YMCA celebrates quarter century of community outreach, community volunteers

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Town councilors joined YMCA officials in recognizing the YMCA’s 2020 Person of the Year, former board of education member Brian Goralski. From left, Paul Chaplinsky Jr., Mike DelSanto, Victoria Triano, Southington YMCA CEO Mark Pooler, Goralski, Jim Morelli, Chris Palmieri, Southington YMCA director Jay Jaronko, and YMCA board president Paul Bedard. (Photo courtesy of the Southington YMCA)

The Southington-Cheshire Community YMCA celebrated another positive year at their 91st annual dinner at the Aqua Turf on Feb. 5. YMCA leadership, staff and members looked back on 2019 with pride.

“We had a great 2019, and we ended well financially, while also making a significant impact in the communities of Southington and Cheshire,” said board of directors president Paul Bedard. “We continued to increase impact with youth, teens, families, adults and seniors, really trying to take a broad-based approach of how we serve our communities.”

Bedard highlighted a number of events and achievements that made 2019 such a positive year.

YMCA Camp Sloper provided a total of 3,338 camp sessions last year and had great enrollment at the Cheshire summer camp, Camp Quinnipiac, and the Southington summer camp, Camp Naciwonki. The YMCA continued to offer a diabetes prevention program and a LiveStrong program for cancer survivors at no cost to residents of Southington and Cheshire.

“These are great programs offered truly at no cost to residents and no membership required,” said Bedard. “That’s part of our commitment to increase our outreach into the community and increase our impact.”

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The YMCA hosts several popular events through the year. The most recent Sloper Plunge brought dozens of people out and helped to raise over $70,000 which will provide close to 400 summer camp sessions for youth who otherwise could not afford to attend. Over the summer, YMCA Camp Sloper attracts hundreds of people for Race 4 Chase. Last year, over 500 youth participated in the triathlon in memory of Chase Kowalski.

Over 800 people attended the YMCA’s Forever in Blue Jeans event which also raises money to provide the YMCA experience for people who otherwise could not afford it.

At the 91st annual dinner, YMCA leadership celebrated 25 years of the outreach program.

“The outreach program is a great program in which we go into identified neighborhoods and provide some structured activities, games and snacks for youth,” said SCCYMCA CEO Mark Pooler. “We are celebrating the impact that this program has had in our communities.”

They played a video that shared remarks from three young women who were impacted by the outreach program when they were growing up.

“They always made me feel special, and just made me feel like I had people who cared about me,” said one of the women. “It was a place that I had friends, safety, after-school snacks. There were people who were helping to take care of me and make sure that I had the best opportunities.”

Another woman recalled that she could always count on members of the outreach program showing up.

“A lot of us lacked structure and guidance, but those two days a week that they would hang out with us, we could count on them coming,” she said.

At the end of the evening, the YMCA recognized several community leaders with an award ceremony. The awardees were announced in early December 2019 at a much smaller ceremony in the lobby of the YMCA, and then are recognized again in front of hundreds of people during the annual dinner.

“We had a really great line of awardees this year,” said Pooler. “All of them have given back to the community in countless ways.”

Former chair of the board of education and an avid YMCA volunteer, Brian Goralski, was named the YMCA Person of the Year. The youth development award was presented to Southington Police Officer Chad Butler and Sargent Brian Leppard for their work in crisis management. The healthy living award was presented to Mount Southington Ski Area for providing recreational activity during the winter months. The award for social responsibility was presented to the Aqua Turf Club, who recently celebrated its 50th anniversary by providing 50 grants of $1,000 to 50 different nonprofits and charities in town. And finally, the youth leadership award was presented to high school students Sarah Meade and Gabe LeBlanc, both strong leaders to their peers and to the community as a whole.

The annual dinner wraps up the year for the local YMCA. To learn more about programs, services, events and more, visit www.sccymca.org.

To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Sheridan Roy, email her at News@SouthingtonObserver.com.