Life’s Unexpected Twists and Turns
By Maureen Hill
I have been employed part-time as a swim instructor at the Jennersville YMCA for the past four years. As a stay at home Mom, this job has provided a way for me to work outside the home, where childcare is provided, get a discounted membership and some extra income for our family. It has also allowed me the wonderful opportunity to get connected to many families in our community.
Like most employees, I have contributed money from my paychecks to the YMCA’s Annual Campaign. I never had much to contribute, but like to think that my work as a swim instructor with the youth of this community has helped children learn the lifesaving skill of swimming. I have seen magic in the pool when children overcome fears and develop self-confidence through swimming. Little did I know that my own family would be recipients of our own ‘magic’ thanks to this generous program.
On February 17th of last year, while my kids and I were swimming in the Y’s pool, I received a phone call that would change my life. The call was from my doctor telling me that what we all hoped was nothing, was actually stage 2 breast cancer. I remember being in shock, and contemplating getting my kids out of the pool, but I made the decision to let them swim and enjoy a carefree day off while I reeled from the news. Looking back, it was fitting that I received this news at the Y as this community has been such an important part of my family’s journey this past year.
When I learned that I needed to have chemotherapy, my biggest concern was how I was going to have the energy needed to care for my children while dealing with the side effects of treatment. My husband was able to make some changes with his demanding work schedule, like delaying his usual travel commitments and taking time off for the kids’ spring break. But since he is the breadwinner, we needed his job to remain as stable as possible.
As I mapped out my treatment plan, I realized I was looking at several months of treatment that would go through the summer. Other than an occasional half day camp, and free vacation bible school camp, my children have never done summer camp. Occupying my children during the summer is an exhausting job under the best of circumstances. But when people would ask me about camps, I would smile and say that I was my kids’ summer camp.
So when my YMCA co-worker, Missy, visited me at home and shared how my Jennersville YMCA family all wanted to know how they could help, I said something like, “Well, a week or two of camp would be amazing.” Little did I know how Missy would take this wish and run with it.
Missy connected me to the Y camp staff who informed us that our family would receive scholarships for an entire summer of camp if needed. What a relief it was that I would have help with this big job of caring for and entertaining my children. And I knew that they would have experiences that would enrich them and that they would not otherwise have had. What an amazing blessing.
And indeed our children had a wonderful summer. They made new friends and got to have many new experiences. Our oldest loved the rituals like opening and closing ceremonies and fun field trips. Our middle son, who has some special needs, was the one I was most worried about adapting to camp. However, at times I now think he loved it the most. The camp staff was so nurturing and accommodating. It was truly a tribute to the Y’s mission of being a place for ALL that he had such a successful experience in this new setting.
Our youngest took theater camp and got bitten by the acting bug. I was so impressed by the production that they put on after just one week of practices. Our daughter had a blast and developed an interest in theater and performing that most likely would not have happened if we hadn't been given this opportunity. She has since done another play at the Y and I predict, she will do more in the future.
This is our family’s story. I know there are many more out there. Whenever I shared my story with any of my coworkers, what struck me was how many expressed that it made them feel good to know where the money they had contributed was going. The whole situation was honestly a bit uncomfortable for me, as I felt unworthy of such financial support. But so many friends and coworkers reminded me that needs came in many forms and this was a need that my family had due to circumstances we could not control.
Many of my supporters have kindly called me brave and strong this past year. But I never felt anything I did or said was extraordinary. I was just coping in a way that felt genuine to me. But I can now see that my moments of true strength and bravery were in the moments when I felt most vulnerable. In asking for help with summer camp, I was just doing what any parent does when faced with adversity that affects their children. We find a strength that we didn’t know we possessed that allows us to do difficult things for the sake of our children.
People sometimes ask me what meaning I have found as a result of my experience. One of my biggest revelations was that my support network extends well beyond my inner circle. Sure, I had a lot of support from my immediate family and close friends, but the support I received from people that I see at the Y and out in the community was truly humbling and invaluable. It made me realize that we are all more connected to people in our community than I realized.
So I stand before you to say thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Not only for the gift itself, but for the way it was granted with respect and grace. I hope that sharing my story will help you understand that magic happens at our Y because of generosity from people like you.
From safe spaces to academic achievement to family well-being and more, when you donate to the Y, you are giving those in need the opportunity to thrive. In 2017, we awarded more than $3.5 million in financial assistance to nearly 12,000 children, families and individuals. Help us do even more in 2018! Give today.