Y Member Stories

Our members are amazing and each has a story to tell. The Y meets people where they are in life and helps guide them on a journey to reach and exceed their goals. Meet some of members below. If you want to share your Y story, please contact us at info@rockriverymca.org.

“Joining the Y is one of the best things I have done for myself,” says Cynthia Reynolds enthusiastically. 

The last time she belonged to a gym was in the 1980s. She says she did some at-home workouts for a while and stayed generally fit. She never really felt loyal to one gym or workout.

Things changed when the University of Illinois College of Medicine and the Y teamed up a couple of years ago. The College opened the Glenn Netto Center on campus, which is run by the Y. All staff and students can use the facility for free. Twice a week Y instructors would teach group fitness classes on-site.

“I decided to give one class a try, then another and another. Soon the instructor, Ginger, was encouraging me to do more,” said Cynthia. “I was invited to attend a Less Mills kick-off event at the Northeast Family YMCA, so I went and loved it.”

Cynthia went from trying one group fitness class on campus to becoming a full YMCA member and now participating in at least 5 classes a week!

“I’m hooked! I feel better, I look better, and it’s better for my stress.” 

Cynthia likes that group fitness classes provide accountability. She also likes the sense of community – not only in the classes, but at the Y overall. 

“I’m always greeted by name when I walk in the door. Customer service is important to me.” 

Cynthia also points out that she loves that she can use the Y anywhere she goes across the country with Nationwide Membership. “When I’m traveling, it’s easy. I just find a Y and never miss a workout.”

More Y Member Stories

February is National Cancer Prevention Month and we wanted to highlight a LIVESTRONG at the YMCA cancer survivor.

Marsha Manthei was diagnosed with breast cancer after a routine mammogram in 2014. While she admits to experiencing the shock of diagnosis, she remembers feeling it was her turn. She is the third generation of women in her family - following her mother and grandmother¬ – to be diagnosed with breast cancer.

“I watched my mother and grandmother go through the fight not once, but twice. These brave prayer warriors were such an example for me.”

Marsha sought care at Mayo Clinic as her mother and grandmother had. She chose to have a Bilateral Mastectomy and then was treated with the breast cancer drug Tamoxifen. She then went on to have two reconstructive surgeries. 

Prior to the surgeries, Marsha learned she would lose her job for needing six weeks off because she didn’t qualify for the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). She credits her family and friends for helping her to get through this time in her life.

Marsha says losing her job with a cancer diagnosis was devastating. “I’m a Registered Nurse and a Licensed Nursing Home Administrator. I had worked as a Director of Nursing for 15 years and never thought this would happen to me.”

Once she was able, Marsha joined LIVESTRONG at the YMCA. LIVESTRONG at the YMCA is a free program tailored to meet the specific needs of adult cancer survivors who would like to improve and reclaim their health before, during, and after treatment. 

“I looked forward to and enjoyed bi-weekly fellowship with fellow cancer survivors, their family members and our leaders.” 

Over the course of 12 weeks, Marsha met with others in small groups to exercise, enhance functional ability, and improve energy levels. The classes are led by certified instructors who have completed specialized YMCA of the USA training in elements of cancer, rehabilitative exercise, and supportive cancer care. 

“This program helped to nourish my body, mind and spirit. It taught me to live every minute of my life with every ounce of my being, and to not let cancer control me. Unity is strength, knowledge is power, and attitude is everything!”

In 2015, following her recovery, Marsha was offered a new position with a company that better suited her needs. She says her relationships are stronger and her bond with the Lord is unbreakable.

“I will forever hear my mom telling me, ‘Trust in the Lord with all your heart, all your mind and all your soul. Have faith. God loves you. It’s going to be ok.’”

Marsha is still active at the Y doing cardio workouts a few times a week. She remains close to her fellow LIVESTRONG at the YMCA graduates. They meet for dinner frequently to share what is going on in each of their lives.

Why the Y?

...it’s the people.

I joined the YMCA, in 1982 (shortly after the earth cooled). It was at this time, that the “Exercise Craze” was hitting a zenith. The downtown Y was expanding and machine equipment was replacing bar/free weights. My afternoons were spent with a group of people I didn’t know but we all had the same goal, “Be in better shape”. Because of this, I have made and maintained wonderful friendships with a group of people who share the same sense of good health. Now, here at the Northeast Branch, I have had the good treasure of establishing a whole new wealth of friends that share the same mindset.

...it’s the people.

More precisely, the staff.

In those years, there really weren’t trainers, in the traditional sense but a group of dedicated women and men and who cared enough to learn the latest techniques and share them with us. They were knowledgeable and were eager to share what they had learned. Many of us viewed them as “conscientious mentors”.

Yes, we sweated and we were sore but because of these early coaches, we made their classes, part of our daily diet.

...it’s the people.

Northeast Branch 2017.

5 AM comes early. Some days it’s cold, raining, snowing, and humid, or just plain miserable. However, there’s always a smile and a “Good morning“, from the front desk. Your feet lead you into either the weight room or to a class. It is here (classes), where the real difference has taken place. Today, there are certified trainers, who are up on the latest physical movements that are beneficial to the whole human anatomy. From strength training to cardiovascular implementation, “Today’s" trainers (and more succinctly), the Y’s trainers, are very conversant.

They not only instruct you on proper techniques, but attend to your psyche’ when you want to give up and offer you proper nutrition suggestions, to keep you fueled before and after. In my opinion, this speaks volumes.

In closing, I want to thank the YMCA of the Rock River Valley, for allowing me to be a member for 35 years and employing people with a true sense of physical and mental expertise.

Terry A. Giardini Psy.D

Meet the Dawson family – Desiree, Nick, Cameron and Colin. They are a proud Camp and Kids’ Time family! The Dawsons have been members of the Y for about six years. They joined the Y because it had the programs they were looking for as a family at a reasonable cost. 

Colin and Cameron are enrolled in Kids’ Time before and after school care as well as being regulars at Camp Winnebago every summer. The Y has become more than a place that cares for their children – for the Dawsons, it is a place where their family thrives.

“We have truly become a Camp family where we have watched our boys grow and mature and really use the Y values both at camp and at home,” said Desiree. “Camp fosters such a great learning and nurturing environment where kids can explore. It is something we are fortunate to be a part of every summer.” 

They were even more excited when Camp Days launched – allowing the boys to attend Camp on days when school is not in session.

“Camp Winnebago and the Kids’ Time program give us that peace of mind and we know our children are in excellent hands with them.” 

Desiree says family nights at Camp are one of their favorite days of the week during the summer. “What an amazing thing to be able to be a camper right along with them every Thursday night. We get to meet and get to know all of the counselors there, sing camp songs, and watch skits that they worked hard to put together throughout the week.” 

The Dawsons love their time exploring Camp together and seeing all of the children so excited to show their parents the activities that they get to participate in. Camp overnights are a big hit with Colin and Cameron.

“They try not to miss a single overnight the entire summer if they can help it. We all have so much fun and it does really feel like one big camp family.”

The Dawson’s say because of the amazing experiences they have had with Camp Winnebago, they decided to send the boys to YMCA Camp Benson the last two summers for a week of away camp. YMCA Camp Benson is located in Mount Carroll, IL and is a great option for families looking for a stay away option. 

Between School’s Out Days, Youth Education Programs, Camp Rekindle in the winter and Camp Revive in the spring – Camp Winnebago offers year-round fun and learning for area children.

“I can't say enough about the staff and how amazing everyone is there. I wish every child could experience how truly great Camp is.”

Bob Bowers joined the YMCA on January 2, 2009 – with a new year and a fresh start. Nearly nine years later, he is still as dedicated to his health. As a retired 2nd Degree Black belt Tae Kwon Do assistant instructor, Bob knows the value of good physical fitness and health.

Over the years, Bob has dealt with many major medical issues including Asthma, Cardiac, Diabetes and Kidney diseases. He knows it is very important to try to control the impact of those diseases on his life. Therefore, he tries to exercise five days a week by doing strength exercises on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and cardio machines on Tuesday and Thursday.

About 18 months ago, Bob lost his wife of 55 years. That was a very difficult time for Bob and he turned to the Y to fill the void. He considers the Y staff at the Northeast Family YMCA and its many members to be his extended family.

“Cyndi R., Colleen, Holly, Karen, Margie, Marilyn, Melissa, Nikki, Vanessa, Isaiah, Logan and Strezz are all so kind and friendly,” said Bob. “My thanks to Mr. Brown and his very strong management team for running an extraordinary organization like the YMCA. Thank you so very much for allowing me to be a member of the Y organization.”

The Y aims to Build a Better Us one person at a time. We commend Bob on his dedication to a healthy spirit, mind and body.

Joel Sjostrom has been a YMCA member on and off for nearly three decades. Remaining fit is a priority for him and helps him focus. His current preferred method of activity takes him back to his family’s love of water. A friend recruited Joel to the YMCA Rowing Crew in 2009 and he has been on the river four to five mornings a week since.

“My whole family has been around water for generations. I rowed in canoes and row boats as a kid, which I believe set the foundation for rowing as an adult. I also remember watching Olympic rowing as a child and thinking it was pretty cool.”

Joel splits his time from rowing alone in a single boat to rowing with a team.

“When you row alone, every mistake is obviously yours so it is helpful for improving stroke technique.”

However, he admits it’s more fun to row with others.

“We all encourage each other and exchange suggestions. It’s gratifying to help other people improve their stroke technique and get better at working as a team because the feel of a well synchronized crew in a fast boat is exhilarating.”

Rowing Crew members often tout the serenity of the river and Joel echoes that sentiment. He and the others are on the water by 5:30 or 6:00 a.m. when the water is calm. The season usually starts in late April and runs through the annual Head of the Rock Regatta in October.

Joel may race in the Regatta, but his priority is to ensure there are enough volunteers on the dock to launch and retrieve about 600 boats.

“Regatta day is fun – there is so much action. I’ve been on the dock crew since I started rowing. It takes a lot of teamwork and coordination to stay on schedule while ensuring safety for all the athletes. We figure there is a boat coming or going every 45 seconds on the three docks.”

The 2017 Regatta is October 8 near the I.D. Pennock Family YMCA. Joel says what he likes most about rowing is that it truly is a sport for all ages.

“We have teenagers to people into their 70s and the crew has a wide range of abilities and motivations – from racing to fitness to just enjoying being outside. I especially enjoy seeing our high school crew’s rapid growth this year and expect to see more next year since the Rockford schools now recognize rowing as a varsity sport."

I grew up in a small town without a Y or public pool. Swimming just wasn’t on my family’s radar, so it’s not surprising that as a small child, I had to be rescued from the deep end of a friend’s pool. Then I failed swim lessons a few years later, scared and embarrassed to be the oldest kid in class. 

As a new mom and lifelong avoider of pools, I was determined to give my girls the gift of safe, confident swimming. They started lessons at the I.D. Pennock Family YMCA as soon as they could walk. Never did I imagine that swimming at the Y would grow from a skill to safeguard their lives into our family’s way of life—as members of the Stingrays swim team.

My oldest, Katie (16), is about to celebrate 10 years as a Stingray and recently got her first job as a Y lifeguard, while Ella (10) just earned her five-year-member plaque. My husband Steve and I are avid volunteers, and I’d venture to guess that we spend more time together as a family at Y pools than any other aspect of our busy lives. For that, I will always be grateful! 

Being Stingrays has given my daughters so much: confidence and skill in the water; respect for their coaches; the values of teamwork and sportsmanship; the thrill of doing their best; and the will to bounce back when it’s not the best day (well, ok, that’s a work in progress). Don’t even get me started on the long-lasting friendships—I’m already getting emotional at the thought of Katie and her teammates that we’ve known forever giving their senior speeches! 

From the parent standpoint, being a Stingray family has taught me the importance of volunteering…not just to support the team, but also to be a positive role model for my girls. It’s pushed me beyond my comfort zone: from a clueless non-swimmer in the bleachers, to president of the Parent Action Committee and even Y Volunteer of the Year. It’s filled my head with knowledge about this fascinating sport, as my kids can attest when I critique their streamlines while they roll their eyes (because yeah, I still can’t swim).  

One of my favorite things about our team is that it’s competitive yet welcoming at all levels. I love watching the little rookies grow into strong swimmers! Fast-forward to high school swimming, and you’ll see Stingrays celebrating each other’s achievements despite representing different schools. Stingray parents also come together and yell like crazy when any of our kids swim well—we’re like the United Nations, only louder and wearing catchy t-shirts. 

I could go on and on about the Stingrays…but if your child loves swimming, I say check out Rookie Week for yourself. Come join our swim family!

Four years ago, we were in need of a new daycare for my daughter who was 10 months old at the time. The in-home daycare wasn’t working for us and after touring a few places, separating the kids by age group also became important to us. We did not like the facilities that had children of mixed ages sharing a room. My mom worked for Rockford Health System at the time and recommended the Children’s Learning Center to me. We toured the building, met the staff, and decided this was the place for us. It felt like home.

Fast-forward to the present and we now have a second child in the care of the Children’s Learning Center. I never question dropping my kids off, I know my kids get just as much love there as if they were at home with me. 

The teachers have been great to work with. They have so much guidance on the different phases each child is going through and can offer tips on the next level and growth stages. 

My kids have also learned skills at the CLC that they have brought home with them. For example, when they are done eating, the kids put their cup/plate in the sink. I didn’t teach them that. I know it was something they learned at school.

The most difficult thing to overcome is saying bye to the teachers you love when it is time for your kids to move to the next age level. The teachers build relationships with your entire family, and not being able to see them everyday is a hard adjustment. 

Since the Y took over, I’ve seen more smiles and more happiness in the staff. The new staff members are fabulous finds and we are lucky to have them! This is so far from a babysitting service or an in-home childcare – the staff and teachers are always engaging the children, whether it is reading, playing, singing, or making art or science projects.

It was a great bonus and money saver getting a Y membership with our enrollment. I use the fitness and cardio equipment the most. I was able to cancel my gym membership elsewhere and we are grateful for the monthly savings.

I always recommend the CLC to anyone looking for childcare. I tell them about the teachers, how family oriented everyone is, the great playgrounds and facilities, and how much the classroom layout makes a difference with separated age groups. I would never hesitate to give my opinion!

"My first time attending college was as a teenage mom of two. I dropped out and entered the workforce to support my children. Over the years I would think about returning but life and my family always seemed to be obstacles. I did eventually return and graduated with my AAS in Business Administration degree. I am currently in a BS in Business Administration program and am set to graduate next summer. I have worked for Kaplan University as an admissions advisor for the last 10 years. My goal is to achieve my MBA. 

I decided to get involved with Americorps because I saw a need in my city for positive adult role models. Americorps was a great way to fulfill that need and earn an award that I can use towards my future education. I love the flexibility that the YMCA has given me to work with the youth in both the Achievers and Teen REACH programs. I was given the opportunity to plan programming, work with youth and sharpen my technical skills. It has been a great way for me to network within my community. I have made connections with decision makers from other non profits, politicians and educators that I hope will allow me to take my community involvement further. 

I did not always have the support at home to pursue my endeavors but throughout the years I had people who stood in as mentors. I feel like Americorps puts me in a position to pay it forward."

Amie joined the Y in 2013. She was going through a divorce and wanted to find a healthy outlet on days that she didn’t have her children. She started the summer boot camp with friends. It didn’t take long and she was hooked.

Amie says she has always been athletic, but for many years she lost that part of herself.

“I wanted to get myself back and lose the extra weight from having kids,” said Amie. “So, I set my first goal. I was going to workout five days a week.”

Amie found what she calls her “Y family” through group fitness classes. She started with Zumba and then began to tackle all of the Les Mills classes. The instructors and other members became really close friends.

“The Y pulled me in and it was a positive environment,” said Amie. “The instructors invested in me at a time when I needed it. As a group, we encourage each other and call each other by name. It’s healthy competition and pushes us to go further.”

Amie’s commitment soon started to pay off. She lost the weight and maintained it for a year. It was time for some new goals.

“I wanted to run in a mud race.”

She started training and signed up for her first obstacle course race. Again, she was hooked. She began competing in various races like the Warrior Dash, Tough Mudder and Spartan Races. In all, she has completed 9 races in 2 years.

Her next goal was to achieve the Spartan Trifecta by age 40. The Trifecta is completing three races - the Spartan Sprint, Spartan Super and Spartan Beast - in one year. In total, the three races include 74-87 obstacles spread out over 23-29 miles.

She completed the Sprint and Super, but wasn’t able to do the Beast and missed her goal.

“I was bummed and disappointed that I didn’t make my goal,” said Amie. “But, now I’m back at it and have recruited my friends and family to join me. My fiancé, a friend and I are already signed up for all three races this year. 2017 is our year.”

Sharing a love of health and wellness with their children is important to Amie and her fiancé, Ryan. They workout as a family and encourage the kids to be active. The kids are even competing in the races, too.

What do 40 teenagers on a weeklong bus trip have in common? We believe it’s their determination, ambition and sense of hope as they prepare for their future. These teens, who are part of the YMCA RAISE/Achievers program, recently joined Y staff on a college tour.

RAISE/Achievers is a career awareness and mentoring program at the Y. The program aims to expose teens to a wide range of career opportunities, develop goals, instill self-esteem and enhance leadership skills. Many of the students involved will be first generation college students. The program has a great success rate. In 2016, 11 of the students graduated high school and 100% went on to college. The annual college tour trip has turned in to a highlight for the students each year.

This year the group visited eight college campuses including Kentucky State, Fisk University, Vanderbilt University, Morehouse, Spelman, Clark Atlanta University, Alabama State University and Jackson State University.

The students were asked to compare each college in a detailed spreadsheet. They evaluated cost per year, ACT/SAT score requirements, financial aid information, application process and campus life details. The students can use the information to make decisions on where they want to attend college when they’re ready.

“The college tour helps these students to understand the culture and environment on campus,” said Tamica Fricks, YMCA Program Coordinator and tour chaperone. “College brochures only give the students a small fraction of needed information. The college tour allows students to find the best fit for them and help them get excited about their future.”

One student shared the following: “Alabama State had a great atmosphere that I did not expect. I'm really glad I attended the college tour. College never seemed like a real possibility until I went on this trip and saw it first hand.”

Parents even see the benefits of the tour. “My son is excited now about college. He came home filling out college applications,” said Kandi Crowe, parent.

The cost of the trip was partially subsidized through donations from generous sponsors including Hinshaw & Culbertson LLP, Charo Young, Dionne Edergston, Dr, Tiffany Sago, Tim Smith, Teisha Childs- Gilbert, Kandi Crowe, Northwest Community Center, Alberta Walker Tax Services, Joann Fricks, and Mike Hodges.

The students are grateful for the opportunity.

“I never could have afforded to go on a trip like this and see so many colleges. I'm thankful to Tamica and the Y for giving me this opportunity.”