Champions of Change Blog
- Posted byon June 13, 2013 at 9:44 AM EDT
Giselle Schneider is being honored as a White House Champion of Change for her leadership and commitment to the ideals of the YMCA.
I have been inspired by Michelle Obama and Dr. Biden’s Joining Forces Initiative and all the work they have done on behalf of military families, so I am honored to be a White House Champion of Change. Upon reflecting about what service means to me for this event it all comes back to my son. When my son enlisted in the Marine Corps right out of High School, in September 2005, I was so proud- nervous, but proud. I was so appreciative that he wanted to serve and give back to his country that had given him so much. It was not until I attended his send off at Camp Lejeune prior to a deployment, did I sense the true level of sacrifice and dedication it took from the entire family to support our service members in our Armed Forces. I saw that I was not alone in my worry, and it was heartbreaking to see all the young children impacted by their parent deploying. Some children were too young to fully understand why mommy or daddy had to go and serve, and to see their anxious faces stressed and confused broke my heart. My family immigrated to this country from Cuba, my mother, brother and I came first, and two years later my father was able to join us. When I saw those children, I reverted back and remembered that feeling of separation and I knew I wanted to help comfort those children. I will never forget those faces. They provided me with the motivation and focus to seek out an organization that was making a real difference in the lives of military children.
When I got home from Camp Lejeune, I researched online for programs that assisted military children to see where I could make the biggest impact. I learned that the Armed Services YMCA was a top-rated military charity, with one of the highest Charity Ratings (top 2%) nationwide according to Charity Navigator. The Armed Services YMCA depends on over 14,000 volunteers each year to make military life easier for our junior-enlisted military and their young families. These young heroes and their families are voluntarily serving and sacrificing daily so we can continue to enjoy our freedoms and way of life. The junior troops don't get paid very much and can barely afford the basics for their families. The ASYMCA, in close coordination with military leaders, focuses on fulfilling the highest priority gaps in these required programs and services. Our junior military troops and families deserve all the help we can possibly provide with low and no cost programs and the ASYMCA is able to impact nearly 500,000 young troops and their families each year with the help of volunteers and generous donations. It is such a testament to the power of those that step up to help that they are able to help so many military families.
The Operation Kid Comfort program has many beloved volunteers, such as Kelly a lead quilter from Idaho. Kelly has been volunteering with the Armed Services YMCA’s Operation Kid Comfort program for over four years. She is self-motivated, creative and believes strongly in the program. Addie, a lead quilter from Florida steers a great group of quilters who have been making quilts for the program for the past five years. Three of our local quilters, Karen, Cheryl, and Stephanie have become my right hand ladies. They not only make quilts and pillows, but assist in our quilt-a-thons with local businesses such as our great supporter SAIC. These ladies are a sample of the fantastic dedicated volunteer quilters who are the heart of the Operation Kid Comfort program. Together we work as a team to help make military life easier for the children of our deployed military service members. These ladies have become my personal friends. While I provide guidance, I give them total reign on their creativity, so those they recruit to volunteer with the program will never tire of the eight hours of sewing it takes to craft each and every personalized homemade quilt for a military child.
One of my favorite parts of the Armed Services YMCA program that sets it apart is that it is a tangible item for a young child to hold, touch and connect with that is tailored with favorite family photos and memories that are memorialized forever. It also affords the volunteers the opportunity to get know each family that they are trying to help through their treasured photos and activities.
In 2012, I was diagnosed with Breast Cancer and had to begin treatment. I informed the families and volunteers expecting quilts to let them know I was in treatment, not so they would be concerned, but rather to explain my absence when needed, because the last thing I would want them to think is that I was unresponsive to their needs. I found that in sharing my story took away the stigma of keeping it a “secret” and I discovered that some of the quilters were survivors, and people opened up and shared their story in turn with me. As I continue my cancer treatment, their shared experiences, concern, and prayers have helped give me strength, courage and healing. It is a tremendous feeling to have people rooting for you all over the country.
I have not let cancer dampen my spirit for military families. On the contrary, I forge ahead with a positive outlook and a strong desire to continue and grow the program with the help of additional funding and skilled volunteers.
My advice to potential volunteers is to find a passion that connects with your experience or skill set. Even if you are not skilled, take on the challenge to train yourself. We had a volunteer so passionate about the program, that she went to a local quilt shop and took a quilting class. If you are passionate and enjoy the rewards of giving back, nothing will stop you from achieving your goal.
Giselle Schneider is the Operation Kid Comfort Program Coordinator at the Armed Services YMCA in Springfield VA
- Posted byon June 13, 2013 at 9:30 AM EDT
Julie Gehrki is being honored as a White House Champion of Change for her leadership and commitment to the ideals of the YMCA.
In the United States, one out of five children lives in a food insecure household. These children experience significant growth and developmental impairments, early onsets of chronic health conditions, lower academic achievement, and higher health care costs. The Walmart Foundation is committed to helping reduce food insecurity by funding food programs that bolster youth development and healthy living efforts at YMCAs across the country.
Since 2011, the Walmart Foundation and Y-USA have collaborated to alleviate food insecurity, teach healthy eating habits to children and their families, and align food programs with national standards adopted by Y out-of-school-time programs. Our collaboration began as an effort to help close summer food gaps. It has grown into a year-round Y initiative that features partnerships with the USDA and the Food Research and Action Center, as well as hundreds of local partners who help YMCAs increase their impacts within their communities.
The Y’s potential to provide sustainable food service to our most vulnerable children continues to grow. The Walmart Foundation’s support helps Y-USA expand USDA-funded food service program sites and bolsters the efforts of YMCAs to deliver innovative food service programs. The Walmart Foundation’s support of YMCA Food Service Programs enables YMCAs to serve nutritious meals to children and teach healthy eating practices in hundreds of communities across the country.
In 2012, support from the Walmart Foundation helped YMCAs serve more than 7 million meals and snacks to more than 200,000 kids. Our continued collaboration will increase the number of YMCAs that participate in USDA food programs, build capacities to foster community partnerships and deliver sustainable programs that alleviate food insecurity.
I’m honored to be recognized as a Champion of Change on behalf of the Walmart Foundation and the work we do with the Y to ensure that all children have access to nutritious food throughout the year.
Julie Gehrki is the Senior Director of the Walmart Foundation
- Posted byon June 13, 2013 at 9:17 AM EDT
Mike DeVaul is being honored as a White House Champion of Change for his leadership and commitment to the ideals of the YMCA.
As a Champion of Change focusing on the importance of global service and inspiring global impact, I am proud and privileged to promote and serve the Greater Charlotte community. The YMCA in Charlotte has a rich 160- year history of service. Our community has exponentially changed over the last ten years. We are a global community with a number of Fortune 500 companies anchoring their global headquarters here in our town. We have schools where more than 20 languages can be heard in the hallways, so we literally have global communities in our backyard. Our city was founded by German immigrants and named after the German Queen, Charlotte. In order to remain relevant in our mission to serve all we must continue to expand our global lenses.
I was extremely fortunate to have had the opportunity to travel for the YMCA early in my career. Visiting YMCAs in Japan, Hong Kong, Thailand, Bangladesh, and England, it was my responsibility to come back and develop a plan to infuse what I learned into a local plan. It was in this early experience that I found the importance of integrating our work into everyday Y activity. It was also here that I realized we have much in common with our Y friends across continents, and our responsibility to align and engage.
I am a believer and champion of the catchphrase ‘Think globally, Act locally’, and I am often reminded “You don’t have to leave the country to have a global experience.” With business globalization, immigration, and refugee resettlement, Charlotte has experienced significant demographic changes over the past 15 years. Our Association has seen the Global Center of Excellence strategy as a way to ensure that all community members in Charlotte feel welcome at the Y. We have worked hard to collaborate with organizations like the Latin American Chamber, Gantt African American Cultural Center, Asian Chamber and the Mayors International Cabinet to enrich our approach and help ignite our teen global service program.
Our recent service learning trips focused on literacy, and have captured the hearts and empowered the voices of our teens and young adults about the critical nature that illiteracy anywhere leads to poverty everywhere. These experiences are important for teens as they develop to become our future global workforce and community leaders.
I am often reminded of the enormous privilege we enjoy living in a country like ours, and if left unchecked, not given away, these privileges can turn toxic. We see the global strategy as one that helps to cement hope to impact. Our work has been centered on the importance of one’s national origin, insisting everyone has an immigration story to be told. By emphasizing our lineage and history, we embrace the story of building our own global community. This is what makes a YMCA and a country likes our great!
Mike DeVaul is the SVP of Organization Advancement, YMCA of Greater Charlotte (NC)
- Posted byon June 13, 2013 at 9:03 AM EDT
Greg Coop is being honored as a White House Champion of Change for his leadership and commitment to the ideals of the YMCA.
In our community, agriculture is king. We are the most diverse agricultural community east of the Mississippi and have seen an influx of migrant workers to support the industry. The Moultrie YMCA recognized the growing achievement gap among the children of these immigrant families, and together with YMCA of the USA and the Goizueta Foundation, began to address the need.
The most unique program that has come out of this partnership is the Early Learning Readiness (ELR) program. ELR is an outreach program designed to teach Hispanic caregivers ways to develop the verbal, physical, and social skills the children in their care will need to be school-ready. Many of the caregivers that are enrolled in our ELR program are not proficient in English and have limited education and resources for hands-on learning. We provide them with techniques to help prepare their children for pre-kindergarten. An unexpected benefit is that many of the caregivers, because they left school at an early age to care for brothers and sisters, are learning side-by-side with the children in their care.
We recruit most participants through word of mouth advertising. The informal networking of many of our immigrant families has been a tremendous opportunity for us to reach new kids and families. Our program has grown so quickly over the last few months that we have had to locate new space to accommodate the demand.
Our YMCA membership has grown more diverse as these families are focusing on their well-being and turning to the YMCA for exercise and family programs. This strengthens not only the individual families, but our community as a whole. We are proud that our Y is known as one the most diverse organization in the community.
This recognition is really a reflection of the work of such a dedicated YMCA staff. While I am humbled to be recognized for this effort, I know that the real work is completed every day by a staff team as good as any in the country. We will continue to further the mission of the YMCA “to put Christian principles into practice through programs that build healthy spirit, mind and body for all.”
Greg Coop is the CEO of Moultrie YMCA
- Posted byon June 13, 2013 at 8:47 AM EDT
Scott Menzel is being honored as a White House Champion of Change for his leadership and commitment to the ideals of the YMCA.
As a Superintendent for the past eleven years (in three different communities), I recognize the critical nature of community partnerships in order to advance our mission of improving achievement for all students.
During the course of the past two years I have been actively involved in the work of facilitating the consolidation of two neighboring school districts in an urban area on the east side of Washtenaw County, Michigan. The districts were both in deficit financially (a combined $13 million at the end of the last year school year) and struggling academically with test scores far below state averages. Students were leaving the districts by the hundreds and the decline in enrollment resulted in the need for dramatic action. Rather than wait for the State to appoint an emergency manager to take over and unilaterally implement changes to address the financial problems, each community decided they wanted to retain control of public education and agreed to vote on consolidation. This vote was approved by 61% of the residents in both communities in November of 2012.
Since that time we have been working on reinventing the school system by building it from the ground up. Our focus has expanded beyond the traditional K-12 system to include children and families from birth through kindergarten entry as well as guaranteeing every graduate an opportunity to earn college credit and/or a career credential. This cradle to career system is not just the purview of the schools. It is the responsibility of the entire community. Fundamentally we know that in order to improve achievement for all students in an urban setting we have to focus on the whole child. Children who come to school hungry are not able to achieve their highest potential. Children who are overweight and do not exercise regularly also do not perform at their highest level. Healthy habits impact academic achievement, and the educational and social cost of doing nothing is too high to ignore.
Unfortunately, the resources available to schools for promoting these necessary services are limited. However, partnerships with community-based organizations like the YMCA result in reaching out to students who otherwise would not have important opportunities to enhance their nutrition, develop healthy eating habits, and learn the importance of regular exercise. The Ann Arbor YMCA has been that critical partner in Ypsilanti. They have provided after school and summer school programs for more than six years in the community, reflecting their deep commitment to this work. As we were making decisions about facility utilization in the consolidated district, there was some concern that space wouldn’t be available to continue offering the summer programs that benefit more than 700 students each year. For me, it was not even a question that we would make the space available. Our children need and deserve to have these opportunities and our schools cannot succeed without partners like the Y who are ready and willing to make that important investment in their lives. This new school system will succeed with the assistance of community partners who will help serve the whole child.
Scott Menzel is Superintendent of the Washtenaw Intermediate School District
- Posted byon June 13, 2013 at 8:24 AM EDT
Alan Hostrup is being honored as a White House Champion of Change for his leadership and commitment to the ideals of the YMCA.
I could not be more honored to be recognized as a White House Champion of Change. As President & CEO of the YMCA of Metropolitan Los Angeles, it is my privilege to work with teams of dedicated and talented leaders to strengthen our communities by empowering our neighbors with the tools to learn, grow and thrive. Spanning a 100-mile square radius, the Los Angeles Y touches the lives of more than 250,000 members and over 100,000 youth and teen program participants each year.
As we look for opportunities to help our youth build character and incorporate the values of caring, trust, responsibility and respect, the Y’s Youth and Government (Y & G) program is an incredible vehicle to develop cause-driven leaders. Y & G allows high school students to serve in model governments at the local, state and national levels, empowering them to learn the fundamentals of civic engagement, public speaking, collaboration and social responsibility.
My experience with Youth & Government began as a member of Y & G. It gave me the opportunity to find my voice and truly understand that I could make a difference in my community. Unlike many learning initiatives, Y & G empowers students to develop the program curriculum. This made a huge difference to me and helped shape my leadership abilities. I see the same influence, year after year, on our participants.
I have dedicated more than three decades of service to Y & G, and have not missed a California YMCA Youth & Government event at the state capitol since 1970, because this unique program instills positive values while inspiring future generations to become active and concerned citizens. All three of my daughters have participated in Youth & Government, which makes it particularly meaningful that my eldest daughter, Michelle, is joining me for The Champions of Change program.
As we struggle to empower those from underserved communities, the LA Y subsidizes many students who wish to participate in Y & G. We don’t leave kids behind. This program is inclusionary and we actively engage students who may be academically struggling. Stories of young men and women turning their lives around after completing a Youth & Government program are common.
I learned to become a leader through Y & G and am proud to be the Immediate Past Chairman of the California YMCA Youth & Government Program. In addition to my work with the Y, I serve as Chairman of the Board of The Headington Institute as well as am a member of the Board of Directors on the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce and The Los Angeles Coalition.
It rests with each of us to ensure we create change that provides a brighter future for our children. Through the YMCA Youth & Government program, we can also prepare our country’s next generation of thoughtful, committed and active citizens.
Alan C. Hostrup is President & CEO of the YMCA of Metropolitan Los Angeles.
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