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November is Military Family Month, providing Americans the opportunity to recognize the dedication, sacrifice and service of military personnel and their families. The Tampa YMCA supports military families year-round though programs and initiatives that improve their well-being and provide opportunities to connect with other families waiting at home. 

 

Sheena Farley says she and her military family have lived in many cities and been members at many gyms. But, the Plant City Family YMCA stands out among the rest. “The YMCA has been so much more than just a gym for me and my family. It has been like a second home to us,” says Sheena.

 

Sheena’s husband is out of the country for up to six months every year. “During the time of his last deployment, I had 3-month-old twins and a 3-year-old that I was caring for all on my own,” shares Sheena. “Coming into the Y everyday gave me the much needed break that I so desperately needed.”

 

After her workout, Sheena stays at the Y to work on earning her nursing degree. “I sit at the tables, have a cup of coffee and work on my reading assignments and homework while my kids play with all of their friends in the childcare area,” says Sheena. From basketball to soccer and swimming…Sheena is confident her kids are in safe hands at the Y. “My children being at the Y has given them the opportunity to be around children their own age. I love that they come to the Y and make friends with children from all nationalities, races and backgrounds.”

 

For Sheena, that family feeling starts the second she walks through the Y’s doors. “I love that everyone knows us by name and is so warm and welcoming. When we leave, someone always offers to carry a baby out to the car for me. How awesome is that,” asks Sheena. “You can't get that kind of service and hospitality at (another) gym. I honestly feel like the YMCA is the heart of Plant City.”

 

Pictured above: The Farley family considers the Plant City Y their second home.

 
 

More kids are up on their feet at the North Brandon Family YMCA. The newly renovated Youth Activity Center (YAC) now offers children a safe environment to exercise, learn about healthy habits and increase their peer interaction. Thanks to a $12,500 grant from Winn-Dixie (formerly Sweet Bay Supermarkets), the YAC now features new state-of-the art equipment including Dance Dance Revolution, interactive gaming bikes, a rowing machine and an obstacle course for kids ages 6-12.

 

The North Brandon Y invited the community to a ribbon-cutting ceremony on October 28th followed by a free fall festival. Folks got to see for themselves how the new center helps prevent childhood obesity. Physical training inside the new center is based upon guidelines stated by the American College of Sports Medicine and the YMCA of the USA. Additionally, kids using the facility are encouraged to adopt healthier living styles with an emphasis on the "5, 2, 1, Almost None" curriculum. This program focuses on encouraging kids to eat five or more fruits and vegetables a day, watch no more than two hours of television each day, exercise at least one hour each day and consume almost no sugary drinks and opt for drinking water instead.

 

Click here to see more pictures of the new YAC at the North Brandon Y. 

 

Pictured Above: The new Youth Activity Center at the North Brandon Y features interactive gaming machines such as Dance Dance Revolution.

 


The community came together late last month to celebrate a major milestone for the Bob Gilbertson Central City Family YMCA. A special 20th anniversary celebration party took place at the new Ulele restaurant in Tampa Heights. And what would the celebration be without acknowledging the man behind the namesake himself? Former Tampa Y President and CEO Bob Gilbertson and his family traveled all the way from Seattle to attend the celebration. “This YMCA broke ground in a whole lot of different ways,” said Bob. “It demonstrated, for so many of us in the community, that we could do something that was highly integrated.”Bob is currently the president and CEO of the YMCA of Greater Seattle.

 

The Central City Y’s first executive director, Ernest Coney, was also in attendance. Ernest grew up in Tampa Heights and played football for Blake High School. When he opened Central City’s doors in 1994 at Palm and Florida avenues, Ernest’s knowledge of the neighborhood led him to spearhead innovative programs that strengthened local families who called the Heights neighborhoods home. Ernest built Central City’s advisory board and membership base from the ground up. “I would like to thank all the volunteers,” said Ernest. “A lot of people get the limelight and the glory but the volunteers are the people who are low-profile but they get the job done.”

 

Today, with President & CEO Tom Looby at the helm, Central City Y has grown to serve more than 5,000 members, including 1,800 children, primarily from the Seminole & Tampa Heights neighborhoods. After serving as a learning laboratory for the integration of families from all walks of life, the Central City Y remains to be a successful, relevant and vital Y thanks to our board members’ and staff’s undying commitment to the community.

 

Click here to see more pictures from the Central City Y’s 20th Anniversary Party.

 

Pictured Above: The Central City Y’s Teen Achievers attended the 20th Anniversary celebration party.

 

When it comes to helping youth reach their full potential, the Tampa Metropolitan Area YMCA is raising the bar. We now have the ability to serve thousands of more kids with the addition of a new gymnastics center at the Bob Sierra Youth and Family Center. Classes are already underway at the new 11,500-square-foot Carrollwood facility.

Late last month, more than 1,000 community members got a sneak peek of the gymnastics center during an open house. Tampa Y Governance Board Chair Michelle Maingot kicked off the dedication ceremony earlier that week. “Can you believe it was only a few short months ago that we broke ground? What an accomplishment, ”Michelle told guests. “We want to thank all of our donors, especially The Sierra Foundation, Cy and Joanne Spurlino and the Shimberg family, for making this gymnastics center possible through their generosity and commitment to the Carrollwood/Northdale community.”

The $1.7 million facility features preschool equipment, two spring floors, competition bars and beams. The center offers recreational and tumbling classes for toddlers through teens. It also serves as the new home for the Bob Sierra Y’s Top Flight competitive gymnastics team.

With the new space comes a new focus on the Y’s adaptive programs. The Bob Sierra Y’s goal is to serve up to 40 special needs kids at a time in the center. “Families of special needs youth often have difficulty finding affordable afterschool and summer programs which provide opportunities to engage in developmentally-appropriate yet exciting activities,” explained Nancy Favilla, Chair of the Bob Sierra Advisory Board. “The Bob Sierra Family YMCA has a history of providing adaptive programs for these special needs community members and we plan to meet some of these needs through our second phase of fundraising,” said Nancy.

If you’re interested in learning more about the Bob Sierra Y’s mission to serve the special needs community, please contact Group Vice President Pete Shattuck at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 813-962-3220. 

 

Pictured above: The Bob Sierra Y’s Top Flight competitive gymnastics team with Y leaders, volunteers and supporters at the dedication ceremony for the new gymnastics center.

 

There is a reason 17-year-old Emily Colburn is the youngest-ever recipient of the Plant City Family YMCAs volunteer of the year award. She earned the top honor by wearing several hats at the branch - from planning community events to helping members, answering phones and even sweeping floors.

Emily’s also the leader of the branch’s Teen Leaders club, which promotes leadership skills, healthy living and community service. “Teen Leaders has brought more of a leader out of me. It helps me feel more empowered to volunteer and take more control and not be afraid to try new experiences,” shares Emily.

Volunteering really strikes a chord with Emily. During a recent service project, she helped paint, garden and hand out donated diapers to families in need. “I loved it! I do anything I can do to help volunteer in the community.” She’s already looking forward to the next community project. “We’re doing Breakfast with Santa where we bring a Santa into the Y and we have these families that can’t necessarily afford to take their children to the mall to take their pictures with Santa,” shares Emily. “I can’t wait to see how happy these kids and families are going to be.” She’s also in the midst of planning the annual Teen Leaders 5K.

Teen Leaders also provides the opportunity for Emily to discover her full potential academically. “It helped me realize that I need to take more control school-wise and be thinking about what colleges I’m going to go to. I need to focus more on what certifications I may need to get to the job that I want,” says Emily. 

Emily is just one of the many young faces at the Tampa Y learning what it truly means to be a leader. Together, they are building the future, for themselves and the community.“If I wasn’t in Teen Leaders, I would just be staying at home, keeping to myself,” says Emily. “It makes me look forward to the new challenges it may bring us. It makes me push myself further than I think I could ever go.”

 

Pictured above: L to R: Plant City Y Executive Director Rick Gould, Volunteer of the Year Emily Colburn and her mother, Pamela.

 
 
 

Year after year, Publix Super Markets Charities, Inc. has committed to helping strengthen communities with the Tampa Y. Over the summer, local leaders from Publix presented a check worth $31,000 to summer campers from the Bob Gilbertson Central City Family YMCA. To show their appreciation, the kids created a big Thank You card displaying their painted handprints.

Through its generosity, Publix helps keep our doors open to all—regardless of age, income or background. It’s a shared commitment that ensures all Tampa Bay community members have the opportunity to reach their full potential at the Y. Our thanks to Publix for their continued support!

As a Charity Navigator 4-star charity, the Tampa Y is very proud to say every dollar donated goes directly toward helping others in the local community. If you would like to contribute to the annual campaign, please contact Amber Carpenter at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 813-224-9622, Ext. 1241. 

 

Pictured above: Summer campers from the Central City Y thank Publix Super Markets Charities, Inc. for its generous contribution.

 
 

Irene De Rocco and her late husband, Jack, did everything together. They even exercised together at YMCA Camp Cristina. "He was always there with her and when he passed away, it was really hard because so many people loved Jack here,” recalls SilverSneakers™ trainer Sharon Dimezza. “Irene kept coming because this is like her little family and we all embraced her and kept her involved with everything. She just has a heart of gold and we all love her.” 

 

The feeling is mutual for 75-year-old Irene who still participates in SilverSneakers every Friday at YMCA Camp Cristina. She enjoys walking and swimming but her favorite is water aerobics. “I find if I’ve been here and did the exercises then I feel more like doing something the next couple of days instead of just sitting around. I just want to keep moving,” says Irene.

 

Without Jack, Irene knows she can count on her Y family to embrace her and lift her spirits. “All the instructors are very friendly, very nice and very personable,” says Irene. “I always tell my family, ‘Don’t plan on me for Friday because I’ll be at the Y.’”

 

The Tampa Y offers very specific programs, like SilverSneakers, that help senior citizens maintain and improve their physical and social health while aging. Many health plans include SilverSneakers as a benefit for those eligible for Medicare. For more information, contact your local Y.

 

Pictured right: Irene De Rocco at the annual YMCA SilverSneakers picnic.

At only 16 years old, Joshua Heiman sure knows how to be a leader. Not only is he the president of the Teen Leaders Club at the Northwest Hillsborough Family YMCA, he’s also the only student serving on the branch’s advisory board. “I think the other board members look at me as an equal,” says Joshua. “They understand what I am trying to do for the teens and that I represent them and there are a lot of teens at the YMCA.”


The Teen Leaders’ Club helps build a solid, positive foundation for youth through the Y’s core values of caring, honesty, respect, and responsibility. Joshua leads the Northwest Y’s group in building new relationships, learning valuable skills and getting involved in the community.  “We are willing to do anything that helps make the community a better place,” says Joshua.


One of the ways they’re strengthening the community is through volunteer work. Teen Leaders dedicate hours of community service together at events such as Family Fun Nights for Kids. They also host an annual 5K to bring awareness to childhood obesity.


Along the way, they’re learning life lessons and how to reach their full potential. For Josh, that will eventually mean a career as a Navy SEAL. “It’s something that is important to me,” shares Joshua. “The biggest thing about being in the military is to think of all the things they have given us. We have freedom. We can practice any religion and people can follow any goal they choose.”


To learn more about the Teen Leaders’ Club, stop by your local Y.

 

Pictured above: Joshua Heiman (middle) is the president of the Teen Leaders’ Club at the Northwest Y.

 
 
 

At first, LaTasha Henderson felt bad for sending her seven-year-old son, Dedrick, to the Tampa Ys Summer Learning Loss Prevention (SLLP) program. But when she realized SLLP incorporated sports and fun activities into the curriculum, she says, “Through play, he got to learn. The playing element was huge for him; educational and character-building.” After spending the summer engaged in literacy work, enrichment activities and field trips, Dedrick is now in gifted classes with stronger reading and retention skills than ever. “I’ve seen a definite improvement in him. It’s so wonderful just to see him learn and grow and retain it,” says LaTasha. “He is picking up books more often. He is sounding things out, without us prompting him to. He takes more initiative now.”

 

The healthy living curriculum really resonated with Dedrick. “She taught us the good things to eat and things we shouldn’t eat. Calcium is good for your body and healthy and your bones get strong,” recalls Dedrick. “We learned 5-2-1-Almost None. Five means 5 servings of fruits and vegetables every day, two means 2 hours in front of a screen and one is 1 hour of playing and almost none means almost no sugary drinks.” Not only can Dedrick repeat the 5-2-1-Almost None formula verbatim but LaTasha says, “He came home and he explained it and he quizzed us.  We started right away.”

 

During National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month, the Tampa Y wants families to understand the lifetime benefits of healthy eating and active living. That’s why we incorporate physical activity and healthy eating in all our out-of-school programs. We believe if these healthy habits are brought home, they will carry over to when children are out of their parents’ care and that will dramatically help reduce obesity in our community.

 

Pictured above: Dedrick Henderson is in gifted classes now after attending the Y’s Summer Learning Loss Prevention (SLLP) program.

 
 
 

new study shows K-5 students who participate in afterschool activities receive higher math scores. University of California/Irvine researchers also discovered other correlated benefits including better work ethic and higher grades, with low-income students reaping especially large benefits. Studies like this show the value of high-quality afterschool programs, like Y Success Afterschool.


Recently, the YMCA of the USA (Y-USA) sent a film crew to document the impactful work the Tampa Y and YMCA of the Suncoast are doing with Success Afterschool. The result is this moving video full of honest feedback from students, parents, principals, teachers and counselors. “The school system increasingly is telling us they recognize they can’t do it all by themselves and they need powerful organizations, like the Y, to work with them and help them and assist them,” says Tampa Y President & CEO Tom Looby. “So, that’s why we’re doing this work; to help kids get on a path to success.” 

 

The high correlation of poverty and low literacy skills to poor academic performance has been proven in many studies. The Tampa Y is committed to closing the academic achievement gap between children from low-income households and their middle/upper-income counterparts with a focus on academics in Y Success Afterschool, Pre-K, VPK and several other youth development programs. For more details, head to www.tampaymca.org.

 

Caption: Click on the video to see how the Success Afterschool program at the Tampa Y and the YMCA of the Suncoast is helping close the academic achievement gap.

 
 
 
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