“They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” (Isaiah 40:31)
I was at Camp Seymour recently. It has always been a refuge for me; odd I know, being from New York, but I just feel so far away when I am there, in a good way. Well, on this occasion Scotty Jackson (Executive Director, YMCA Camp Seymour) and I were producing thank you videos for a number of our donors. Diane Jackson (Marketing and Development Director, YMCA Camp Seymour and Child Care) was standing off to the side, while we were filming, doubled over in laughter, watching us move our arms and point our fingers while we were making the videos. I was having a hard time being serious because it is pretty funny when Scotty and I are doing anything together; the volume goes way up. There was also a group of young kids standing off to the side, part of the Seymour Scholars program. At that moment, they were on a break, and they, too, found Scotty and me to be quite entertaining. One of the kids ran into the dining hall and took a seat right next to Scotty so he could get a closer look at him through the window. He was completely mesmerized by Scotty, his flailing arms, and total body movements. Even through the window, it was easy for the young boy to feel Scotty’s passion that he was conveying to the donor through the video. It was a random moment, but, to me, it was a snapshot of what I have consistently felt throughout these past nine months, and it has been the fuel that I draw on that fills my tank, and keeps me going, day after day on this long journey.
Recently, I was out at the Tom Taylor Family YMCA to film another video. (I know, I do make good use of Luke DeMonnin [Lead Videographer], he accommodates me for some of my crazy ideas. Thank you Luke, you are amazing.) As we were filming, Paula Lazar (Health and Well-being Director, Tom Taylor Family YMCA) was leading a virtual exercise class for active older adults. I found myself being drawn into watching her teach the class, but it seemed like such an odd scene. She was leading the class from a seated position, and she was glistening from perspiration, but the classroom was empty. It was surreal watching her pour her whole being into a laptop screen, but it was very real for Paula; she was all in to make that the best experience for those eight people who appeared on the screen, and countless others who were participating then, or would be at some point. I got really emotional seeing how much Paula cared, she was really into it, and the people knew it, and that was all that mattered.
Throughout the past 280 days, I have watched so many of our staff do the same in a variety of classes. It is not easy to lead a class in the virtual medium; not having that in-person connection with the participants, but our instructors never cease to amaze me with their endless passion to give and create. Late at night, I find myself checking out a class with Melissa Davidson (Senior Health and Well-being Director, Bremerton Family YMCA), or Annie Doyle (Health and Well-being Director, Tom Taylor Family YMCA ), or Seth Marosok’s (Arts Program Coordinator) arts class, or Scott Gjertson’s (Senior Outdoor Environment Education Director, YMCA Camp Seymour) Marine Science Monday. I will forever remember Logan’s performance as Baby Barnacle, in one of the Marine Science Monday episodes.
Every time I run into Michael Marquez (Executive Director, University Y and Virtual Y) he will make a point to share about how taken he is with the tireless commitment from the staff leading hundreds of virtual classes, week after week. He says it is the single greatest effort he has ever been associated with, and he tears up saying it, so I know he means it. It is simply incredible how our team has rallied together to do whatever they can to deliver services to our members, and keep the pulse of our Y alive. It is truly the untold story of our Y; the deep devotion from each and every one of our staff team to do something they have never had to do before, but do it with such conviction, because they care - that is our Y.
Throughout the nine months, I have received countless videos and photos that capture the amazing stories of the impact our Y is having on members and the community. Every one of these stories has been a source of energy and vitality for me, always lifting me up when I need it most. Diane seems to have a sixth sense of when I need a shot of the weekends at Camp Seymour, sending me a video of a family who discovered that using Camp Seymour was now part of their membership. The photos, or videos, were often accompanied by a blog story, capturing their experience, their words often expressing their deep gratitude for having an opportunity to be with their family a beautiful setting such as Camp Seymour, and how transformational it was for the mental well-being of their family.
The staff must know how much I love receiving the videos capturing the excitement from the outdoor exercise classes; hearing Harold Shea’s (Executive Director, Bremerton and Haselwood Family YMCAs) voice broadcasting to the people who were just passing by, exhorting them to jump in. “It is happening here at the Bremerton Y, don’t miss out on the fun.” Wherever I went, it was the same, staff were making it fun, and the members were so grateful that our Y was doing what it could to accommodate them, and do everything they could to help them get through this. Every single time I walk into a center, a member almost runs me down to express their gratitude for the fact that we are keeping our pools open, and offering outdoor exercise options. Often these members have tears in their eyes because of how grateful they are, and they always want me to know how deeply appreciative they are of our wonderful staff. They just want to go on about how great our team is.
A couple of days ago, I watched our Y’s very first virtual dance recital. The event was phenomenal, a tribute to Lynn Wilmot-Stenehjem (Association Arts Director) and her entire team of instructors. As I watched the performances, I realized how the event defined our Y over these past nine months. I watched the instructors lead their portions of the various levels of dance, each of them performing in a room in their homes. I thought how challenging it must have been for them, not having people in front of them, but they were completely committed to doing it at the highest level, because they wanted that for their participants; and the youth responded, performing, equally as committed. What really took this event to another level for me was the engagement from the audience, using the chat feature to express their appreciation and encourage the youth. It changed the entire event, the audience were part of the event, and I knew the youth could feel them. I know because I did. It was an amazing event, and it was a true testament to Lynn and her team, and their commitment to create something special for the youth and families of our Y.
The event closed with comments from two of the instructors, Olivia Allison and Tiffany Lowen (Dance Instructors). In their closing comments, they both shared how instructing in the virtual was challenging, but that they, and the youth, worked through it together, and how pleased they were with how it had worked out. It was clear that they were both deeply committed to their craft, and to the opportunity to do something special for the youth. They both shared that one of the unique, and best parts of the virtual experience, was having the opportunity to work as one Y; that working with communities from all over our association was a special opportunity for them, and something they believed to be special for our Y. Their insights struck me deeply, and I could not agree more.
We have transformed during these past nine months. We have had to work in a different way, and as difficult as it may have seemed, we have evolved, and are seeing new opportunities for our Y to grow. One Y is not a slogan, it truly is a rallying point for our Y, an inflection point for us to operate differently.
Throughout these nine months, the miracle has consistently been the contributions from so many different staff. The child care team has been tirelessly carrying the torch for our Y, at times providing the only pulse we had, and in addition to being on the frontlines serving youth and families, they are carving out new opportunities, with Ashley Perkins (Early Learning Senior Director) getting ready to open a new early learning center in University Place, which will introduce a new source of business into our organization.
The Center for Community Impact was completely uprooted and forced to transform itself, but Chris Spivey (Executive Director, CCI), Amber Evans-Wynn (Senior Program Director, CCI), Don Brevik (Association Youth and Government Program Director), Shontia Copeland-Walton (Youth Program Director, CCI), Wyatt George (Youth Program Director, CCI), Courtney Austin (Chronic Disease Program Director), Susan Buell (Association Director of Health Initiatives), and their entire team, never blinked in their devotion to their families.
One Y evolved, but it is also us reimagining a new way of working - capitalizing on our tremendous talent to produce a new Y that will thrive and take us forward into this new world. I am so inspired by each and every one of you, your deep commitment to serving others, and doing whatever you can to sustain our Y for the greater community. You have been incredible throughout these nine months, in ways I could never have imagined. It is such an honor for me to be associated with all of you. It is the pinnacle of my nearly 38 years of service in this Y. You are heroes. What an amazing journey it has been, and now we are nearly at the end of our most challenging year, with the hope of a new year on the horizon. I am confident that 2021 will be great year, because I have seen what we have been able to do under dire circumstances. I am confident because I know what we can do together, as One Y. Merry Christmas, to you and your loved ones, and God bless you all.