The Westerly Sun
WESTERLY — Michaela Jacobs, of Hopkinton, stood in front of a crowd of people Thursday and thanked them for changing her life. She was one of the guest speakers at the kickoff breakfast for the Ocean Community YMCA’s 2020 annual Support Campaign, held at Ocean House in Watch Hill, and a recipient of a Y scholarship.
Jacobs and Holly Norton, of Mystic, beneficiaries of the YMCA’s financial assistance program, had volunteered to share their deeply personal stories with the campaign volunteers who had risen early on the cold February morning to make it in time for the 7:30 a.m. breakfast and talk.
“Thank you all for volunteering to raise money for the YCares program,” Jacobs said. “The health improvements I have made would not be possible without this fund.”More than 100 people sat silently and listened while Jacobs told the story of her road to good health, a story with twists and turns.
After undergoing several surgeries, Jacobs said, she put on unwanted weight, experienced severe joint pain and had difficulty moving.
“I was determined to work out and get healthy even though my mobility was limited,” she said, so she joined the Arcadia branch of the Y, located on Main Street in Wyoming.
When she first started going to Y, she said, she could only use the spin bikes, but she kept at it. “Although it was challenging,” she said, she “saw improvements over time.”
Around that time, Jacobs said, Regina Bartlett, the membership engagement and youth development director at the branch, encouraged Jacobs to try one of her “POUND” classes, an interactive “cardio jam session” that uses lightly weighted drumsticks.
“I never thought I could it,” said Jacobs, adding that she had to take the class while sitting in a chair because it was too difficult to do it standing up.
“Now,” said Jacobs, to thundering applause, “I’ve lost over 50 pounds and the joint pain I had previously struggled with has disappeared and now I can walk over one mile ... all because of the Y!”
But then, she continued, she was devastated to learn that her health care plan was no longer going to cover the cost of her Y membership.
“I was worried that my health would suffer again, and I was going to miss the friendships I’ve made there,” she said.
But as soon as Bartlett told her about the Y’s financial assistance program and encouraged her to apply, Jacobs filled out the paperwork and sent it in.
“I was awarded the financial aid I needed to keep coming,” she said, again to hearty applause. “I am so happy that I can keep up my wellness routine at the Y. I have built relationships with the Arcadia staff and members. We motivate and support each other and I couldn’t imagine leaving this community behind.”
Norton, of Mystic, a social worker and single mother of two daughters, told the audience that she, too, applied for assistance from the YCares fund after years of “shying away from accepting help.”
Once she realized there were opportunities to make a better life for her daughters, she decided to “seize the opportunities available to me.”
“I found a YCares application online and filled it out, not really knowing how much it would help,” she said. “But I can tell you now it has helped a great deal.”
“We stopped in the Naik Family Y with the paperwork and were members shortly after,” she said, referring to the YMCA’s branch in Mystic. “My youngest daughter struggles with special needs and body image issues due to her weight ... at the Y, she is able to exercise in the wellness center in a safe place without judgment.”
Norton’s oldest daughter joined the Mystic Hammerheads swim team, she said, “and loves participating with children of all walks of life.”
“We are at the Y multiple nights a week now and we know a lot of the friendly staff by name,” she added. “There’s no way my daughter’s dream of swimming on a team would be made possible without generous people who contribute to the fund.”
“My greatest hope in sharing my story is to individualize poverty,” Norton added. “Everyone’s take is unique and not always as statistical as we think. Societies can change, and the cycle can change when hope is provided. Thank you for raising funds for the YCares Financial Assistance program. It truly makes a huge impact for so many people.”
Charley Kellogg of Westerly, the chief volunteer officer for the Y’s association board, who gave the opening remarks, said the theme of this year’s campaign is “Changemakers.”
“The definition of a changemaker,” he said, “is an individual who is committed to advancing the common good ... everyone in this room is a changemaker ... the work you are doing to raise funds for YCares ... has a tremendous impact. You are changing lives.”
Kellogg introduced Jennifer Schwindt of Mystic and Jan Chamberlain of Westerly, who are serving as campaign co-chairs.
There were a total of 3,563 YCares recipients in 2019, Chamberlain said, and more than a half a million dollars was raised.
Schwindt said this year’s total campaign goal is $505,000; including $240,000 from the Westerly-Pawcatuck branch, $150,000 from the Naik Family Branch and $50,000 from the Arcadia branch.
The Arcadia branch has already raised $33,180; the Naik Family Branch, $88,751, and the Westerly-Pawcatuck branch has raised $104,380. In addition, Chamberlain said that as of Thursday, $51,461 of the $65,000 administrative goal had been reached. Thus, nearly 45% of the overall goal has been achieved so far, with $277,772 yet to go.
For more than 90 years, the Y has raised money for membership scholarships to community members in need, according to Stacey Jackson, the Y’s director of annual giving. She said the Y uses a “face-to-case fundraising model, per YUSA Development Standards.”
“We recruit volunteers, offer them training sessions on fundraising and they reach out to friends, family, colleagues ... to contribute to the Y,” she said. “Many of our volunteers are Y members, all of our board members participate as well.”
“Volunteers work as a team towards a goal,” said Jackson. “This is a true community effort.”
Financial aid is awarded on a sliding scale, so people qualify for various percentages and discounted rates based on need, Jackson said. Special circumstances are also considered, she added — for instance, if a member has to cancel a membership because of sudden financial strain from job loss or medical bills, divorce or other reasons.
Applications for aid are available at the front desk at the three branches, and online at oceancommunityymca.org/join-the-y/y-cares. The criteria are listed on the online application, Jackson said.
“We are here for our community and we’re committed to ensuring that the Y remains open to all,” Jackson said.
Kellogg told the packed audience: “I want to thank everyone here today for the meaningful contributions you’ve all made to our community as a whole. Everyone in this room has played a role in helping the Y fulfill our mission. We are working together to make our corner of the world a better place and I want to express my gratitude to you all for doing your part.”