Delta Air Lines Contributes $25,000 to 2019 YMCA of Silicon Valley Summer Learning Programs

San Jose, Calif. – Thanks to a generous $25,000 sponsorship from Delta Air Lines supporting YMCA of Silicon Valley’s Summer Learning Program, San Jose youth will have a safe place to continue learning while school doors are closed this summer.

Delta’s support will help prevent summer learning loss and provide reading and enrichment to the 117 youth who will be participating in the 2019 YMCA Summer Learning Program at Rocketship Los Suenos Academy in San Jose.

The YMCA Summer Learning Program is designed to mitigate summer learning loss and improve literacy skills for low-income first through third grade students who are reading below grade level.

Over the last three years, Delta has partnered with the YMCA of Silicon Valley to help close the academic achievement gap for Silicon Valley youth through YMCA after school and summer programs that improve students’ educational readiness, engagement and outcomes, while helping them grow emotionally and physically, too.

“Our organization is deeply grateful for the continued support from Delta Air Lines,” says Sandy Berlin Walker, YMCA of Silicon Valley CEO. “Our partnership ensures we are able to offer high quality programs to community youth who otherwise would not have access to educationally enriching summer opportunities. As a result of Delta’s generosity, we’re able to provide even more San Jose students with opportunities to learn, grow, and thrive when school is out.”

Berlin-Walker stands with local youth.

When school is out for the summer, many children struggle to access educational and enrichment opportunities. The Y’s Summer Learning Program is part of an ongoing effort to close the academic achievement gap and ensure that all students have a safe and enriching environment to be in when school is out. Evidence-based research has shown that low-income students lose 2.5 to 3 months of learning each summer and this is cumulative over their school career. This program enables students to avoid falling further behind over the summer and even catch up to their peers performing at grade level by the start of the next school year. Additionally, studies show that getting kids to read at grade level by third grade significantly improves their likelihood of completing high school.

“Delta’s mission to connect the world starts with our commitment to being a strong partner to the communities where employees live, work and serve. Giving back is core to Delta and its culture, demonstrated by our commitment to invest one percent of net income to charitable organizations each year. We are proud to partner with the YMCA of Silicon Valley to help with our mission of advancing education, “ said Tad Hutcheson, Managing Director – Community Engagement at Delta.

The benefits for youth who participate in this program are undeniable.

Each year, 100% of participants who attend the Y Summer Learning Program do not meet standards in English Language Arts (ELA) proficiency prior to attending the program. Throughout the six week program, participants increase literacy levels, enjoy healthy meals and physical exercise, and benefit from enrichment activities, such as field trips to science museums.

Evaluations at the end of the 2018 program showed that these students not only avoided typical summer learning loss, but actually gained an average of 2.2 months in reading levels.

During summer 2019, YMCA of Silicon Valley will offer the YMCA Summer Learning Program at 19 school and community program sites throughout Silicon Valley, from Redwood City to Gilroy. For information about the YMCA’s Summer Learning Program, call (408) 715-6400 or visit http://www.ymcasv.org.

As a non-profit organization, the Y raises funds every year to help ensure that its programs and services remain accessible to all members of the community, regardless of income. Last year, more than 18,000 individuals throughout Silicon Valley were able to participate in YMCA programs and services as a result of the Y’s financial assistance program.

To learn how you can join Delta Air Lines in helping kids reach their full potential in your community, please visit: http://www.ymcasv.org/association/html/giving.html.

About the YMCA of Silicon Valley

YMCA of Silicon Valley is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit strengthening community through youth development, healthy living and social responsibility. Across Santa Clara and San Mateo counties, YMCA of Silicon Valley serves more than 262,000 members and participants — regardless of age, income or background —by nurturing the potential of children and teens, improving health and well-being, and providing opportunities to give back and support our neighbors. The organization collaborates with 200 community partners and delivers programs and services at 10 health and wellness facilities, one resident camp in the Santa Cruz Mountains, and more than 300 school and community sites. Last year, YMCA of Silicon Valley leveraged more than $18 million in support from individuals, corporations, foundations, and government agencies to enrich the lives of children, adults and families who otherwise could not afford its services. For more information, visit: www.ymcasv.org.

Hope, Direction, a New Path Forwards

Gabriela Lorenzo first experienced the Y as a camper at YMCA Camp Campbell, but re-discovering the power of community as a teenager allowed Gabriela to overcome numerous hardships in a manner that that would shape her into the compassionate, intelligent and committed young adult that she is today.

At 14, Gabriela was experiencing an onslaught of difficult circumstances, from being cyber bullied, to missing out on quality time with her father, to being sexually harassed by someone she thought was a friend. She didn’t know where to turn, who to talk to, or who she could trust.

Fortunately for her, a childhood friend had gotten involved with the Y’s Youth and Government program, which meant she had started collecting buttons on her backpack and sporting a neon green YMCA sweatshirt at school. These bold buttons and loud clothing caught Gabriela’s interest and she reached out, inquiring about the program behind the gear. That’s when she learned about what her friend described as “the coolest program ever.”

“The way she sold it to me as a 14 year old was, three times out of the year you get to leave home and you get to go to Camp Roberts for a weekend, and then there’s essentially an entire week in February you spend in Sacramento with other teens our age,” Gabriela recalls.

For a 14 year old badly in need of a reset, the chance to escape her problems with travel, and the opportunity to learn new things while making new friends sounded like a dream, so she enrolled in the program already underway.

Jumping into the program already in full swing, Gabriela left the first meeting intimidated, second guessing whether or not she was cut out for it. “I felt like I couldn’t do it,” she says. “I thought, these kids are way smarter than me. There’s no way I could ever be this knowledgeable about legislation. But there was someone who thought otherwise, and that was the program advisor, Brian Cook. He talked to me right after and said, ‘If you stick with this, you’re going to love it.’”

Gabriela agreed to stick with it through her first conference, and sure enough, Brian was right. “I fell in love with it,” she recalls. “The moment I heard everyone cheering and screaming this wave hits you, just booming. There’s so much love in the air. It’s infectious.”

The program has had a lasting effect on Gabriela. Not only did the new challenge and the supportive community help her keep her head up as she recovered from the many challenges thrown her way at a young age, but through the program she learned life skills. “We learned about the legislative process, how to debate, how to speak properly, and how to do things that you use in everyday life, but also transferrable skills that can lead you into a better future.”

Through the Y’s Youth and Government program, Gabriela learned that she had a deep love for legislation and politics. So much so that she ended up graduating from Cal State Long Beach with a degree in political science with a focus in law, politics, and policy.

Since her time in the program, her connection and commitment to the Y has only grown stronger. The advisor who convinced her to try the program out approached her a year later to ask about her interest in becoming a camp counselor. Having learned the value of trying new things, and experiencing firsthand the impact that a Y leader can have on a young life, Gabriela signed on for the summer.

At the end of her very first day, Gabriela went home exhausted. “I had never been so exhausted in my entire life. I remember going home thinking, I’m not cut out for this. And then I thought to myself, you made a commitment, you have to stick this out — at the very least finish this summer.”

“When I think about that now, I think it’s hilarious. I’m now going into my ninth year of Summer Day Camp. I’ve had the opportunity to go quite literally from being the youngest leader aide to being the youngest assistant director to being the youngest director. I’ve moved up into a coordinator position at this point and it’s been a huge source of pride being able to watch this program evolve over the years.”

After graduating from college, Gabriela thought her time with the Y had come to an end, but her commitment to the community has proven too strong to break.

“While the staff changes and grows, the environment is the same and the goal is the same. At the end of the day everyone is there to create a warm and inviting place for everyone, not just for the children, where they feel like they can be a part of something greater than themselves.”

Gabriela is grateful she grew up with the Y and she is proud to work for YMCA of Silicon Valley as the organization helps youth grow into strong and independent young leaders.

“I think that in the moment where I was, before I was a part of the Y that my life could have gone in a very different direction. Because there were individuals who recognized that and saw something in me that I couldn’t see in myself at the time, I was able to go into a direction that turned me into someone able to help others. I’m able to pass that forward because of the Y.”

Ask the Gardener

Q&A with YMCA Camp Campbell’s Garden Manager Sasha Retford Gonzalez

Camp Campbell’s Garden Manager, Sasha Retford Gonzalez, is passionate about sharing her enthusiasm for gardening and the outdoors with every youth, adult, and family that enters Camp Campbell. From Outdoor Science School students and teachers, to family camp participants, to summer resident camp kids and more, Sasha hopes to spark a love for fresh produce and an appreciation for the process of growing food in each camp guest.

Q: What lessons does the garden teach?

We try to help them to see things that are planted in there were planted by kids that came earlier in the school year, to understand the time things take to come to fruition. When they are doing projects, like if they are planting seeds or preventing redwood roots from growing into the garden beds, they realize the depth of the soil. There are roly-polies, worms, and centipedes and there’s this whole life existing in the soil. We don’t often walk around thinking, ‘the soil beneath my feet is alive.’

When you start digging into the soil, it broadens your view.

With composting we try to teach about environmental responsibility, but we’re really careful to realize that like some of the things they see might be harder for them to do at home. But it’s still an exposure to an idea that maybe they’ve not seen before or thought of before. A lot of people just throw food waste in a trashcan, without thinking about where it goes or what happens to it next. When they look in the compost, kids recognize the banana peel from breakfast and understand the things they helped to put in there.

Q: Do garden experiences make people more willing to try foods that they weren’t interested in before?

Yes, definitely. Definitely. So often there’s kids, or even staff members or adults that will be like, oh, I don’t like tomatoes.

We always encourage people to try it, and many will say, ‘WOW, this tastes so different than what you find in a grocery store’, and it totally changes their mind about the food.

Right now we have broccoli and things like that where sometimes kids might be a little less excited about eating it, but when they’re out in the garden and they get to pick it themselves, they’re often more willing to try those things. In addition to letting people try food out in the garden, we harvest for the kitchen. We’ve been harvesting a lot of leafy greens for the salad bar. It’s so fun because they’ll see it out here [in the garden] and then they’ll go in for lunch and then they’ll see it and say, ‘I tasted that or I saw that out in the garden.’ It’s really good at making that connection.

Q: How does Camp Campbell offer youth new experiences?

We have a huge diversity of students that come up here from various background. In general gardening helps to teach them about community. We really strive to make sure everyone feels welcome and included.

Everyone takes on different roles while all contributing to the group.

YMCA Camp Campbell provides a space where youth can feel taken care of. They know that they’re going to get three meals and they have really lovely cabins to sleep in and a chance to bond with their friends and then also get to know students from a different school. That’s a cool opportunity to expand their horizons a little bit.

Youth get to try new things when they’re up here. A lot of kids have never been in a redwood forest before, even those who may live in San Jose. And it’s not that far, you know, but it just depends on what you have access to or what your family might be interested in.

Another really powerful thing that happens both in the garden and out on trial, is that we try to really make learning fun. It’s not sitting at a desk. They get to be hands on and asking questions. We encourage their curiosity and practicing their observation skills. Camp brings science to life and makes it really exciting.

Q: What’s next for the garden program at YMCA Camp Campbell?

We have 30 fruit trees, most of them are apple trees, a handful of pears, and a handful of citrus that are just reaching the age where they can produce fruit. In the future the kids could go and help harvest fruits for their own snack time. Offering even more of those connections to where their food is coming from and keeping them excited about it. We’re always looking at how we can expand the gardens to continue to offer cool opportunities for the kids.

Q: How does the garden support the health and wellness of youth?

Gardening helps kids develop a lot more than people realize. Recent scientific studies show that bacteria in the soil affect your brain in a positive way. Similar to if people were taking depression medications, soil has a similar effect on serotonin levels. Whenever we’re like digging in the dirt it makes me think of that because the kids are always just so happy.

We’ve used the garden as a safe space the kids can go to if they need a chill out break to process something, or to have a moment. They can go sit under the bean tepee or under a tree and just have a peaceful, quiet moment to yourself.

Making Every Second Count

For the Stein family, basketball is more than a sport. It’s a way to teach life lessons, stay healthy, and most importantly, spend quality time together.

Eric Stein has shared the tradition of quality time through basketball with all three of his children. After raising his two eldest sons prioritizing that quality time, he strives to do the same for his youngest daughter, Elyssa, a junior at Mountain View High School. For Eric, basketball has served as a catalyst for conversation and meaningful time with his kids. “Once you get them away from their devices, and when you get away from the noise, they start to open up,” he says.

Elyssa explains: “I’ve been playing basketball since I can remember. My half-brothers, Ryan and Matt, are 37 and 32, so when I was a kid they were playing high school and college games, and I was there in a stroller cheering them on with my parents. My first memory of really playing basketball was actually at the Y.” Her dad coached her first basketball league at the Y, all the way up until High School.

Now that she is on the Varsity Basketball team at school, she still makes time to share the sport with her dad. To keep the tradition going, the father daughter duo work side by side as referees every Saturday at El Camino YMCA.

“We’ve become a lot closer through this,” Elyssa points out. “I’m never going to forget this. I used to work other jobs I’m going to forget. But I’m always going to remember this experience, just having fun with my dad. We’ll go on coffee dates after and talk and I have a connection and a bond with him that I didn’t have before.”

When Elyssa was playing in this league, she was learning about basketball and life from her dad, and now they are teaching these lessons together. “Even though you’re refereeing, you’re still sharing the Y core values and your teaching and your learning. I feel like in a way you are a coach.”

While Eric feels it’s important to pass on these life lessons, it’s the quality time with his family that this experience provides that matters most to him.

“It’s priceless,” he says. “I think the most valuable thing you can give to your child is your time.”

Eric’s deep-rooted desire to be there for his family inspires him to stay healthy and fit. Elyssa, who now works out six days a week following her Dad’s example, didn’t understand why her dad was so committed to his health when she was a child. Elyssa recalls, “I would always ask him why he went to the gym every day and he would look me in the eyes and say, ‘because I want to be there for you.’”

She now understands his motivation stems from his deep love of family. “He has no goal of, ‘I want my muscles to be strong’, or, ‘I want to lose my weight’. He wants to be there for my mom and he wants to be there for me.” 

Recently retired from a long career in Sports and Recreation at universities including Princeton and Stanford, Eric now contributes at the Y as a Wellness Coach and a Youth Basketball Referee.

“I’m back giving back.” He says, “Sometimes I feel like I get as much out of working with these people as I’m able to give to them. It’s a gift.”

Elyssa knows from firsthand experience just how much her dad has to offer. “He’s always taught me to live your best life and be happy because you only have one life and if you’re going to be negative and upset, then what’s the point?” She aspires to follow in his footsteps as a community leader, and even hopes to pursue a career in Sports and Recreation like her father.

Before she heads off to college to pursue her dreams, Eric and Elyssa will shape the lives of many local youth in their roles as referees and enjoy quality time together in the process.

Bippity Boppity Boo! Volunteer “Fairy-Godmothers” Assemble for Prom Season

Every young girl deserves the opportunity to feel like Cinderella on prom night, but for teens from low-income households, the cost of a prom dress can keep them from attending the ball altogether.

That’s where YMCA of Silicon Valley’s self described “Fairy-Godmothers” come in. Volunteers have teamed up with Silicon Valley’s Princess Project, and organization that collects used Prom Dresses and Formal Wear. Teens can make appointments to shop for their dream dress free of charge. The volunteer “Fairy-Godmothers” act as shopping attendants – picture Randy from Say-Yes-To-The-Dress – for these girls, to help ensure they are ready to go to the ball in style.

South Valley Family YMCA Board Member and Together-hood Volunteer Linda Haro shares, “‘I couldn’t afford a dress’ is a very real reason that many young women choose not to attend the prom.” She is excited by the influx of dress donations, hopeful that together, our community can take financial status out of the equation for local youth. Linda will be one of many community members volunteering, and plans to embrace the situation by dressing up in full fairy wings, wand, and ball gown to embrace the fairy godmother role entirely and give these girls a day to remember.

Community members are invited to make an appointment to shop with a Y fairy godmother on Saturday March 16, 2019 from 8:30 am – 2:30 pm. Togetherhood volunteers will join the Princess Project at The Oaks Shopping Center, 21267 Stevens Creek Blvd Cupertino to help youth find their dream dress.

Click here to make an appointment or contact Audrey Voss, Youth & Family Outreach Director, with questions at audrey.voss@ymcasv.org.

Sweat Together, Stay Together

Grab a loved one and hit the gym with this fun and challenging partners workout!

Bring your son, your daughter, your mother, your brother, your girlfriend, your spouse, or anyone you love to the Y this Valentines Day to enjoy this partner workout created by El Camino YMCA personal trainers, Andrea Nudelman and Chris Cabebe.

Facing push-ups with alternating hand clap

Face each other on a soft mat or floor just far enough to be able to reach out and touch each others opposite hand. Push-ups can be done on your feet or modify this movement doing push-ups on your knees. Both go done together and come back up to then clap each others opposite hand. Try for 5 and build up from there!

Start with a push-up. Modify by staying on your knees if needed.
Push up into a plank position.
High five your partner, alternating which hand you use after each push-up.

Medicine ball with side-to-side basketball lunge

Facing the same direction in one line. One partner pretends to pass the ball to the empty side and rotates around towards his/her partner and passes it to him/her; who then proceeds to rotate around to the empty side doing the same thing and back towards his/her partner throwing the ball back. After 20 throws all together both turn the other way and do another 20 throws. You can do this with any ball or weighted medicine ball.

Continue passing back and forth, alternating rear lunges.

Holding hands squat

Face your partner and clasp each others opposite hand. From there, both of you slowly lower your bodies together squatting down towards the ground. Make sure you both are holding on tight to each other, weight is in your heels, bottom down.

Enhance your burn: Challenge yourself by changing the count. Try going down for 2 counts, up for 2 counts, or down for 3 counts, up for 1 count, or down for 1 count, up for 3 counts. Take this move to the max by going down and then jumping back up.

Medicine ball squat, roll, and toss

Face each other with one partner holding the ball. Both together you will squat as the first partner rolls the ball on the ground to his/her partner. When he/she grabs the ball, they both stand up and the second partner throws the ball back to his/her partner.

Do this for 10 reps than change the order. The first partner throws the ball to his/her partner, as they squat together. Then the second partner rolls it back. When squatting, make sure to drop down thru your heels with your bottom down. This can be done with any ball or weighted medicine ball.

Start standing and facing each-other.

Squat low, and roll the ball across to your partner.
Once your partner receives the ball, stand back up, and repeat.

Static squat with cable row

Face each other. One partner wraps the tubing row around his/her waist; handing the handles of the tube to his/her partner. While the first partner is holding a static (still, none moving) squat, the other is cable rowing with the band moving back and forward, pulling back with elbows in tight to the body. Do 15 repetitions and then switch.

One partner holds a squat position, while the other holds the band with arms extended.
Slowly pull the band back, squeezing your shoulder blades together and keeping your elbows in tight to your body. For the squatting partner, stay low and keep knees inline with toes.

Bonus: Plank with lateral jump over or skaters

Try this tough bonus move if you’re ready for a challenge! One partner gets down on a mat or soft surface and holds a plank on the elbows. Make sure that you are contracting your abdominal muscles with your bottom up a little, protecting the lower back. The other partner proceeds to do skaters or lateral jumps side-to-side over his/her partner. You can jump over or step over. Do 20 reps all together and then switch.

Keep your knees bent on the landing and stay safe!

Want more from Y personal trainers? Schedule a consultation or personal training session today!

Support You Deserve

Reach Your Goals with Personal Training

Just because January is over doesn’t mean your motivation needs to end with it. YMCA of Silicon Valley personal trainers support you every step of the way towards your goals.

Southwest YMCA staffer, Hailey Scola, explains the value of incorporating personal training into your exercise routine, “Personal training helps you achieve goals by providing an exercise routine, a support team, and clear direction.”

Hailey, who is studying Kinesiology and obtaining a nutrition certification understands that the diet and exercise industry can be overwhelming. She explains, “Many diet and fitness trends come and go. A personal trainer helps to clarify confusion, using their knowledge and expertise to provide a clear path to a healthier life.”

Noell Clark, 40, credits personal training at Southwest YMCA for feeling, “stronger than I did at age 25.” She fell in love with strength training since learning the skill under the guidance of experienced Y Personal Trainer, John Rhodes.

“I believe that the secret to maintaining physical longevity and mental well-being is through movement and practicing mindfulness,” Noell explains. “Weightlifting allows me to mentally focus on the present moment while building strength and stamina in my body.”

While strength training is great for your health, getting started can be intimidating, confusing, and even dangerous if done without guidance. Choosing the right exercises, weights, repetitions, and sets, (or even understanding what those terms mean) are skills that come with time and practice. A personal trainer can help accelerate your learning, and increase your comfort level in the weight room – all while accelerating your results. They can create a customized exercise plan perfect for your body and they’ll coach you on form to ensure you stay safe.

Since she started strength training at the Y two years ago, Noell trusts the Y staff to help her achieve her goals. In 2019, she plans to become mentally and physically stronger than ever before.

If you prefer a group exercise environment, but are looking for a more personalized workout, consider Y Small Group Personal Training. Northwest YMCA member Kelly Lee shares, “Without the Y’s group sessions I don’t work as hard and I don’t make new friends. I love that the trainers push you to work hard and get outside your comfort zone.”

Group training provides the motivation you need to stick to your fitness goals. “I feel accountable to show up regularly and add it to my schedule. I look forward to seeing my favorite trainers and friends in class each week,” Kelly (pictured left) explains.

Any personal training experience at the Y offers the chance to make new friends, either with peers or with training staff. Personal trainers are excited to become your biggest cheerleaders and fitness friends.

Haiyan Wang, a personal trainer at South Valley Family YMCA is passionate about the health and wellness of each person she meets. For her, finding fitness and happiness in health was a rewarding experience that inspires her to work hard with her clients to guide them through their fitness journey. Haiyan says, “Fitness totally changed my life and I’m determined to be a good trainer to bring the same wonderful change to other people.”

If you’ve ever wanted to try personal training, reach new goals, make new friends, or push yourself out of your comfort zone, get started today. Lacking motivation? Let these inspiring words lift your spirits;

“Never stop yourself from trying something you have never done before. Don’t underestimate your power and remember you just have to take the first step…everything else will be history after that. After you take that first step to do something you want, the hesitation and fear to start will stay behind you.”


Hector Castaneda
El Camino YMCA Personal Trainer

Make 2019 Your Best Year Yet!

Your best is yet to come!

Join the Y community in striving for progress – not perfection – each day this year. Here are a few words of wisdom to get you motivated and keep you on the path towards a happier healthier 2019. Whatever your goals are, we are here to help you achieve them.

“It doesn’t matter where you came from. All that matters is where you are going.”- Brian Tracy

2018 is in the past. Keep your head up and look forward to the potential of a new year.

“Everything you’ve ever wanted is on the other side of fear.”- George Addair

Trying new things can be scary, but don’t let fear stop you. Our staff is here to support you as you take on new challenges this year.

“All our dreams can come true if we have the courage to pursue them”- Walt Disney

Let yourself dream. What do you want to accomplish this year? With hard work and the Y community behind you, there is no dream too big.

What is inspiring you to be the best you can be in 2019?
Click here to share your #YWisdom with us on social media!

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