Amanda is a Childcare Teacher at the Perry YMCA in Huntington Beach.
The YMCA is my life. It’s not just a story, it is my whole life. I have been affiliated with the YMCA in one way or another since I was about 2 years old. My mom was a 25 year old single mom when she started working at the YMCA; at first she was just a childcare staff member and back then the rules were a bit different. On occasion they would let her bring me in when she had nowhere else to take me during her work hours. It was at that young age when I first started going to play at the Y. Of course I don’t remember much from being a 2 year old, but I do remember bits and pieces before I even started elementary school and going to the Y; making arts and crafts and playing with some of the older kids, some of which have now become my lifelong best friends. I learned to tie my shoes at the Y. I lost my first tooth at the Y. I made my first friends at the Y. You name it and I probably did it at the Y. When I finally started kindergarten at Peterson [Elementary], my mom had worked her way up to becoming the Director. It was that same year that I became best friends with another little girl named Amanda and her brother Justen. We would all play together, both at the Y and on the weekends. Eventually (even though it was against the rules) my mom and their dad ended up dating and to this very day they are married and have created my beautiful younger half-sister. You can only imagine the excitement I had as a young girl when my best friends became my brother and sister and even though my dad was my best friend, I gained a bonus stepfather out of the deal too!
As we grew older, my brother and sister and I stayed in the program as childcare students where we met our best friends and we were fortunate enough to have fun, go on field trips in the summer, and learn all about campaign and donating as young kids. We also became a part of the Indian Guides (now Adventure Guides) program and we became campers at Summer Camp. Between the fun father/daughter and mother/daughter events of [Adventure Guides] and the life changing experiences we developed on our own at Camp, we were a happy-go-lucky couple of kids. Camp changed all of our lives because it was the first thing we were allowed to do without our parents. Conquering all of the activities, such as shooting rifles, archery, and rock climbing, on our own were mind blowing to us as young people. All three of us also became a part of the rags and leathers program at Camp which helped us work on self-improvement. We would pick a counselor to tie our leather or rag and discuss our lives and individual goals we had for ourselves with that counselor. If we completed those goals within the next year then we could move up to the next leather or rag at Camp. It encouraged us to be better spirited human beings and it gave us something to look forward to every year.
As years went on, I remained a camp kid, a campaigner, and a childcare child. I ended up meeting two other girls who I had no idea would play such an important role in my life. Rachael was in 5th grade with me and she was a scholarship kid, her dad had passed away a few years prior to our meeting. Michaela was a year younger than us and also a scholarship kid. Her dad passed away that year. Two years later when we were in middle school and I was still in YMCA childcare, my own dad passed away. The three of us became even closer than we already were and we became this weird little support group for each other. What we remember most was the care of the counselors around us during such an impactful time in our young lives, and now the three of us are still friends to this day. The YMCA was around for every major life event that I had as a child and if it weren’t for the friends, support, and strength that I gained, I may not have been lucky enough to maintain such a big smile on my face all the time.
Years down the road when I turned 18, I was hired as a Childcare Assistant at Peterson YMCA! This is now my 5th year as a YMCA employee and in my 5 years here I have been able to move up from an Assistant to a Teacher and have been privileged enough to work with and make an impact on hundreds of kids and their families. Perry YMCA is now my home site, but I have been lucky enough to travel around and work with kids at almost every site in Huntington Beach on field trips and have spent time subbing as well! I have also become part of Camp again as a counselor with the YMCA of Orange County in the summer and as a volunteer staff for the Camp itself during the winter season, allowing me to continue on my journey with the rags and leathers program. Being a staff member now and giving back to something I loved so much as a kid brings me a huge amount of joy. I love the fact that I can provide for these kids what was provided to me all those years ago as a childcare teacher, camp counselor, and as a program staff member. Even more than that, these kids are able to talk to me because I’ve provided a listening ear and a comforting environment for them like I had as a kid. I love these kids as if they were my own!
After my mom left the YMCA, I was still able to attend camp due to the financial assistance program and because I was a campaigner as a kid. For this, I was extremely grateful. It is amazing to see how the programs have grown since I was a child. Campaign used to be a much smaller event and I can remember going to the meetings as a child in the back of the Huntington Beach Library with no more than a hundred people. I continue to give and participate as a campaigner because I want to provide the same opportunities for these kids that I had when I was a kid so that they can continue to grow strong and happy. Seeing how huge campaign has become and how much we are able to give and be a part of the thousands of people who now participate warms my heart! The growth is amazing all around – from the growth of the kids, to the growth of the program, and even the growth of myself. Through the Y I have gained: a family, my best friends, life-long memories, self-improvement, a career, support, strength, knowledge, passion and desire to teach, experiences and memories with amazing children, and most of all, love! The Y really is so much more and has truly made me a much better me. I can only hope to give the same for everyone else involved.