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Nikki Loftin’s passion and dedication to the people, Mission, and her work at the Y are infectious. After spending a few minutes with her, it’s obvious why staff and members alike flock to this three year veteran’s fitness classes. Outside of the Y, you can find Nikki writing children’s novels and spending time with her family.
Q: What kinds of people are in your Zumba classes?
Everyone. I have men, I have women, I have three-generation families. It’s amazing to see a grandmother, daughter, and granddaughter all working out together and being healthy.
Q: Why is working at the Y different to you?
The reason why I’m here is because the Y has a focus on people and building community. Everybody is welcome. We’re not separating ourselves from our society, from the people that live here.
Q: What compels you, as a staff member, to give to Partner of Youth?
I’ve been giving to Partner of Youth since before I worked at the YMCA. I’m already choosing to work at the Y because I love the programs so much, so why wouldn’t I support it with dollars as well as my presence? I volunteer with other organizations, but this one supports families in so many ways that it’s where I want my energy and some of my resources to go. It helps tie you into the community.
Kate Hegefeld knows a thing or two about camp and afterschool programming; she’s filled every role for those programs over the past five years: Camp Counselor, Assistant Site Director, Site Director, and now Program Co
ordinator. She sees camp and afterschool programs from start to finish, which means at any given moment she might be in the office, on a supply run, out with the kids and staff at camp, or talking with a parent.
Q: Tell us what the Y means to you. Why is it different from other jobs?
This summer I’ve seen some really tough cases of kids, but I know that they need to be at the Y. We’re only on week five of camp and they’ve completely changed: they’ve learned how to swim, they’ve made friends when they didn’t think they could make friends, they’re trying new things and they’re going outside of their comfort zone.
Q: What about your job, and summer camp, is most important to you?
I think it’s super important for my job to make sure the kids are having a good experience at camp and they’re not just wanting to go home and watch T.V. and play video games. At camp, they get to play and learn and just experience being a child, which is kind of rare these days.
Q: Why do you think it’s important to give, as a staff member?
I can work all day long but that’s not putting a kid in camp, you know. If I give money, someone can actually go to camp. I wouldn’t be proud of my job if I didn’t do it.
This summer marks Meaghan’s fifth year with the Y. She’s a self-described “jack of all trades,” and can be found working at the Welcome Center, ChildWatch, KidFit, YouthFit, or serving as co-coordinator for Parents’ Night Out. Meaghan’s been with the Y since she was 16, and as she juggles her college schedule with her work schedule, she affectionately considers the Y her second home.
Q: Who are the members you interact with most frequently?
We have the most diverse population of members here. There’s people of all income levels here, all different backgrounds, nationalities, and religions. It’s really cool to see us all here together, to have this one thing in common. We really push that sense of community and look for
that in our employees. I think people come to the Y expecting that, so we have to step up and meet their expectations. Everyone here is just really friendly.
Q: What does it mean to work for an organization with a Mission?
It’s really cool to have a place like this, where anyone can come and anyone can find someone or something to connect to. And they can do it at a cost that is affordable to them no matter what’s going on in their lives. I can’t think of one instance where we haven’t stepped up and been able to help [our members].
Q: What made you decide to give to Partner of Youth?
I come into contact with a lot of families who are a part of our financial assistance program or who need assistance with our youth programs. It would be really sad if they weren’t able to participate with us or be a part of the Y, and get to know people here. Giving is such a big part of the Y, and the Y is such a big part of me, so it made sense to me [to give].
Q: What would you want new employees to know about giving to the Y?
I think it sets an example to our members. I would tell them if they’re going to be an employee here, they probably won’t have to wait very l
ong to see the benefits of POY. A little bit added up can make a big difference. I don’t think there is an insignificant amount you can give.
When Angela Yescas joined the Boulder YMCA in 2005, she said it was a lifesaver. As a stay-at-home mom, the Y became her place to unwind, and subsequently, it became part of her family’s routine. Since 2008, she’s been working for the Hays Communities YMCA, and her role as Financial Assistance Coordinator allows her to see and share the Y’s Mission and impact with members on a daily basis.
Q: Why did you decide to give to Partner of Youth? Why do you continue to give?
When I first started contributing, it was a smaller portion as I was just getting to know POY. But then this year after becoming more accustomed in my job as Financial Assistance Coordinator, I got to know a lot of people, both parents and children, who benefit from the programs, and it made it so much easier [to give].
Q: How has your viewpoint evolved since you started working with financial assistance applications?
In the beginning, I wanted to have all my ducks in a row, so to speak, and as time went on it became more of “how can we help them?” [our members]. I think that was because of the fact that those applicants were seen as individuals and we could see how much they benefited from what we’re doing at the Y.
Q: What makes the Y a unique place to work?
I would say it’s different on the level that we serve the youngest to the oldest; we serve a wide range of denominations, ethnicities, and age groups. Staff can see it and feel it. They know that every penny [in donations] that comes into this place goes right back out to the community - that makes a huge difference on why the Y is different.
Well before she joined the Y’s staff, Danielle Shores was a volunteer here. During that time, her commitment to service was solidified and she was able to achieve her fitness and health goals at the same time. She’s been with the Y now for two years, and she’s delighted to be able to bring the same zeal she had for her own journey to those in her community. When she’s not working, you can catch Danielle volunteering at other area non-profits.
Q: Why do you like working for a non-profit?
We’re all trying to help people, and provide a service to people who can’t really afford to do it on a normal basis. We do things for the community out of the pure joy of it, not to make a profit. We’re in it to help people.
Q: Do you feel like you get to see the impact of the Y?
Yes, of course! I live in this neighborhood, and I know how I started out when I came to the Y. If giving money helps someone reach their weight loss goals, or helps them become healthier, or gives them a place to go where they can feel better about themselves, then I think that’s awesome. Especially when they can’t afford a membership - they bring in a pay stub, we see that they make little to almost nothing, they have four kids and a sick parent - you totally see the effect of POY when it comes to giving them a membership they can afford. Working with kids, when they smile because they’ve done something awesome or they’re having fun with a new friend they just made, you see the effect of POY.
Q: Why do you think it’s important for staff to give to Partner of Youth?
I think staff giving is important because it shows our members and community that we’re doing what we ask them to do. For us to work here and pitch POY and how it benefits people, but not be willing to give, it doesn’t really make any sense to me. For us to give knowing that we don’t really make alot shows that we believe in what we’re doing.
Seymour Guenther was a member before he joined the YMCA of Austin’s staff eight years ago. When he decided to look for a job in fitness, he turned to the Y first because of the atmosphere and the flexibility the Y offered in what he teaches. He started out at North Park, but now works in his own neighborhood at the Southwest Y as a Group Exercise Instructor, Personal Trainer, and LIVESTRONG at the YMCA coach.
Q: What makes the Y different for our members and the community?
When you come here you’re really exposed to the atmosphere and the connections and you really get it. I understand the Mission of the Y, and that the things I like about the Y are supported by it being a nonprofit.
Q: Do you think that giving as a staff member is important?
I think it’s about buying into the Mission. And I think that it’s a choice for people, and if you’re just doing this as a job, then I understand you might not choose to make that donation, but if you’re about the Mission of the Y it just goes to your motivations. Having been a member first, I see it from that side and I see how it helps so many members in the programs I’m involved in. I’d feel kind of hypocritical if I didn’t give myself.
Q: Do you feel like in any of the roles you play, you see the benefit of Partner of Youth?
Oh yeah, absolutely. I coach the LIVESTRONG at the YMCA program and that’s entirely POY funded. It’s for cancer survivors, and there’s a period where you can’t work, and there are some of my participants that weren’t working to begin with, so you have a lot of financial issues going on. This really makes it possible for them to be part of this.
Roger Harner is as unassuming as they come. If you dig a little deeper, though, you’ll find a man committed to the Y. Although he has a separate full-time job, Roger has stuck with the East Communities YMCA for nearly a decade. Roger grew up in East Austin, and his understanding and dedication to the kids he works with comes naturally. He says he’s just a big kid himself, but when one of his basketball students peeked through the window during our interview, it was obvious that he’s also a role model.
Q: What keeps you coming back to work for the Y?
I realized that the job I have is teaching, and that’s always been what I wanted to do. I’ve already made so many friends, so many companions that keep me coming back. It’s the people who work here, the people who come, the kids that are here. I know people by name and it’s kind of hard to get away from this place, it really is.
Q: With the various jobs that you’ve had, do you feel like you get to see the impact of POY often?
Oh yeah, especially here. I grew up in this neighborhood. We were never rich; no one around here is rich. Just the fact that you’re giving back, I mean, it sounds cliché but it really just makes a difference and you feel so much more fulfilled when your money goes towards the type of experience the YMCA is. It’s like a community in a nutshell.
Q: Why do you think it’s important to give to Partner of Youth?
I started to realize we have a bunch of underprivileged kids around here who can’t afford the programs we offer. So if I’m not giving that means three or four kids aren’t going to be able to meet me (laughs). My boss is a real good guy, and he would say “If you can, help just one kid. We’re gonna have class even if just one kid signs up. That one kid is coming to do something, and at least he’s not out on the streets.” So that’s the way I look at it too.
When 16-year-old Mark Paden initially joined the Springs YMCA, he signed up for the swim team and could barely make it down the length of the pool. After a lot of hard work and encouragement from his coach and teammates, Mark transformed into a competitive swimmer. Shortly after, he decided to get his lifeguard certification, and has been happily employed as a Lifeguard since April. For Mark, the Y is a huge part of his life, and it feels like family to him.
Q: Do you like working at the Y?
Oh yeah, it’s nice. It’s more of a family-orientated place where you know people - it’s very friendly. I’m homeschooled, and we live out in the middle of nowhere. There is no one around. To have someplace to just go and swim; as much as anything else, it’s helped me in the past few years. I’m just a lifeguard, but I spent 30 hours lifeguarding last week, plus my personal time swimming.
Q: What kind of people do you see around the pool?
During the off season, there are a lot of middle aged people, people training for triathlons, or older people doing it for health. During the summer there’s a lot of kids taking swim lessons. It’s a huge fitness pool. We have everyone from extremely good swimmers to people who hardly swim at all.
Q: Why do you think it’s important to give to the Y?
I know for me, personally, I had to have financial aid to be on the swim team for a while. If I hadn’t had that, I wouldn’t be working here or swimming on the team today. I know it’s helped me, so if it’s helped me, I’m sure it’s helped other people. Being able to keep swimming every day was great. I would come in the morning, swim for an hour and half, and work for an hour. If I hadn’t been able to do that, half of my life would be gone. It was everything to me. Plus, I just feel like the whole place gives you something; even if you give, it still gives back. When anybody gives, especially staff, that’s setting an example for people. I think anything helps.