Isn't it wonderful when you rediscover a great restaurant where you've enjoyed a terrific meal? Or maybe you've had the opportunity to revisit a favorite vacation destination that brings back fond memories. For some people, rediscovering their own family roots brings a great sense of pleasure and reassurance to their lives.
By the time you read this message we'll be ready for all West Cook YMCA members to "Come Rediscover their Y."
Over the past several months and weeks, your board, staff and volunteers have planned, designed and worked together to ensure that all members have the opportunity to enjoy the best possible experience here at the West Cook YMCA.
We've listened to members' comments and their specific requests for programming that meets the needs of many, both in content and in convenient schedules.
We've drawn on the resources of the YMCA of the USA to institute new programming that is innovative and pertinent to the special needs of young people, families, and adults of all ages and those with special circumstances, like cancer survivors.
Among those new programs are Enhanced®Fitness geared for seniors or anyone with mobility issues ranging from arthritis to morbid obesity. Four certified instructors will offer classes three times a week for sixteen weeks of low intensive cardio and strength training exercises.
Our dietician, Jennifer Allington, will join the "Take Charge of Your Diabetes" program, a new initiative focused on a lifestyle approach to managing medications, nutrition, and dealing with stress.
Another new program that recognizes it's important to treat the mind as well as the body, is SMART, an eight-week program of stress management and resiliency training that teaches self-care to alleviate stress.
And, this fall we're introducing "Togetherhood," a grass roots effort in which West Cook YMCA members will join with one another to work on local community service projects that will bring positive change to many of the ten west suburban communities we serve. It may be a Saturday morning clean up at a local park or spending several evenings a week serving meals to seniors. The focus will be on reaching the community and helping others beyond our own members.
Closer to home, we're launching a new series of Life Skills workshops, such as computer skills training and financial literacy classes, for our residents.
And, we will continue to offer our successful LIVESTRONG for cancer survivors. This free 90-minute twelve-week fitness program is open to adults who have had any type of cancer in their lifetime, from patients who are still in treatment to those who are in remission.
For the third consecutive year, we've had a very productive Summer Recess to brighten, burnish and build up the facilities of our Marion Street YMCA building.
When you step onto the floor of our two gyms you'll notice that they have been completely stripped, re-striped and varnished and now boast bright new Y logos.
In the Spa level you'll discover a new Studio in the space the Y-Box once occupied. Here you'll find brand new facilities, improvements to the locker rooms, and a consultation area where personal trainers can assist you in whatever way they can to provide the best possible experience to your Y visit.
Members who use the wellness/fitness area will be pleased in the spring when our new HVAC system is installed to address a continuing issue of temperature control.
Improvements were made to the Members' Lounge and Multipurpose room. New bathrooms are scheduled to be installed in the Residence in November, together with other improvements to these floors.
During the Summer Recess, we had the benefit of a tremendous outpouring of volunteer help-board members, residents, people from the community, and staff joined with outside contractors to undertake some 300 separate projects in 12 areas of the structure that have placed the Y building in its best shape in many decades.
In all, 228 people gave more than 850 hours of volunteer service were contributed which translates into more than $20,000 were we to have paid going rates for the same work. We installed 400 light bulbs and used more than 200 gallons of paint. More importantly we fellowshipped at each meal, strengthening our sense of community.
All of this, whether something simple like installing new pegs on which members can hang stretch mats or major items like new flooring, tile, lockers, or a much needed upgrade to the HVAC system, was done in the name of functionality, safety, environmental quality, aesthetics, and maintenance.
In all, during 2016, the West Cook Y will invest $265,000, which added to projects undertaken in 2014 and 2015, mean that in the past 24 months we've invested a total of $1.2 million in the design, equipment, and buildout of major areas of the building.
Additional projects will be completed over the next month. Please lookout for important communication on these projects.
It was thrilling to catch television coverage of the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio, especially in several sports in which the YMCA played a part. Not only is the Y credited with inventing the games of basketball and volleyball, over the years it's been a major factor in aquatic sports.
Among well known Olympians was the famous Johnny Weismuller, who began swimming as a way to strengthen his body and fight the ravages of the polio that he contracted as a youth. Later, he swam for a YMCA team in Chicago.
Cullen Jones, the first African-American to hold a world record in swimming and an Olympic gold medalist, learned to swim at a New Jersey YMCA after a near drowning.
And 12-time Olympic medalist and a 20-time World Championship medalist, Natalie Coughlin, learned to swim in a parent/child YMCA program.
Dara Torres, another 12-time Olympic medal winner, began her swimming career at her Y at the age of 7.
And Mark Spitz, who made history in the 1972 Olympics when he won seven medals, had his first competitive swimming experience at the Sacramento YMCA.
At this year's games in Rio, Ryan Held, a former Springfield, Illinois YMCA swimmer, won an Olympic gold medal in the men's 4 x 100 freestyle relay.
And closer to home, Kyle Patnode, a former TOPS swimmer and Kevin Garza, a current member of the West Cook Y's competitive swim team, competed in this year's Olympic Trials in Austin, Texas last month.
Saturday, September 10, will be the final appearance by the WCY at this season's Oak Park Farmers' Market. All during the summer, WCY staff have been on site demonstrating healthy eating and offering a series of tasty and nutritious vegetable recipes-some 26 in all. Among the more interesting dishes are: a Kale Salad with Dates, Parmesan and Almonds; a Spinach and Endive Salad with Pecans and Blue Cheese; Swiss Chard and Onion Tacos; and a Wok-Seared Asparagus with Chili, Garlic and Black Bean Sauce.
Oh, and did I tell you that the Strawberry Rhubarb Yogurt Pops were a big favorite at the Farmers' Market. And, shoppers took home their very own West Cook YMCA recipe box. We plan to post all the recipes to a web site in the near future.
Our new partnership with the Oak Park River Forest Chamber of Commerce, a Health & Wellness monthly speaker series, kicks off September 15. The first program, "Chronic Disease Prevention-You Can Do It!," will be led by Laura Olszewski, Healthy Living Director, assisted by Healthy Living Coordinator Sergio Perez, and Jennifer Allington, Registered Dietitian.
The second lecture, on October 20, will feature Lawanda Shelton of Combined Insurance who will address the topic of "Supplemental Health Insurance/Medicare Supplements." Future events will focus on back pain, senior care and other key health and wellness issues.
Finally, I want to welcome aboard two new members of the Y staff-Todd Wells, Associate Director of Building and Operations and Tara Lenardi, Financial Development Director.
Todd grew up in Maywood, attended St. Paul and Walther Lutheran High School in Melrose Park and Illinois State University where he focused on the medical field.
However, he soon became associated with a retail paint store, was promoted to manager and certified in hazardous material handling, blood borne pathogens, heavy equipment, and flammable liquids and gasses.
Todd launched his own business, first as a painting contractor and later providing construction remodeling for many historical homes in Oak Park and River Forest. Last year, Todd came to the West Cook YMCA as an independent contractor and now has joined our full-time staff.
Todd and his wife, Traci, reside in Melrose Park where he serves as a Deacon at St. Paul's Lutheran Church and together with his wife, raises funds for Proviso Township food pantries.
The Wells' are the parents of three adult children, ages 18 to 28.
Tara grew up in Jacksonville, Florida and enrolled at Northern Illinois University where she earned a Bachelor of Science degree in public health and a minor in community leadership and civic engagement, magna cum laude.
She was recognized by the University as a Forward Together, Forward Scholar, an honor that exemplifies the spirit of giving and strength of characters of those who lost their lives in the tragic events of Valentine's Day, 2008 on the NIU campus.
Along the way, Tara served as a Campaign and Development Administrator at the North Suburban YMCA in Northbrook. Although she originally planned to pursue a nursing degree, Tara shifted her focus to public health and joined the Northern Illinois University Foundation as Acting Director of Donor Relations.
Tara has volunteered at the Kishwaukee Family YMCA in DeKalb and our neighboring PAV YMCA in Berwyn where her husband, Frank, is employed. She recently finished her internship with YMCA of the USA's Financial Development Department and coordinated the Association of Donor Relations Professional's Midwest Regional Conference. She and her husband reside in Lisle and are the parents of six children, ages 7 to 16.
Tara's major focus in the coming weeks will be on the West Cook YMCA's Annual Gala set for Saturday, November 12 at the Oak Park Country Club. Proceeds from the Gala permit our Y to improve the well being and health literacy of nearly 1,000 financially challenged children, adults and seniors who otherwise would not be able to participate in YMCA programs.
Our keynote speaker will be Jorge Perez, a West Cook YMCA member, who is Senior Vice President of Programs and the Y Experience for the YMCA of the USA, where he leads a team that impacts the lives of 22 million individuals annually. He draws on his experience of 20 years serving in YMCAs in Dallas, Indianapolis, Cincinnati, and as CEO of the YMCA of Southwest Illinois.
Jorge's message will be, although the YMCA is well known for its service as a center for 'gym and swim,' it is the largest non-profit child care organization in the U.S. As such, Jorge believes that it is critical that Ys, like the West Cook YMCA, focus attention on the Achievement Gap that is so prevalent among low income young children.
The Gala's Mission Moment speaker will be Danielle Villari Swets, a cancer survivor who was diagnosed at age 16 when she was a student at Oak Park River Forest High School.
Danielle will share her own experience, including a very moving testimony about the West Cook Y's new LIVESTRONG program that is free for anyone who is now or who has been a cancer survivor.
Our Scott Gaalaas Awardee, named for my late predecessor who led this Y for 12 years, is Kristin Carlson Vogen, President & CEO of the Oak Park-River Forest Community Foundation. A philanthropic specialist, Kristin has served as adjunct professor at Concordia University Chicago, teaching in its Not for Profit Program. In 2015, she was named "River Forest Villager of the Year" by the Wednesday Journal for her service to the OPRF Community Foundation.
Stay tuned, we're off to a wonderful fall season that offers plenty of opportunities to "rediscover your Y!"
President & CEO