Y Member Stories

Our members are amazing and each has a story to tell. The Y meets people where they are in life and helps guide them on a journey to reach and exceed their goals. Meet some of members below. If you want to share your Y story, please contact us at info@rockriverymca.org.

Why the Y?

...it’s the people.

I joined the YMCA, in 1982 (shortly after the earth cooled). It was at this time, that the “Exercise Craze” was hitting a zenith. The downtown Y was expanding and machine equipment was replacing bar/free weights. My afternoons were spent with a group of people I didn’t know but we all had the same goal, “Be in better shape.” Because of this, I have made and maintained wonderful friendships with a group of people who share the same sense of good health. Now, here at the Northeast Branch, I have had the good treasure of establishing a whole new wealth of friends that share the same mindset.

...it’s the people.

More precisely, the staff.

In those years, there really weren’t trainers, in the traditional sense but a group of dedicated women and men and who cared enough to learn the latest techniques and share them with us. They were knowledgeable and were eager to share what they had learned. Many of us viewed them as “conscientious mentors."

Yes, we sweated and we were sore but because of these early coaches, we made their classes, part of our daily diet.

...it’s the people.

Northeast Branch 2017.

5:00am comes early. Some days it’s cold, raining, snowing, and humid, or just plain miserable. However, there’s always a smile and a “Good morning," from the front desk. Your feet lead you into either the weight room or to a class. It is here (classes), where the real difference has taken place. Today, there are certified trainers, who are up on the latest physical movements that are beneficial to the whole human anatomy. From strength training to cardiovascular implementation, “Today’s" trainers (and more succinctly), the Y’s trainers, are very conversant.

They not only instruct you on proper techniques, but attend to your psyche’ when you want to give up and offer you proper nutrition suggestions, to keep you fueled before and after. In my opinion, this speaks volumes.

In closing, I want to thank the YMCA of the Rock River Valley, for allowing me to be a member for 35 years and employing people with a true sense of physical and mental expertise.

Terry A. Giardini Psy.D

More Y Member Stories

Meet the Dawson family – Desiree, Nick, Cameron and Colin. They are a proud Camp and Kids’ Time family! The Dawsons have been members of the Y for about six years. They joined the Y because it had the programs they were looking for as a family at a reasonable cost. 

Colin and Cameron are enrolled in Kids’ Time before and after school care as well as being regulars at Camp Winnebago every summer. The Y has become more than a place that cares for their children – for the Dawsons, it is a place where their family thrives.

“We have truly become a Camp family where we have watched our boys grow and mature and really use the Y values both at camp and at home,” said Desiree. “Camp fosters such a great learning and nurturing environment where kids can explore. It is something we are fortunate to be a part of every summer.” 

They were even more excited when Camp Days launched – allowing the boys to attend Camp on days when school is not in session.

“Camp Winnebago and the Kids’ Time program give us that peace of mind and we know our children are in excellent hands with them.” 

Desiree says family nights at Camp are one of their favorite days of the week during the summer. “What an amazing thing to be able to be a camper right along with them every Thursday night. We get to meet and get to know all of the counselors there, sing camp songs, and watch skits that they worked hard to put together throughout the week.” 

The Dawsons love their time exploring Camp together and seeing all of the children so excited to show their parents the activities that they get to participate in. Camp overnights are a big hit with Colin and Cameron.

“They try not to miss a single overnight the entire summer if they can help it. We all have so much fun and it does really feel like one big camp family.”

The Dawson’s say because of the amazing experiences they have had with Camp Winnebago, they decided to send the boys to YMCA Camp Benson the last two summers for a week of away camp. YMCA Camp Benson is located in Mount Carroll, IL and is a great option for families looking for a stay away option. 

Between School’s Out Days, Youth Education Programs, Camp Rekindle in the winter and Camp Revive in the spring – Camp Winnebago offers year-round fun and learning for area children.

“I can't say enough about the staff and how amazing everyone is there. I wish every child could experience how truly great Camp is.”

Bob Bowers joined the YMCA on January 2, 2009 – with a new year and a fresh start. Nearly nine years later, he is still as dedicated to his health. As a retired 2nd Degree Black belt Tae Kwon Do assistant instructor, Bob knows the value of good physical fitness and health.

Over the years, Bob has dealt with many major medical issues including Asthma, Cardiac, Diabetes and Kidney diseases. He knows it is very important to try to control the impact of those diseases on his life. Therefore, he tries to exercise five days a week by doing strength exercises on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and cardio machines on Tuesday and Thursday.

About 18 months ago, Bob lost his wife of 55 years. That was a very difficult time for Bob and he turned to the Y to fill the void. He considers the Y staff at the Northeast Family YMCA and its many members to be his extended family.

“Cyndi R., Colleen, Holly, Karen, Margie, Marilyn, Melissa, Nikki, Vanessa, Isaiah, Logan and Strezz are all so kind and friendly,” said Bob. “My thanks to Mr. Brown and his very strong management team for running an extraordinary organization like the YMCA. Thank you so very much for allowing me to be a member of the Y organization.”

The Y aims to Build a Better Us one person at a time. We commend Bob on his dedication to a healthy spirit, mind and body.

Joel Sjostrom has been a YMCA member on and off for nearly three decades. Remaining fit is a priority for him and helps him focus. His current preferred method of activity takes him back to his family’s love of water. A friend recruited Joel to the YMCA Rowing Crew in 2009 and he has been on the river four to five mornings a week since.

“My whole family has been around water for generations. I rowed in canoes and row boats as a kid, which I believe set the foundation for rowing as an adult. I also remember watching Olympic rowing as a child and thinking it was pretty cool.”

Joel splits his time from rowing alone in a single boat to rowing with a team.

“When you row alone, every mistake is obviously yours so it is helpful for improving stroke technique.”

However, he admits it’s more fun to row with others.

“We all encourage each other and exchange suggestions. It’s gratifying to help other people improve their stroke technique and get better at working as a team because the feel of a well synchronized crew in a fast boat is exhilarating.”

Rowing Crew members often tout the serenity of the river and Joel echoes that sentiment. He and the others are on the water by 5:30 or 6:00 a.m. when the water is calm. The season usually starts in late April and runs through the annual Head of the Rock Regatta in October.

Joel may race in the Regatta, but his priority is to ensure there are enough volunteers on the dock to launch and retrieve about 600 boats.

“Regatta day is fun – there is so much action. I’ve been on the dock crew since I started rowing. It takes a lot of teamwork and coordination to stay on schedule while ensuring safety for all the athletes. We figure there is a boat coming or going every 45 seconds on the three docks.”

The 2017 Regatta is October 8 near the I.D. Pennock Family YMCA. Joel says what he likes most about rowing is that it truly is a sport for all ages.

“We have teenagers to people into their 70s and the crew has a wide range of abilities and motivations – from racing to fitness to just enjoying being outside. I especially enjoy seeing our high school crew’s rapid growth this year and expect to see more next year since the Rockford schools now recognize rowing as a varsity sport."

I grew up in a small town without a Y or public pool. Swimming just wasn’t on my family’s radar, so it’s not surprising that as a small child, I had to be rescued from the deep end of a friend’s pool. Then I failed swim lessons a few years later, scared and embarrassed to be the oldest kid in class. 

As a new mom and lifelong avoider of pools, I was determined to give my girls the gift of safe, confident swimming. They started lessons at the I.D. Pennock Family YMCA as soon as they could walk. Never did I imagine that swimming at the Y would grow from a skill to safeguard their lives into our family’s way of life—as members of the Stingrays swim team.

My oldest, Katie (16), is about to celebrate 10 years as a Stingray and recently got her first job as a Y lifeguard, while Ella (10) just earned her five-year-member plaque. My husband Steve and I are avid volunteers, and I’d venture to guess that we spend more time together as a family at Y pools than any other aspect of our busy lives. For that, I will always be grateful! 

Being Stingrays has given my daughters so much: confidence and skill in the water; respect for their coaches; the values of teamwork and sportsmanship; the thrill of doing their best; and the will to bounce back when it’s not the best day (well, ok, that’s a work in progress). Don’t even get me started on the long-lasting friendships—I’m already getting emotional at the thought of Katie and her teammates that we’ve known forever giving their senior speeches! 

From the parent standpoint, being a Stingray family has taught me the importance of volunteering…not just to support the team, but also to be a positive role model for my girls. It’s pushed me beyond my comfort zone: from a clueless non-swimmer in the bleachers, to president of the Parent Action Committee and even Y Volunteer of the Year. It’s filled my head with knowledge about this fascinating sport, as my kids can attest when I critique their streamlines while they roll their eyes (because yeah, I still can’t swim).  

One of my favorite things about our team is that it’s competitive yet welcoming at all levels. I love watching the little rookies grow into strong swimmers! Fast-forward to high school swimming, and you’ll see Stingrays celebrating each other’s achievements despite representing different schools. Stingray parents also come together and yell like crazy when any of our kids swim well—we’re like the United Nations, only louder and wearing catchy t-shirts. 

I could go on and on about the Stingrays…but if your child loves swimming, I say check out Rookie Week for yourself. Come join our swim family!

Four years ago, we were in need of a new daycare for my daughter who was 10 months old at the time. The in-home daycare wasn’t working for us and after touring a few places, separating the kids by age group also became important to us. We did not like the facilities that had children of mixed ages sharing a room. My mom worked for Rockford Health System at the time and recommended the Children’s Learning Center to me. We toured the building, met the staff, and decided this was the place for us. It felt like home.

Fast-forward to the present and we now have a second child in the care of the Children’s Learning Center. I never question dropping my kids off, I know my kids get just as much love there as if they were at home with me. 

The teachers have been great to work with. They have so much guidance on the different phases each child is going through and can offer tips on the next level and growth stages. 

My kids have also learned skills at the CLC that they have brought home with them. For example, when they are done eating, the kids put their cup/plate in the sink. I didn’t teach them that. I know it was something they learned at school.

The most difficult thing to overcome is saying bye to the teachers you love when it is time for your kids to move to the next age level. The teachers build relationships with your entire family, and not being able to see them everyday is a hard adjustment. 

Since the Y took over, I’ve seen more smiles and more happiness in the staff. The new staff members are fabulous finds and we are lucky to have them! This is so far from a babysitting service or an in-home childcare – the staff and teachers are always engaging the children, whether it is reading, playing, singing, or making art or science projects.

It was a great bonus and money saver getting a Y membership with our enrollment. I use the fitness and cardio equipment the most. I was able to cancel my gym membership elsewhere and we are grateful for the monthly savings.

I always recommend the CLC to anyone looking for childcare. I tell them about the teachers, how family oriented everyone is, the great playgrounds and facilities, and how much the classroom layout makes a difference with separated age groups. I would never hesitate to give my opinion!

"My first time attending college was as a teenage mom of two. I dropped out and entered the workforce to support my children. Over the years I would think about returning but life and my family always seemed to be obstacles. I did eventually return and graduated with my AAS in Business Administration degree. I am currently in a BS in Business Administration program and am set to graduate next summer. I have worked for Kaplan University as an admissions advisor for the last 10 years. My goal is to achieve my MBA. 

I decided to get involved with Americorps because I saw a need in my city for positive adult role models. Americorps was a great way to fulfill that need and earn an award that I can use towards my future education. I love the flexibility that the YMCA has given me to work with the youth in both the Achievers and Teen REACH programs. I was given the opportunity to plan programming, work with youth and sharpen my technical skills. It has been a great way for me to network within my community. I have made connections with decision makers from other non profits, politicians and educators that I hope will allow me to take my community involvement further. 

I did not always have the support at home to pursue my endeavors but throughout the years I had people who stood in as mentors. I feel like Americorps puts me in a position to pay it forward."

Amie joined the Y in 2013. She was going through a divorce and wanted to find a healthy outlet on days that she didn’t have her children. She started the summer boot camp with friends. It didn’t take long and she was hooked.

Amie says she has always been athletic, but for many years she lost that part of herself.

“I wanted to get myself back and lose the extra weight from having kids,” said Amie. “So, I set my first goal. I was going to workout five days a week.”

Amie found what she calls her “Y family” through group fitness classes. She started with Zumba and then began to tackle all of the Les Mills classes. The instructors and other members became really close friends.

“The Y pulled me in and it was a positive environment,” said Amie. “The instructors invested in me at a time when I needed it. As a group, we encourage each other and call each other by name. It’s healthy competition and pushes us to go further.”

Amie’s commitment soon started to pay off. She lost the weight and maintained it for a year. It was time for some new goals.

“I wanted to run in a mud race.”

She started training and signed up for her first obstacle course race. Again, she was hooked. She began competing in various races like the Warrior Dash, Tough Mudder and Spartan Races. In all, she has completed 9 races in 2 years.

Her next goal was to achieve the Spartan Trifecta by age 40. The Trifecta is completing three races - the Spartan Sprint, Spartan Super and Spartan Beast - in one year. In total, the three races include 74-87 obstacles spread out over 23-29 miles.

She completed the Sprint and Super, but wasn’t able to do the Beast and missed her goal.

“I was bummed and disappointed that I didn’t make my goal,” said Amie. “But, now I’m back at it and have recruited my friends and family to join me. My fiancé, a friend and I are already signed up for all three races this year. 2017 is our year.”

Sharing a love of health and wellness with their children is important to Amie and her fiancé, Ryan. They workout as a family and encourage the kids to be active. The kids are even competing in the races, too.

What do 40 teenagers on a weeklong bus trip have in common? We believe it’s their determination, ambition and sense of hope as they prepare for their future. These teens, who are part of the YMCA RAISE/Achievers program, recently joined Y staff on a college tour.

RAISE/Achievers is a career awareness and mentoring program at the Y. The program aims to expose teens to a wide range of career opportunities, develop goals, instill self-esteem and enhance leadership skills. Many of the students involved will be first generation college students. The program has a great success rate. In 2016, 11 of the students graduated high school and 100% went on to college. The annual college tour trip has turned in to a highlight for the students each year.

This year the group visited eight college campuses including Kentucky State, Fisk University, Vanderbilt University, Morehouse, Spelman, Clark Atlanta University, Alabama State University and Jackson State University.

The students were asked to compare each college in a detailed spreadsheet. They evaluated cost per year, ACT/SAT score requirements, financial aid information, application process and campus life details. The students can use the information to make decisions on where they want to attend college when they’re ready.

“The college tour helps these students to understand the culture and environment on campus,” said Tamica Fricks, YMCA Program Coordinator and tour chaperone. “College brochures only give the students a small fraction of needed information. The college tour allows students to find the best fit for them and help them get excited about their future.”

One student shared the following: “Alabama State had a great atmosphere that I did not expect. I'm really glad I attended the college tour. College never seemed like a real possibility until I went on this trip and saw it first hand.”

Parents even see the benefits of the tour. “My son is excited now about college. He came home filling out college applications,” said Kandi Crowe, parent.

The cost of the trip was partially subsidized through donations from generous sponsors including Hinshaw & Culbertson LLP, Charo Young, Dionne Edergston, Dr, Tiffany Sago, Tim Smith, Teisha Childs- Gilbert, Kandi Crowe, Northwest Community Center, Alberta Walker Tax Services, Joann Fricks, and Mike Hodges.

The students are grateful for the opportunity.

“I never could have afforded to go on a trip like this and see so many colleges. I'm thankful to Tamica and the Y for giving me this opportunity.”

Sunshine, relaxing by the pool and tan lines are typical things on a summer agenda for students from June through August, but not for me and the 18 interns who competed in the YMCA Intern Challenge. Our agendas were instead filled with marketing plans, creating videos, pitching sales, scavenger hunts, dedication, perseverance and most importantly, learning.

Each week, interns worked in teams with amazing community organizations including the Goldie B. Floberg Center, Zenith Landholdings and Illinois Bank and Trust. On Friday we presented our work in the board rooms, where we were expected to be professional as we highlighted our growth and our successes.

One of the greatest things I learned from working in our teams is that everyone has something they excel at and something they may struggle with, but coming together as a team helps fill in those gaps. I also learned that dedication is important no matter what setting you're in. The Intern Challenge required a lot of dedication, but it was dedication that made all the learning one of the best experiences I had the honor of taking part in.

Being able to get involved with a community I absolutely love has been so rewarding. I am thankful for the YMCA and the effort and time given to making the Intern Challenge possible for me and the other interns. The connections, friendships, learning and leaders in the community I have met along the way have allowed me to grow as a person and a leader, and I hope to continue making a difference with the Rockford region - a community I believe is thriving, and a community I love.

Three years ago, Patricia had a cancerous tumor removed from the right side of her face. After she was diagnosed with cancer, she became down, depressed, and discouraged. Once recovered from her surgery, she decided to come back to the Y. She had been a member for years, but a casual one. She attended one of Connie's fitness classes on a Friday morning. Patricia shared her story with Connie and Connie called out to the class, "this woman just had surgery and just weeks after came here to work out with us!" Patricia said she would never forget how Connie celebrated her that day! Connie was so welcoming and encouraging. 
"I felt like people really cared about me; the Y is my medicine! It gave me my life back."

After her initial return, Patricia started working out 2-3 times a week and has moved up to working out 5-6 times a week. She was also determined to add swimming to her routine. Learning to swim as an adult can be a difficult and scary task. Patricia started by just walking around in the pool. A former swim coach at the Y took notice of her and encouraged her to swim laps. He helped her work on her form and technique. After 5 months of training, she regularly swims at the Y and completes 20 laps at a time. 

In addition to fitness and swimming, Patricia also started running. She started by training for 5K races where she consistently placed 1st and 2nd in her age group. She then began challenging herself more and trained for 10K races. In 2014, she placed 1st in her age group at the YMCA Heritage Run. She now runs every race the Y hosts and looks forward to the next. Her biggest achievement in running came on August 14, 2016, where she placed 1st in her very first half marathon at the Chicago Biggest Loser Half Marathon.

Patricia now feels happy, healthy, and a part of the community. She bring friends and encourages them to invest in themselves too. She asks them, "what are you doing for you?" Patricia went on, "I always encourage others to come to the Y. I want them to feel how I feel. I like the people here. I like my community. I like seeing Charles and the team. I invite others to join. Connie has helped inspire me. I would not trade my YMCA for anything."