By LINDSAY CAREY
The Southington-Cheshire YMCA held its Annual Campaign Kick Off Breakfast to inform the public about the YMCA’s 2015 Annual Campaign and to influence people to make a pledge to the campaign by showing them how the money is used by the YMCA to give back to the Southington community.
About 46 percent, or $125,850, of the 2015 Charitable Income Sources for the Southington Community YMCA funds the Annual Campaign.
The Annual Campaign budget supports five different aspects at the YMCA. About 25 percent of the Annual Campaign budget goes towards YMCA Camp Sloper scholarships, 22 percent goes towards YMCA child care financial assistance, 19 percent to YMCA membership and programs, 17 percent to the YMCA Outreach Program, and 17 percent to YMCA teen programs.
YMCA Annual Campaign Chair Diane Botsacos said at the breakfast that she believes “everyone should have a Y experience,” and the annual campaign helps make that possible by providing financial aid for individuals and families in need.
“Not everyone realizes it, but there are families and seniors who are really struggling financially in this town,” said Botsacos. “We stand in line with them at the grocery store, and our kids and grandkids go to school with them, but we really don’t know what someone’s financial situation is.”
Botsacos said a financial aid administrator at the YMCA meets with everyone who applies for financial aid to determine if they qualify to receive aid and provides the appropriate assistance based on their needs.
Executive Director of the Southington-Cheshire YMCA John Myers echoed Botsacos’ message that the YMCA should be available to everyone regardless of their income.
“The money raised in our Annual Campaign funds our charitable work only,” said Myers. “Our Y has an annual Community Support Campaign specifically to raise money so that no one will be denied access to our Y because they cannot afford our Y.”
Community Development Director Donna Ayer spoke about another program funded by the Annual Campaign: the Outreach program.
She discussed the Y on Wheels program, which has been running for the last 25 years. It is a free afterschool recreational program provided in the areas of Darling Street at the Meadows and Summer Brook Apartments, and at the Wheeler Village Apartments on Berlin Street.
“There are lots of unsupervised children in these neighborhoods,” said Ayer. “We know that when kids have unsupervised time they are more likely to engage in risky behaviors like smoking, drinking, drugs and more.”
The Y on Wheels program brings YMCA staff into the area and provides children in the neighborhood with snacks, homework help, games, and crafts.
Ayer shared a recent anecdote in which the YMCA providing for the youth in the area by collaborating with Sue Saucier from Youth Services. After a fatal fire at the Summer Brook Apartments last June that claimed the life of 19 year old girl, young people in the area gathered around the apartment to mourn and grieve.
In response, Ayer said some staff from the YMCA went to the area and set up a table in front of the apartment with ten boxes of pizza.
“The food brought all the kids out, and the kids brought the adults out. We asked questions. We listened,” said Ayer. “Sue Saucier brought pamphlets about grieving and journals for people to write down their feelings… We told everyone that came by that we were sorry and that we were here if they needed anything.”
Janet Rogers, a single mother of two who raised her children in the Summer Brook Apartments and attended the Outreach Program, shared her experience with the program in a video shared by Ayer.
“I thought I don’t have to worry that they’re out roaming the neighborhood without any supervision,” Rogers said in the video. “At least I know that they’re going to be accounted for and they’ll make sure that they’re safe.”
Although her children are now adults, Rogers said that there are still a lot of children in the neighborhood who need this program.
“The kids actually get excited about it, because they have someone who is there caring about what they’re doing,” Rogers said about YMCA’s involvement at Summer Brook. “I feel if that Outreach program wasn’t there, we’d have a lot more problems in that neighborhood.”
YMCA Camp Sloper camper Jocelyn Oliva also spoke about her experience at the YMCA camp and the influence it has had on her character, since the Annual Campaign funds also supports camp scholarships.
Oliva said that she has attended Camp Sloper every summer since she was three years old.
“My earliest memories are driving into YMCA Camp Sloper grounds and seeing each core value displayed as the car drives by: Caring, Honesty, Respect, Responsibility, and Fun,” said Oliva. “These values are displayed every day by the camp staff, and they encourage each camper to look for opportunities to live them.”
Oliva said she is hoping to become a Counselor in Training (CIT) this summer and thus become the role model that she once looked up to as a young camper. Oliva said she believes her experiences at Sloper have not only prepared her to become a CIT, but have also shaped her into who she is today.
Photos by JOHN GORALSKI