Written by Phil Cerroni
By Jess Paniszczyn
The Irving Family YMCA hosted its 2013 Partners Campaign Kick-Off Dinner at the Irving Convention Center on Jan. 27.
“The main focal point of our evening was to celebrate the victories we had and all the community development work we did in 2012, and to help launch a campaign to help us expand that work in 2013,” said Doug Fox, executive director for the Irving YMCA.
“I think most folks know of the YMCA. I think fewer folks know what the YMCA is today, here in Irving in 2013.
“Programs like Play and Learn, Fit for Health and Salsa, Sabor y Salud are designed to engage and impact families and empower parents to be their own change agents. While these programs are free, they are not handouts. You will not get anything out of Play and Learn if you do not read to and engage your child. You will not get anything out of Salsa, Sabor y Salud if you do not take the healthy living strategies you’ve been given. So the fact we are seeing true change happen is powerful. Last year, more than 3,000 individuals were impacted by those three programs alone.
“Most folks don’t look at the YMCA and see childhood obesity prevention programs and school readiness programs. They may think of at-risk teen programs, but probably not at the level and type that we offer. They probably don’t see us as a cancer survivorship, wellness resource provider. All of those programs are unique, and we wanted folks to hear that message. In the general community, most folks think of the YMCA as just a gym and a swim. We have broken that mold, not just in Irving, but across Dallas.”
Lukana Hege discovered the YMCA’s Play and Learn program while searching for resources to help her son who was late with his speech development.
“Every time we would go to the program my kids were so excited,” Hege said. “My daughter was about eight months old, and she took her first steps there in the gym. My son made his first friend there. He calls the magnets the ‘magic.’ Just seeing all the stuff and their creativity made me feel good.
“The staff was kind and their hospitality was so welcoming. I started attending their literacy nights and the fall festival. Eventually when my son turned three, I started him in sports. I also joined Salsa, Sabor y Salud, which has taught me a lot about nutrition. Joining Salsa, Sabor y Salud convinced us to join the gym, so we became members. Now we go to the YMCA every day.
“My kids are always so excited to go, and for me going to the gym is my ‘me time.’ I just love this place. It is a great place for my kids.”
After growing up in Irving, Howard Hamilton retired to Florida where he learned to play golf, had five bypass surgeries and lost his lovely wife. When he returned to Irving, he joined the YMCA’s Silver Sneakers.
“I had been told if I was going to live, I would have to exercise,” Hamilton said. “The cardiologist doesn’t consider golf exercising.
“Every morning I get up, and I want to go see my second family. We all love each other. If one of us goes to the hospital to be operated on, another one or two of us will sit there with the spouse or family friends. We love these people. We hug each other. We don’t care about color or denominations; that doesn’t mean a thing. Love has extended our lives, and I’ve found the place where it grows the most and it is the Irving YMCA.
“I was here when Irving was a town of about 10,000 to 25,000 people back in the early 50s. Today, it is 300,000. If that doesn’t tell you we need a new YMCA, I don’t know what will.”