My pick of the year


“Home is where you feel at home and are treated well.” – Dalai Lama

As 2014 dwindles to a close, magazines and journals everywhere are naming their person or people of the year for 2014. I feel compelled to name my own choice for person, or in this case, organization of the year. The Greater Kansas City YMCA has not only been there for me personally every step of my journey for the last year, they are there for the entire Kansas City community. Words cannot express how grateful I am for the opportunities they have afforded me and the people and circumstances they have put in my path.

A year ago I was miserable. I worked at a job that I had come to hate. It wasn’t the work itself that was bothering me; it was the constant politics and not so hidden agendas that were dragging me down into an abyss of misery. When I started waking up and bursting into tears at the thought of going into work I knew I had to make a change. But what would that change look like?

I have worked for a number of companies in my life and each and every time I got caught up in the cycle of aggression. I wish I could tell you I would rise above the politics and do my job without letting the games get to me, but I would be lying. I am not the most competitive person I know, but I certainly have the urge to prove my value to myself and others. Based on this self-knowledge, I knew that applying to companies that needed someone to fill a position similar to anything I’d done in the past would be a short-term solution. I had absolutely zero interest in returning to the same situation no matter how ideal a new job might feel for the first year or two.

In trying to decide how I could leave a job that made me so unhappy, I put out some feelers at the YMCA where I taught cycling and yoga. Without a second of hesitation every single person there assured me they would find a place for me. They would only be able to pay me a fraction of what I was making at the job I had come to despise but it was enough to give me the courage to leap.

What a landing spot they gave me! After almost a year, I still do not feel the stress and pressure of “having to go to work.” There are multiple directors who have advocated for me to take on more classes and hours. I have met some of the most delightful people I have ever known, both staff and members.

The YMCA of Greater Kansas City Mission Statement:

     The YMCA of Greater Kansas City, founded on Christian principles, is a charitable organization with an inclusive environment committed to enriching the quality of family, spiritual, social, mental and physical well-being.

The YMCA where I work has an active group of seniors and an equally active group of challenged adults. I love these people and am grateful for the opportunity to get to know them. They vary in age, color, education and abilities and I love the stories each and every one of them has to tell. I watch the infirm among them struggle into the building, usually with a smile and always with a willingness to challenge themselves, both physically and mentally. Nothing puts your life in clearer perspective than to watch someone use an antiquated walker with no turning ability as they drag themselves up and down the hall to get in a workout. It’s hard to feel sorry for yourself when people with such overwhelming challenges don’t have time to feel sorry for themselves.

     The Y engages men, women and children—regardless of age, income or background—to nurture the potential of children and teens, improve the nation’s health and well-being, and provide opportunities to give back and support neighbors. With a history of serving the Kansas City area since 1860, the Y has the long-standing relationships and physical presence not just to promise, but to deliver, lasting personal and social change. –

Another program at the YMCA that I admire is the Challenger program. This program offers sports and socialization to children and young adults who have handicaps that might prevent them from participating elsewhere. I try to volunteer for these events when I can and I always walk away feeling grateful for the experience.

     The Y Challenger program for children and young adults with special needs shines as an example of how participating in healthy activities can result in not only improved physical fitness but also personal growth, fun and friendships.

In today’s world of gyms and workout facilities constantly trying to compete with each other the YMCA sometimes gets overlooked for more sophisticated or more specialized facilities. I understand the draw of those offerings. What I strongly feel that you don’t get anywhere else is the supportiveness you find at the Y. An overweight person who walks in gets cheered for each step they make in their return to health. I have never seen anyone at any of the YMCA’s where I’ve worked look down on someone less fit.

I know the fear of being looked down on makes it hard for some people to return to fitness. The self-imposed shame of losing your way on the road to fitness is a strong emotion. Years ago, when I was a size 18, I didn’t have the courage to go to a gym to workout. I worked out on my own and didn’t start going to gyms until I was already back in shape and was looking for ways to substitute my outdoor workouts when the weather got cold. I have nothing but admiration for anyone who walks into a gym and says “I need help.” The Y is a safe place to return to fitness without fear of the judgment that is so prevalent in many of the gyms currently operating.

Whether you are looking for a place to work-out, a place to socialize or just a safe spot to land in your journey, I cannot overstate how much I recommend the YMCA. I have no idea what my future holds, but I will always be grateful to the YMCA, their directors, their staff and their members, for having such a great place for people to feel safe while returning to fitness. I appreciate having such a wonderful place for me to exist in while trying to decide what I want to do when I grow up.

Thank you.

What are your thoughts?