staff participate in weeks of training before camp is in session to keep campers safe and happy all summer long.

My child has food allergies. What will they eat?

Some of the produce served is grown and hand-picked right on camp property, from the garden or greenhouse.

YMCA Camp Campbell, like most top notch summer camp facilities, provides a variety of healthy food options to suit all dietary needs. Kid friendly meals are served family style, with accommodations in place for vegans, vegetarians, lactose intolerance, gluten allergies, nut allergies, and other dietary restrictions.

Additionally, a salad bar is always available at lunch and dinner to ensure kids get plenty of produce. At breakfast, a daily fruit and yogurt bar provides campers with fuel for a full day of activities.

After parents fired off question after question to Stacey and Trevor about overnight camp, a future camper himself voiced the final question, “So when is it?”

If you also have a camper excited to sign up for overnight camp this summer, head to YMCA Camp Campbell to find the right camp for your child!

Summer Fun Starts with Safety Around Water

On the soundtrack of summer fun, a day at the pool is a well-known track. Kids shrieking amidst laughter, water splashing, shouts of, “Marco” and the familiar echo of “Polo” to follow. But the quintessential element that allows for the joyous sounds of water fun flies under the radar – water safety.

Water safety should be practiced, emphasized, and understood by parents and children alike to keep summer free of accidents, unnecessary risks, and preventable deaths.

During National Water Safety Month, let’s turn up the volume on water safety skills so that all can feel confident and calm in and around water. At the Y, we believe everyone should have the chance to learn how to stay safe around water.

The senate acknowledges the importance of this initiative, naming May 2018 as California YMCA Safety Around Water Month.

First, let’s face the facts. Drowning poses a threat to the health and well-being of people nationwide, particularly among children.

Drowning kills 2 children every day. In California, drowning is the leading cause of injury related death for children under 5. Low income youth are particularly at risk. In fact, 79 percent of children from low income families have no/low swimming ability. Most concerning, is the fact that 87 percent of youth who have no swimming ability said they plan to go swimming this summer.

In the past, parents hoped to minimize risk for their child by keeping them away from water. The reality is that the best way to keep your child safe is to prepare them with water safety skills. Many parents don’t put their children in water safety lessons because of lack of access to water, culture, family history or a general lack of knowledge on the importance of water safety.

The Y has been a leading source of water skills since 1909. We are proud to be the most accessible community resource to prevent drowning and develop life-saving skills. Enjoy the water with confidence this summer, learn more now.

Take the Plunge to Better Health

The Y’s aquatic programs promote adult health and wellness goals!

Adults benefit from formal swim lessons.

Many adults spend a hot summer day sitting by the pool, watching kids play, relaxing with a book, or just soaking up the sun. If you’ve been longing to get in the water but lack the swimming skills to do so, you are not alone! Over half of all American adults don’t know how to swim – but it is never too late to learn. In fact, learning swim basics can provide a plethora of benefits for you and your family.

The Y’s adult aquatic programs can help you learn the skills you need to become a confident swimmer -and start enjoying the benefits! Swimming offers physical and mental health benefits, prevention and treatment of chronic diseases, and keeps you and your kids safer around water.

Physical and Mental Health Benefits

Swimming is a fantastic physical workout. A low impact cardiovascular activity, swimming keeps your heart rate up allowing you to build and tone muscle without placing undue stress on your body. Swimming has been proven to help promote a healthy weight, and maintain heart and lung health. Additionally, swimming is good for the mind. It’s methodical and calming nature helps alleviate stress and restore balance. It can also improve moods, decrease anxiety, and ease depression.

Prevention and Treatment of Chronic Diseases

The CDC confirms that using swimming as a regular aerobic activity can decrease the risk of chronic illness. Swimming is proven to help treat symptoms of diabetes and heart disease. For people with arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, or osteoarthritis, swimming improves use and mobility of affected joints and decreases pain. Swimming has also been shown to promote healthy aging, by decreasing the rate of disability and supporting bone health.

Family Well-being

Not only has swimming been shown to strengthen family connections on an emotional level, but when an adult is knowledgeable about swimming and water safety techniques, the entire family is safer around water. Kids are able to learn safety skills and have them reinforced at home, and parents are better equipped to respond correctly should a water emergency occur. Additionally, expectant mothers can use swimming to strengthen their connection with the unborn child and safely exercise throughout the pregnancy.

Ready to take the plunge towards better health?

Remember, no one is born knowing how to swim. It is a skill everyone has to learn, so why not start now? The Y’s adult aquatic programs will make conquering this new challenge a fun and rewarding experience. Designed to promote water safety and develop strong swim skills, participants of all ages and ability levels will leave ready to make a splash!

Learn more about our programs and enjoy all that swimming has to offer.

Build confidence and keep kids safe around water with swim lessons!

Playing in the pool on a hot summer’s day is a kid’s paradise! Kids don’t realize that as they swim, they are actually learning skills and valuable life lessons that help them achieve personal growth. Swimming nurtures cognitive, social, and physical development in children.

Explore some of the benefits swimming can provide for your child:

Confidence. No one is born knowing how to swim – it is a learned skill that allows kids and teens to see clear progress, and to take pride in their accomplishments.

Sportsmanship. Like other sports, swimming has competitive elements that allow children to learn teamwork, gracious winning and losing, and cooperation.

Physical Health. A great adaptive exercise, swimming is a healthy habit that can be enjoyed for a lifetime. It has been shown to prevent chronic diseases, and help maintain healthy weights.

Before you pack your towels and suntan lotion in preparation for a day at the pool, make sure you and your children are prepared with techniques and skills to enjoy the water safely.

The numbers speak for themselves — participation in formal swimming lessons can reduce the risk of drowning by 88% among children aged 1-4. When you consider the fact that drowning is the leading cause of unintentional injury death among children in this age group, and one of the top three causes among those age 29 and under, the need for swimming instruction is clear.

While supervising your child and making sure a lifeguard is present while they swim are great precautionary steps, the reality is that drowning incidents still occur while under supervision. The best way we can prevent drowning is by empowering kids and teens directly, by teaching them lifesaving water safety skills. Before you head to the pool, talk to your kids about these water safety tips:

  1. Never swim unsupervised. Teach your children that they should only swim in locations where a lifeguard is on duty. Ensure they tell you before they enter the water, so you can make sure your children are supervised at all times.
  2. Don’t engage in excessive breath holding. Discourage children from holding their breath for a prolonged amount of time, as this can cause drowning and has several other severe physical side-effects.
  3. Use a flotation device. Inexperienced or non-swimmers should wear a Coast Guard-approved life jacket to safely enjoy the water.
  4. Don’t jump in to save a struggling swimmer. Explain to your child that the best way to help a struggling swimmer is the “reach, throw, don’t go” concept of using a long object to reach the swimmer and pull them to safety, without compromising one’s own well-being.
  5. Sign up for water safety or swim lessons. Formal lessons teach skills that will empower your kids to stay safe around water.

The Y is proud to offer a variety of aquatic programs designed to promote water safety and develop strong swim skills. We offer 3 levels of programming, including Swim Starters, Swim Basics, and Swim Strokes. Explore your local YMCA’s schedule to enroll your child in a program right for them.

Learn more about the Y’s fun and effective swim programs and enjoy a safe summer!

Competition is for All Ages

Gold Medal Winners

Former Redwood City Mayor Georgi LaBerge, and her husband, Warren Dale, pastor at the Woodside Road United Methodist Church, share a deep love for one another and for Redwood City. They’re the perfect pair who constantly give. They give to one another and they have a long, rich history of giving back to Redwood City, the community they love and have called home for many years.

Georgi and Warren have been members at Sequoia YMCA for over 10 years. They have both been active in our EnhanceFitness class for the last year and a half. Georgi also leads the weekly power walking group on Tuesday mornings. Last month they both participated in the Huntsman World Senior Games bringing home gold medals! Georgi received gold medals in power walking in the 3K and 5K race and a silver medal in the 1500 meter race in the 80 – 84 age category. Warren received a gold medal in volleyball in the 76 and over age category and silver in the 73 and over volleyball competition. Both give credit to EnhanceFitness.

At the senior games they have health screenings for all the athletes, this year the screenings showed that Georgi’s balance was much improved. She gives credit to the class for this improvement and wants to continue to work on it this year. She plans to continue EnhanceFitness to help with her balance and overall fitness. “One of the greatest benefits of the exercises in the class is that it helps with all parts of the body including wrists ankles, neck – many of the areas you don’t think about. It really helps to loosen and strengthen all parts of my body.”

Warren describes volleyball as a sport where you are constantly moving and reacting to where the ball is, so you never know what muscles you will be using. It requires great eye-hand coordination. The class has helped him tone and strengthen almost all the muscles in the body. He has found himself able to react to the ball and set up for offensive and defensive positions. “The class also helps me maintain my defensive and offensive ‘squats’. You have to be low – the lower you can go, the better you can make the play and move the ball to the proper place, or cover someone else’s strategic move.”

For Warren he has been able to take some of the stretches and make use of them during the week of the games and particularly at tournament play. In addition, the chair exercises help him stay loose when he is helping courtside as umpire for the other volleyball games.

Power Walking

Impressed? Come join Georgi and learn power walking on Tuesdays at 8:00 at Woodside High track, or join them on Mondays and Wednesday at EnhanceFitness at 7:45 a.m. here at Sequoia Y. If you see them in the halls, say congrats on their medals at the Huntsman Games.

“A safe environment to grow.” – Summer Learning Program

Ava’s Story, Del Roble Elementary

“The South Valley Family YMCA Summer Learning Program at Del Roble Elementary was a godsend to our family. Our daughter Ava enjoyed every minute. I have never seen a child so happy to be attending a program during her summer vacation,” the Lopez family marveled. “She had nothing but great things to say about her leaders and teacher.”

Del Roble Elementary, Summer Learning Program

Del Roble Elementary, Summer Learning Program

At the Y, we know that the greatest academic losses can be seen during the summer months, when numerous children – particularly those from low-income families – lack access to regular educational activities. Studies confirm that locally, almost half of all children are currently performing below grade level, and with each year that passes, these struggling students are more likely to fall even further behind their peers.

Ava had the chance to use educational apps and programs like Lexia, Dreambox, and Raz-kidz with devices such as Google Chrome Books, iPads, and Apple desktops. Tools like these keep children engaged and eager to learn. Technology-based learning supports the development of 21st Century skills, which includes collaboration, critical thinking, creative development, and communication.

For the Lopez family, they immediately heard and saw the impact the program was having on Ava. “We couldn’t wait to pick up Ava every day to hear about she did.”

The stats are compelling. An evaluation conducted in 2015 found that first grade students who participated in the program gained an average of 5 months in their reading assessments and first grade students gained 3 months. Even more telling, every single participant reported that the program helped them become more excited to learn.

“We will be forever thankful for the wonderful educational and recreational opportunities the Y provides for our family. Ava has developed socially, mentally and physically since being enrolled with the Y. Her STEM/Literacy post test scores reflected this firsthand after finishing the Summer Learning Program,” says the Lopez family. “Thank you for giving our daughter a safe environment to grow and learn.”