VERNON — The YMCA of the Greater Tri-Valley family came together for their 149th annual meeting and recognized those amongst them who have gone above and beyond.
“The 2020 Recognition Program is exciting for us,” outgoing-President John Elberson said. “This event enables us to highlight and showcase all the accomplishments of the staff, the partners in the communities and the volunteers of the year. It’s the one time we get to shine a light on all the people working behind the scenes who are doing a lot of remarkable work.
YMCA CEO Hank Leo asked the crowd at Dibble’s Inn in Vernon if they had ever experienced a defining moment in their life that makes them realize what is truly important in their life. “I’ve had three really important moments this year,” he said.
The first one came after the Y applied for a $2 million grant from New York state and was approved — but that wasn’t the most important one, according to Leo.
Leo said there was a little eight-year-old girl in the Y’s archery program at Oneida Heritage who had a moment during the tournament in December. She missed all her shots, Leo said and sat on the ground, crying uncontrollably and heartbroken. “I told her that day to hang in there,” he said. “I told her she’ll get better. She just needs to practice.” A few weeks later, Leo met with the little girl again and showed off the new recurve Santa brought her for Christmas.
“Her mother came up and said her daughter loves the program and doesn’t know what she’d do without it,” Leo said. “Her mother said without the archery program, her daughter probably wouldn’t be involved in anything.”
She got a new quiver, Leo said, but she didn’t have any arrows. Leo had just made six new wooden arrows by hand for the program but instead gave them to her and wished her a Merry Christmas.
The little girl came running towards Leo, jumped up and hugged him. “She hung on and wouldn’t let go,” he said. “That was much more important that the $2 million grant. It was one of the reasons why we do what we do and if you forget that, you’ve lost why we’re here.”
2019 was a good year for the Y. The $2 million grant will be going towards the construction of a new Y building in Rome; a record number of 298 people showed up for the YMCA Prayer Breakfast; a group of student ambassadors from Rome was sent to learn how government work and how their voices matter in government; a partnership was formed with Clear Path for Veterans in Cazenovia; the YMCA of the Greater Tri-Valley has over 9000 members with a goal of 10,000 for next year and so much more.
The YMCA of the Greater Tri-Valley will also see a new president for 2020.
Elberson has been president a couple of times in the past and has been the current Y president for the last 18 months or so. “I’ve been on the board for better part of 12 years,” Elberson said. “I grew up in Oneida so In 2008, I moved back with my family and started working at Alliance Bank. I wanted to get involved with the community and the Y was the best option to do so.”
Elberson said he’s worked over the years with a really great team and has helped in any way he can, from fundraising for the new building and scholarships, chairing committees and helping with strategic planning.
“I’ve been fortunate to have a lot of different roles with the Y,” Elberson said. “Not everyone gets to do that and I’ve seen a lot of different aspects of Y, even spending two years as a member of the staff as director of development, working alongside Leo. I’ve got a chance to see every facet.”
Taking Elberson’s spot as president for 2020 is Karim Madmoune. “Karim has done a great job,” he said. “He’s been with us for around three to four years. He’s young, energetic, and from the Rome community. He’s done a great job getting involved and engaged. He’s a natural leader and I think he’ll do a great job. I’m confident in what he’ll do going forward.”
Both Madmoune and Elberson have been heavily involved in the due diligence and planning of the new Rome YMCA building. Elberson said a site has been identified across the street from Mohawk Valley Community College on Floyd Ave. in Rome.
Elberson said he’ll still be on the board and will offer any support he can to Madmoune, adding he’s been asked by Leo to get involved in some of the annual committees. “The Y gets in your blood,” he said.
For the Oneida Branch, Staff of the Year went to Brian Carroll. “When thinking about Staff of Year and what qualities they have, these traits include someone kind, enthusiastic, brings a positive energy to the team and brings exceptional customer service to the members,” said Multi Team Leader Stephanie Neff. “Brian embodies all these traits and more.”
Carroll joined the Oneida Y after retiring as a pharmaceutical sales representative. He had a long-time love of Zumba and had been a participant for a long time before becoming a guest instructor and then a certified Zumba and Aqua Zumba instructor.
Oneida Volunteer of the Year went to Julie Young for giving of her time and energy just to help people.
“Julie has been a volunteer spin instructor every week at the Oneida Y since 2013,” Neff said. “She provides members with a high-intensity class experience while also understanding each participant and their needs. I was eager to understand the motivation behind Julie’s volunteerism at the Y and why she thought it was valuable to give her time. Her husband Todd shared with me that ‘it’s just who she is’.”
For Julie, it’s about the experience and serving others, whether it’s teaching people at her spin class or making sure brides feel special on their wedding day with her wedding flower business.
Oneida Community Partner of the Year went to Madison Bistro for giving so much to the Y’s mission.
“Lisa Campanie and Victor Ramirez at Madison Bistro not only understand the Y’s mission and how it impacts the community, they celebrate it and support our mission,” Neff said. “Lisa and Victor are two of the biggest advocates we have for the Y’s annual Prayer Brunch. They’ve graciously donated meeting space for the planning committee each month at the Madison Bistro with breakfast and coffee, while each taking on several items that are needed to make the event special. They’ve supported our marketing efforts by attaching event fliers to every takeout container going out the door, they’ve helped make Facebook videos and distribute them to their clientele, and sell tickets at their business.”
These efforts, Neff said, have helped the Y hold their largest Prayer Brunch to date at 298 attendees.
“When we were approached to be on the committee for the annual Prayer Brunch, we knew immediately that it wasn’t just a good partnership by a way to give back to the community on a level much bigger than we’ve ever done before,” Ramirez said. “At the Bistro, we have an incredible staff and because of their efforts, we are able to pull this off year after year without a hitch. This award belongs to the team of Madison Bistro.”
For the Rome branch, Staff of the Year was awarded to Aaron Calandra. “Aaron started out teaching ZUMBA when it was the new thing in the upstate area,” Multi Team Leader Bruce Hairston said. “She was the newest instructor in the area and took upstate by storm and garnered a reputation all over the place. She became one of the best and most sought after instructor.”
Rome Volunteer of the Year went to Majlis Wafer, who Hairston said is of Swedish decent, lived with her family in New York City until she was 25, joined the Army and moved to Rome in 1964. In 2005, she joined the Rome YMCA for their Silver Sneakers class.
“She has been a member of Y and Silver Sneakers since then,” Hairston said. “Through the years, she’s expanded her workouts and added more fitness classes along with her Silver Sneakers class. She’s always early for her classes, spending that time setting up the chairs and putting out the equipment. She’s very personable and dedicated to the Y, there almost every day and sometimes twice a day.”
The Rome Community Partner of the Year went to the Arc of Herkimer. “They’ve been coming to the Y for a number of years,” Hairston said. “They’ve been bringing their folks to the Y and help us with duties and have become part of the family and routine. We’re thankful for having them. Our staff looks forward to them coming to the YMCA. To us, they’re just part of our staff.”
The Dudley “Gig” Rowland Scholarship went to Lauren Dorfman and Yahynus Hunter, two tenth-graders from Rome Free Academy who give their best every day.
“Lauren has a 99.90 weighted average,” Hairston said. “Coach Howard says that Lauren is an outstanding example of a student-athlete. She works so hard in the classroom and on the field and knows how to balance them both.”
Lauren often helps tutors and peers, patiently working with them to learn the material. She is also a flight commander in her class and member of the color guard team.
“Yahynus is a leader in the classroom and a leader on the athletic field,” Hairston said. “She’s an assistant flight commander and plays for RFA basketball.”
According to her math teacher, Yahynus works hard in class and stays after school to help in the library. “Her coach says Yahynus is the kind of student-athlete you wish you had a class or team of all students like her on,” Hairston said. “She always has a smile on her face, she’s respectful to all staff and students and there isn’t a fake bone in her body. She is well-deserving of this award.”
The New Hartford Staff of the Year award went to Chad Lusby for all his hard work within the last year. “He works at our after school program at Hughes Elementary School and has been a great asset to our team,” Multi Team Leader Libby Blair said. “He’s friendly, hard-working and works well with others, building strong relationships with his peers, family, and children in our programs. He always does a great job.”
New Hartford Community Partner of the Year went to Harts Hill Elementary School, working with the New Hartford Y. “We have a program at Harts Hill and the employees there have been very helpful and do a great job communicating,” Blair said. “Principal Lisa Putnam and Secretary Karen Farr go above and beyond to assist us.”
The last award of the night, the Red Triangle Award, is the highest award given to volunteers at the YMCA and went to Russ Brewer. The red triangle represents spirit, mind, and body all in balance. The award is given to someone who is a dedicated member of the Y, a volunteer, and a supporter of the spirit and mission of the Y in both words, practice, and action.
“This year’s recipient has been a volunteer for the U for the past five years and when they joined us, they jumped in with both feet and began serving,” Leo said. “Russ joined a number of committees, attended nearly ever one of them, helped raise thousands for scholarships and contributed the most valuable gift one can offer — time. Russ believes in the mission, tends to always find a win-win and positive outcome from our challenges, and is a thoughtful, considerate, kind volunteer who wants to see the Y grow and develop.”
Brewer said the Y has been a great program to be a part of and has a tremendous future ahead of it.
“I think there’s going to be a lot of things that are going to make the Y grow more and I’m excited to be a part of it,” Brewer said. “I think the people of the Y are what makes it what it is and you’re all great at making people feel part of the family.”
For Elberson, the Y often gets characterized as just a gym with a swimming pool — and that’s just not true.
“It’s such an all-encompassing opportunity and environment for individulas and families, from infants and senior citizens to socialize and exercise,” Elberson “It’s really something else. It engages the whole community. It does so much for so many and unlike any other organization”