Why the Y? Don’t take Our Word for It.

McElvy_featureLRGJonathan McElvy supports the YMCA because in many ways, it helped make him the man he is today.  McElvy is the publisher of The Leader newspaper serving The Greater Heights and North Houston.  In a recent editorial, he talks about why he supports the YMCA…

“…If I wasn’t in school, the creek or the kitchen, I was thinking about my next trip to the YMCA. For that matter, most of my time at school was spent day-dreaming about the Y. I’d envision the walk up the stairs to the basketball court on the second floor, where you could catch the beautiful stench of sweat, faintly hear the squeak of shoes, cheers of the moms, and interruptions of whistles.”

Sunday mornings were holy. Saturday mornings were spiritual.

basketball_BW_3In a way, those winter basketball mornings and summer baseball afternoons are now a pleasant memory. The trophies were chunked years ago. The athletic abilities, for some reason, disappeared beneath my computer and desk.

Then, a few weeks ago, all those memories flooded back. I attended my first meeting at our local Harriet & Joe Foster Family YMCA on 34th Street where I have joined a number of other professionals in the community to make up an advisory board to the Y.

There I was, in a button-down shirt, holding a business card, thinking about my office, my employees and the bills I needed to pay. No matter how hard you chase memories, your shoes usually bring you back to the present. My loafers were eloquent reminders that I wasn’t about to sprint across the baseline in search of a swing pass and an open jumper. Instead, I had become a grown man, formed in so many ways by my time at the YMCA.

  • At the Y, I learned how to shake an adult’s hand and look him in the eyes.
  • At the Y, I learned the ability to work with teammates was more important, and easier, than going it alone.
  • At the Y, I learned how to respect authority, even if they were wearing striped shirts.
  • At the Y, I learned how to win. More importantly, I learned how to lose with grace.
  • At the Y, I learned that spiritual – not physical – health is most important.
  • At the Y, I met friends I still call today.
  • At the Y, my Mom and Dad were always in the stands, supporting their children. I never realized how much our family was shaped there.
  • And at the Y, I was molded into a half-decent young man.

For another few weeks, our Harriet & Joe Foster Family YMCA is holding its annual Partners Campaign. During this campaign, they ask residents of our community to help support their contribution to our neighborhoods (they serve the Heights, Garden Oaks and Oak Forest, just like The Leader).

There’s probably no better way to explain the value of a gift to them than by sharing what they accomplished last year with the money they raised:

• They spent $84,000 providing after-school child care to more than 110 young children whose parents couldn’t afford anything.
• They spent $96,000 on summer days camps, where 60 percent of the 240 attendees could have never attended because of financial restraints.
• They used $120,000 to set up apartment outreach centers for at-risk children.
• And they take care of so many senior citizens in our area who might otherwise sit silently at home with little connection to healthy activities.

Asking for money around the same time W-2s get mailed is a difficult task. Then again, if you think of all the ways our tax dollars are spent, I’d much rather give something to maybe the most genuine grass-roots movement in our area.

The YMCA has spent decades molding young men and women. If you have a couple of extra bucks and would like to help them continue their work, please shoot me an email or give me a call. I’m glad someone did it for me 30 years ago.”

Click here to read Jonathan McElvy’s full story.  You may email Jonathan at jonathan@theleadernews.com.  Support the YMCA and donate to the Partners Campaign here.

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A Happy Camper

I have never been a “camper.”

Sure, I went to summer camp as a kid, but I don’t have deep, fond memories of my experience and never kept in touch with the friends I made and couldn’t tell you one of my counselor’s names if my life depended on it.

I must have gone to the wrong camp…


My daughter on a horse for the first time. His name is Oatmeal.

Last weekend, my husband, my four year-old daughter and I packed up for a weekend of family camping at the newly re-opened YMCA Camp Cullen, just 1 1/2 hours north of Houston, nestled in the tall pines along the shores of Lake Livingston.  The camp had been closed since July 2010 when the dining hall burned to the ground.  That fire hastened plans to rebuild the historic camp, providing the opportunity for Camp Cullen to also rebuild the infrastructure and amenities through a $24 million fundraising campaign.

More than $19 million has already been raised and YMCA Camp Cullen is officially back open for business.  There is a new dining hall and the cabins, built by Weekley Homes, are new too.  But the new stuff isn’t why the camp is so great.

Family Camp Feb 2013 047I watched my daughter’s joy as she rode a horse for the first time.  She climbed an Alpine Tower and swung while dangling in a harness, suspended in mid-air.  She didn’t think she could go that high, but Len Masengale, the camp’s director, helped her believe in herself.  And she made friends.  Not just with the other kids, but with the counselors too.

Family Camp Feb 2013 032

And she could tell you all of her counselors’ names, from Mr. Justin, who taught her how to shoot a bow and arrow, to Mr. Aaron and Mr. Brad, who always had time to chat and gave her high fives when she accomplished something, to Miss Ashley, who led her horseback ride.

If you read this blog regularly, you know that I work for the Y.  It is my job, in part, to market programs, including camp.  In fact, our brochure says, “YMCA Camp Cullen provides an opportunity for your child to develop new skills, gain self-confidence and make lasting friendships.”

There is truth in advertising.

ArcheryMy daughter did things at camp that I would not have thought she was capable of doing.  But the folks at Camp Cullen believed in her.  I am amazed at the ability of the camp staff to connect with children.

We did arts and crafts, canoeing, paintball, hayrides, s’mores and more, all together as a family, all in the span of two days.  Imagine what kids get to do there during the summer!

The view from our canoe.

The view from our canoe.

My family will go camping together again.  And again.  I never thought I’d say this, but I am now a happy camper.  And my daughter is too!

Click here to see a 60-second video of my family’s camping trip.

Learn more about family and summer resident camp experiences at YMCA Camp Cullen here.  Be sure to like the YMCA Camp Cullen Facebook page!

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On your mark, get set, go! Train with the Y for the Houston Kids Triathlon.

The YMCA Kids Triathlon Training Clinic is a free introductory program designed to train youth in the fundamentals of triathlons, so they can participate in the Houston Kids Triathlon on Sunday, April 14, 2013 at the University of Houston- Main Campus.

Wondering whether your child is ready to try a tri?  Here is an excerpt from a first-hand account of a Houston family’s experience during last year’s YMCA training program and Houston Kids Triathlon race:

Pamela's son finishes the swim and gets ready to transition into the bike ride.

Pamela’s son finishes the swim and gets ready to transition into the bike ride.

After weeks of training the big day is finally here. The YMCA did a great job helping the kids work on their triathlon training. We did our own training outside of the once a weekend gathering but when you ask my son, he will tell you it wasn’t enough. This is the 1st year of the Kids Triathlon at University of Houston central campus. The event was sold out! There were thousands of people there.  His coach from the YMCA had completed an Iron Man before so who better to coach the kids than someone with all that experience! We had difficulty locating his goggles this morning. Lucky for us there was a tent there that was selling them and they had an extra swim cap. It was a crazy morning!

Pamela's family high fives her son as he heads for the finish line.

Pamela’s family high fives her son as he heads for the finish line.

Here he comes down the finish line! We couldn’t be more proud. We are all giving him a high-five as he goes by. He said the worst part for him is that he should have trained for more cardio. He should have swum more than the 8 laps and biked more than the 6 miles. He’s already talking about next year!

This was just an excerpt from Pamela Kramer’s story on her son’s triathlon experience.  Click here to read the full version and to see more pictures of her son competing.

The YMCA’s Houston Kids Triathlon training program meets once a week for 7 weeks. Week one will serve as an introduction to triathlons and the following weeks will focus on the disciplines of swimming, biking and running.

Pamela's son, posing with his medal.

Pamela’s son, posing with his medal.

All participants must register for the Houston Kids Triathlon prior to registering for the clinic and be able to complete at least 50 meter swim using crawl stroke. Most clinics start the week of February 8. Please sign up by February 4.

The clinics are free for both YMCA members and non-members.

Learn more about the YMCA’s Houston Kids Triathlon Training program here.  For more information or to register for the Houston Kids Triathlon, click here.

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Houston’s Mayor Proclaims Health a Priority

Each month, we profile a Houston celebrity and ask them to share their health and wellness routine.  January’s spotlight is on the Honorable Annise Parker, Mayor of Houston.

YMCA: What is your exercise routine?

Mayor Parker: I do aerobics and weights.  I work out with a personal trainer twice a week, very, very early in the morning, because that is the only time that I have time.  And as many days in the week that I can, when I get home in the evening before 8 o’clock I will spend an hour on the treadmill at night as well.

Annise outsideYMCA: You’re one of the busiest people in Houston.  What advice would you have for people who say, “I don’t have time to work out?”

Mayor Parker: I gained 15 pounds after I became mayor and I had to do something about that.  I haven’t lost all the weight but I am much more fit than I was.  And I am getting to an age where it is harder and harder to keep the weight off so I have had to increase my exercise level.

But it is possible to find time and you don’t have to do it in hour chunks either.  You can do it 20 minutes at a time.  It’s just getting moving.  In fact, that might even be healthier if three times a day you get up and move.  You can lift weights at your desk.

YMCA: Do you work out alone or with someone? 

Mayor Parker: My spouse works out with me, which helps, and having a security detail pick me up in the morning to get to the gym certainly helps.  There are a lot of mornings when I would have probably rolled back over.  The personal trainer really helps.  If I was getting up that early just to exercise myself, it might not ever happen, but if I am paying somebody then I am going to go.

YMCA: What about healthy eating?  How does that play a role?

Mayor Parker:  Healthy eating is important.  I eat a lot of salad.   I eat protein and fresh vegetables.  I try to stay away from refined sugars.  It helps that I am not particularly interested in soft drinks and I am not much of a dessert eater but I could eat bread, that’s my downfall.

Special thanks to Mayor Parker for taking the time to share her health and wellness tips with us.   Learn more about the YMCA’s health and wellness programs here.  Join the YMCA with no fees between now and January 14.

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Keys to Keeping Your New Year’s Resolutions

“This year things are going to be different.”

Have you said this to yourself year after year?  If so, we’ve got some realistic tips that will help you stick to your New Year’s resolution to be healthier, whether you are new to fitness or a seasoned pro.

If you are returning to fitness after being inactive you should:

Set Goals: Set specific goals around nutrition and physical activity. Make sure these goals are measurable, achievable and realistic.

Personal trainingGet Support: Find a supportive environment that helps encourage you and gives you the tools and skills to achieve your goals.

Remember Holistic Health: Take a holistic approach to your health goals that include mind, body and spirit. Becoming a healthy person involves focusing on all of who you are as a person.

Consult a Physician: If you have any questions about your health or concerns about beginning a fitness routine, talk to your doctor and work with them to set goals to improve your overall health including nutrition and physical activity.

Try Small Group and Personal Training: Find a small group to work out with that includes individuals with similar health and wellness goals, you can help motivate and support each other. A professional trainer or coach can develop a work out plan which caters specifically to your goals and interests. He or she will help you see the results of investing in yourself.

TST_2749_lowresStay Active: Participate in 150 minutes per week of moderate intensity physical activity – easily achieved in 30 minutes a day, five days a week. Significant weight reduction usually requires 250+ minutes of physical activity a week in addition to changes in diet.

If you are already active, but looking to pump up your workout you should:

Change Your Routine: If you are no longer seeing results with your current fitness program – change it! Your body adapts to the same workout, and it becomes necessary to add or change your routine. Add variety by adding levels of intensity, weight training, or changing cardio choices. Take a group exercise class – one that you have never attended – Cycling, Zumba® and Bootcamp are just a few popular group fitness classes.

Drink Water: Water carries oxygen to the cells of your body – including those of your muscles! You body works better and it will boost your metabolic rate and help you feel more energetic. Plus, water will help metabolize stored fat and will assist in losing weight!

Hire a Personal Trainer: A certified personal trainer can offer you valuable fitness information which will take your fitness program to the next level. He or she can develop an exercise program based on your goals and fitness assessments. This one-on-one attention may be just the step needed to pump up your routine.

Small Group Training: Specialized fitness programs are on the rise. Programs like TRX, Boot Camp, Pilates Reformers, and High Intensity Training challenge fitness levels and offer intensive cardio and strength drills. Small groups encourage competition and add intensity and fun to your workout.

Core Training: Core training is the essential component to every fitness routine. This does not mean just adding crunches! The core involves more muscle engagement. A strong core means your “base point” is strong and can support the other parts of your body effectively during workouts. It is the basis for all functional workouts. A strong core can support correct alignment and stability of the spine as well as generate power efficiently. Balance training is a great core discipline.

Become a part of something bigger and join the YMCA.  Learn more about YMCA personal training here.

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A Healthy Forecast from a KRIV FOX26 Meteorologist

Each month we profile a Houston celebrity and ask him or her to share their exercise and healthy living tips. This month, we feature John Dawson, KRIV FOX26 Meteorologist and Vic Coppinger Family YMCA member.

YMCA: How important is health and wellness in your daily life?

John: I like to think it’s pretty important. I pay attention to what I eat and exercise regularly. I think my motivation is being a father to my 7- and 9-year-old sons. I want to be around a long time to see them do good things in this world. Some smart decisions now will help keep me active, hopefully for a very long time. There is also a competitive side of me that wants to always be faster and stronger, and I have to work a lot harder nowadays to stay ahead of them.

John DawsonYMCA: What is your exercise regimen?

John: Last year I started training for and participating in triathlons. I’ll work out 3-5 times per week either swimming, biking, or running. That increases to 5-6 times per week when I’m training for a specific race. I also try to attend a BodyPump class at least once a week.

YMCA: How do you involve the entire family in healthy living?

John: Get outdoors! Play in the backyard, walk to the park, or even wash the car: just stepping outside forces you to become active. I’ve had the opportunity over the last several years to step out of the studio and report on family outdoor recreational opportunities. The “Find Life- Outdoors with JD” stories were motivated by my family’s trips to state parks. It’s more than just camping and it really has become a passion for me. I think families spending time outside together, in any activity, is awesome in so many different ways. I want to do anything I can, and wish I could do more, to help give opportunities or ideas for the outdoors that will help develop strong families.

YMCA: Why are you and your family involved at the YMCA?

John: I’ve seen and experienced the Y in a way that most folks have not. Before he retired, my father worked for the Houston area YMCA for over 37 years. So I’ve really been around the Y before I was even born! As a kid I’ve participated in just about every Y program out there. I’ve worked for the Y in several different positions and done some volunteering too. And now, I’m a parent putting my kids in the Y programs. So you might consider me biased, but I know the YMCA and I can’t say enough good things about it. It’s a safe environment for my boys to grow in mind, body, and spirit.

YMCA: As a journalist, you’re always on the go. What advice do you have for people who say they don’t have time to work out?

John: I think everyone can make time, but I think the key is really finding what works for you. Everyone is unique and needs their own system. What you do, how long you do it, when you do it: the challenge is finding what works best for you. I think it took me 2 years of trying different stuff before settling into something I could make work on a regular basis. This should be looked at as a long-term endeavor, training yourself to live active for many years to come.

Special thanks to John and KRIV FOX26. Read more about John on the KRIV FOX26 website. You can keep up with John on Twitter at @WXJD or by liking his Facebook page.

Interested in YMCA Youth Sports for your children? Search our youth sports programs here. Learn about YMCA health and wellness programs on the Houston YMCA website.

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From a “Chore” to a “Routine”

How One Couple Turned Their Workout into a Lifestyle

DSC_8012_webIn early 2012, Jim Leong suffered a stroke that mystified his doctors. He was eating right, saw his doctor regularly and had his blood work done annually.

This was the second time stroke had threatened the Leong family. Jim and his wife Jackie had also just experienced her mother’s stroke. This propelled Jackie to make health and fitness a priority.

Jim and Jackie found the support they needed at the Tellepsen Family Downtown YMCA. They picked the downtown YMCA because it was close to their jobs. Having a convenient place to exercise helped the Leongs transition to a healthier life.

DSC_8170_web“Working out is no longer a chore, it’s our routine,” said Jackie. “We don’t think about it; we just go.”

While they enjoy using the elliptical machines together, Jackie attends BODYPUMP and Jim lifts free weights. Jackie believes the mission and philosophy of the YMCA creates a friendly and helpful environment, which makes them feel welcomed every time they come through the doors.

Jim’s cholesterol is now down 100 points. Jackie says the best part of their new commitment to fitness is having a husband who is proud of his transformation.

DSC_8057_web“Before we joined the YMCA, Jim could be a bit defensive if I asked him about what he ate for lunch,” Jackie said. “Now we have open communication about our health and our diets, and we go out to celebrate when we get great news from his doctors.”

Click here to learn more about the YMCA’s health and wellness programs.

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