Stories of Impact

As part of our 100th-year celebration, we are asking members, staff, and volunteers to share their Y Story.

Below are just a few who have shared how they have been impacted by the Westfield Area YMCA. Click on a name to view their story.

We want to hear yours next!

Share My Y Story

“When my family moved to Westfield, our son was two years old. With no family in the area, we arrived not feeling connected to the community. The Westfield Area Y is what started to make Westfield feel like home for us.

Our son first started with swimming lessons with Sharon and quickly added on basketball with Coach Mike, Coach Amanda, and Coach Joe. And many more things followed. But you never forget the place that gave so much to your child–lifelong skills and the introduction to a sport that is still his passion. And all done in a supportive and caring manner. We will be forever grateful.”

“I stumbled upon a part-time position at the Early Learning Center in 2019 while obtaining my Master’s in Healthcare Administration. I was welcomed with open arms by not only the director of the program, Eileen, but all the teachers and children. I quickly became attached and in love with my day-to-day job – all the challenges and rewards of watching young kids grow into their unique personalities. The Early Learning Center will always have a special place in my heart. I enjoyed it so much, I can see myself pursuing education in the future!”

“I’ve been a member at the Westfield Area YMCA for about fifteen years. I’ve been involved in the Y as a member by participating in the gym, playing basketball and bringing my kids here on occasion. The Y has impacted my life by enabling me to stay in top physical condition over these last fifteen years.”

“During the summer of 1963 before starting college, I had my first job as a counselor in the day camp program at the Westfield Area YMCA. Five years ago my wife and I learned to play pickleball when the ‘Y’ started its program and met many wonderful people who will be life long friends. Our children learned to swim at the Y and were on the swim team. Two of our grandchildren attended the Y preschool, and their great-grandfather (my father) lived at the Y when he first moved to Westfield in 1929. Many thanks to the Y and Happy Anniversary.”

“I’ve been a member of the YMCA for the better part of 43 years. I learned to swim in the Rooke Pool, was on the swim team in high school, lifeguarded and taught swim lessons. I recently rejoined with my son to hopefully instill some of the positive things that the Y brings to the community, and to have him make some fond memories like I did in my youth.

The Y had a positive impact on my life, especially in high school. Joining the swim team led me to some great relationships and improved my overall well-being. I learned what it was to work hard and achieve goals. Being active and involved also gave me purpose and a love for the community.”

“I grew up going to the YMCA. The Y is not just a gym–it’s truly a community. You can expect to see many smiling and familiar faces when you walk in.”

Paolina Marano started at the Westfield Area YMCA as a young camper and returned for many years, eventually participating in the Counselors-in-Training camp program. Inspired by the bonds that she created with her counselors and mentors at the Y, she became a counselor when she was 16. Paolina says that she learned and experienced what it takes to be a role model and make a difference in the camper’s lives. This year, Paolina is serving as the Blue Sky Camp Director for the second summer.

Through the camp program, Paolina was given the opportunity to show initiative and express creativity while developing strong interpersonal and communication skills.  She says it helped her discover her passion for helping others, so much so that she is currently pursuing her master’s degree to become a Licensed Clinical Social Worker.

Jean started exercising “by mistake” more than 43 years ago. But it turned out to be the best move she ever made as it has led to a fulfilling “23 years and counting” career at the Westfield Area YMCA teaching fitness classes, building personal relationships, and helping transform lives while keeping herself and others mentally and physically fit over the long term.

“The key to the Y’s success is welcoming others, connecting with them, making them feel comfortable and having fun! That’s what I try to do and that’s the difference between what you get here and somewhere else,” she says. “It doesn’t matter what size, shape or age you are when you come here. You are accepted, and you will feel you are part of something – part of the Y family.”

When a new student comes through the door, Jean stops whatever she is doing, welcomes them, and makes them feel like they belong.  She notes that a positive experience on the first day is a critical first step in motivating students to stay on their fitness journey.

Jean adds that achieving a healthy lifestyle isn’t a one-day, one-month, or even a one-year goal and advises students of every age and ability to take a long-term view. “You get out of it what you put into it,” she says. “It doesn’t matter how old you are since we are all getting older!  So being healthy is a commitment to yourself.”

“I get just as much out of teaching classes as my students do taking them. When I walk out of the Y, I express my gratitude and I thank God for putting me in a position where I can help others and make a difference. All of this to me is what healthy living is about.”

“The Westfield Area YMCA provides structure within my week. The facilities are great and the staff is helpful–I always appreciate the help. The Y has been so welcoming to my service dog Emerald, and it’s an important place for us to visit multiple times each week.”

“I have been a member of the Y since around 2000. I remember the day I joined as if it were yesterday. Exercise was not my forte but I had just retired from my job and I knew I wanted to live a healthier life; not only physically but in  mind, body and soul. The Y has fulfilled that.

Through the years, I have made many friendships. It’s been a true community experience. We shared many stories. We’ve become a support team for one another.

When COVID struck, and the Y had to close down, I realized how important the Y was to me. Being a social person, my social world was shut down and worked out less since I enjoyed class participation and no longer had that. The Y did a great job and had online classes which helped. Things slowly came back and I am so thankful that everything now is up and running again.

My friendships were not only with the members but with the staff. I recently celebrated my 70+ birthday, and I was flabbergasted when I walked into the doors of the Y and saw the beautifully decorated table and all the goodies surrounding it. I want to thank the YMCA and all its staff, for motivating me each day to lead a healthier life both socially and physically. Congratulations on the Y’s 100-year anniversary!”

“In 2013, my family decided to move to Cranford from Brooklyn, NY. We have family in Westfield and wanted to be close to them. My sister’s children all attended preschool at the Bauer branch, so I knew I wanted my children to attend as well. I signed my daughter Josie up. It was like a dream! The teachers and staff amazed me. I felt at peace leaving her in their care. When it was time for my family to leave Bauer after five years between both kids, I knew what I wanted to do once I was ready to return to my teaching career.

I turned to Maria Nierstedt on Christopher’s last day and said ‘I want to work at the happiest place in the world!’ So here I am! I taught enrichments part-time for three years. When Maria told me she was retiring, of course, I was sad. She was a big part of my happy place. I turned to her and said, well then I want to be you! So I applied for the Site Director Position at Bauer and here I am!”

“I started working at the Westfield Area YMCA in 2007 as a Welcome Center greeter. I have loved my job as I really enjoy helping people. The members and staff at the Y are very friendly. I was also involved in the Dragonfly Program for special needs adults for 3 years.

When I returned to working at the Y after COVID, I knew that it was important to help members by always making sure that they feel comfortable. I see myself working at the Y for as long as I can. I love the Y!!!”

“I had my own personal training studio before the COVID shutdown.  In 2020, I was on my own for the first time as a single mom and decided it would be best for my family if I returned to nursing school to finish my degree.  I live in Cranford and a friend referred me to the Garwood Family Center Y for child care for my preschooler.  There is no way that I would be able to provide for my family without the Y. I am comfortable knowing that my daughter is in a warm and homey environment with amazing teachers.   In fact, she said her first day of school was her ‘best day ever.’  Financial assistance from the Y means my youngest is well cared for, and I am on track to graduate from nursing school in June 2024. It was hard to ask for help, and I have never felt judged at the Y.  I want to give back by sharing my story.”

“Our oldest daughter, Annie, was a member of the first 3-year-old care class at the Y’s new (at the time) facility behind the First Baptist Church on Elm St. Her teacher, Mrs. Markey, was warm, welcoming and creative. I worked one hour away in Bergen County and rushed home each day to pick her up by the 6pm end-of-day pick-up time. In time, Annie progressed to the Y’s aftercare program on Clark St. and her younger sister, Kristi, began the Y’s 3-year-old program. 

We were happy with the care provided by the Y. Our children became friendly with some of their Y classmates and kept that friendship into grammar school. As parents, we became friendly with the parents of those friends and still keep in touch with them to this day.”

“The Y has been a lifesaver. I am a single working mother and needed the Y so I could still work. My son had a bumpy start, but the wonderful teachers and leaders including Eileen helped my son and worked with me. Now my son loves going to Ms. Sharon’s class and has really improved. I am so grateful that the Y helped me and I am able to have my son attend an amazing program, while still being able to go to work.”

“My Y story begins in 1999 when I came to the Westfield Area YMCA for preschool. I attended preschool there for two years. During that time, I made lifelong friends–one of whom officiated my wedding–and I learned so much. During my years here, I learned to swim, read, and how to be a productive member of my community. Now, over 20 years later, I work in the Membership Department, bringing more families to the YMCA!”

“I’ve been a member of the Westfield Area YMCA for 12 years. I really enjoy the camaraderie and the friendships I’ve gained here, and the good workouts too!”

“I’ve been a volunteer here at the Westfield Area YMCA in the Marketing Department for about 6 ½  years now. The greatest impact that the Y has had on me is that during this time, I’ve had the opportunity to experience the camaraderie and collaboration of all of the people who work at the Y–they’re just a great bunch of people.

Volunteering gives me the opportunity to use some of the skills that I learned during my time working in marketing and advertising. I love being able to help send out the Y’s message. It’s just a great place to work. Have a wonderful 100-year anniversary!”

“I’ve been a member of the Westfield Area YMCA for 25 years. This is my happy place. It is where I come to work out, and see my friends and the instructors that I love. I come here every morning at 5:30am and am greeted by the lovely Welcome Center staff. It’s just a feel-good place. I wouldn’t change it for the world.”

“I have been coming to the Westfield Area YMCA for at least 20 years. The Y is such a special place to me. It’s a great place to come. I’ve taken classes in other places where you just feel like another person, but here you are recognized. You are looked at. The teachers get to know your name. The others get to know who you are.

You are greeted every morning with a big smile, and it has just been part of my daily life. I have made a lot of friends throughout the years–people that I’ve cherished. I wouldn’t have it any other way. Thank you, Westfield Area YMCA!”

“We love the Y. We are very thankful for the Y.  It has everything. We play racquetball, use the gym, the kids play basketball. The Gold locker rooms are fantastic. So are the steam rooms, and using everything in it. For the price, you can’t beat it. Congratulations on 100 years.”

“I’ve been working at the Westfield Area YMCA for 18 years and currently work in the School Age Child Care Department. Everyone here is like family. I now actually work with some of my former campers and children who were once in my classes. That’s my favorite part–it feels like everybody goes through the Y, and they return to the Y. That’s why I love working here so much–because it means my life has impacted them in some way.”

“I’ve been a member since 1987. I didn’t know what I was in for! I basically played basketball that entire time, up until my 65th birthday. What I realized in all this time was the reason I stay is the people.  The Y has obviously kept up with new equipment, etc. But it’s the beautiful people that I see every day that keep me coming back.”

“Around 2005-2006, we invited a young girl from the Bronx to experience suburban summer with our daughters and family. It was a Fresh Air fund connection. Wonderful memories were made in spite of a complication. Our girls had extensive commitments during the week to swimming and theater.

Without even knowing about the financial assistance program, I cold-called the Y to ask if our “Summer Sister” might get a scholarship to Y camp. Marty Collett made it happen post haste and Kursha’s weekdays were transformed from bored and lonely to engaged and lively. We have been passionate supporters ever since.

Kursha has a daughter of her own now, who is learning to swim at the Y in the Bronx.”

“I used to work in SACC (2010-19). The training and experiences that I gained working with children at the Westfield Area YMCA translated into my chosen career of Production Management at NJPAC. I am so grateful for the experiences I had while working with the Y.”

“I love the Y! I have been a member for close to 20 years and I’m so happy to come here. I wish the Westfield Area YMCA a Happy 100-year anniversary.”

Sharon joined the Westfield Area YMCA in 2017 after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s. She was introduced to the Delay the Disease: Sit N’ Be Fit class at the Y, which is geared toward symptoms and issues associated with the disease.

“If it wasn’t for this program, I don’t think that I would be in as good of shape as I am because it helps me in my walking, day-to-day activities, and daily living. The people are wonderful and the programs are great. I’m delighted to be here at the Y and I can’t say enough good things about it.”

“I was the membership director at the Westfield Area YMCA from 1978-1982. I met my husband, Ed, at the Y. He volunteered and taught youth soccer classes. We met and married in 1979. I left after having our first child, and Ed became a building coverage person for 20 years.”

“My family and I have been members of the Y since the mid-’90s. It’s just a great place with a great sense of community, and it’s always fun running into neighbors and friends. It’s just a terrific place.”

“I’ve been a member of the Westfield Area YMCA since 2015. My wife has been a member for over 20 years. I come to the Y to continue exercising. I’m 70 years old. I like it here because it is very friendly.”

When asked why people should come here versus somewhere else, Charles said “the Y is just much more relaxed and a nicer place to work out. I like it here. It’s very friendly.”

“My husband and I moved to Westfield in 1965. I have 3 girls. All 3 of them learned to swim here at the Y. My 3 granddaughters also live in Westfield and learned to swim here too. 

So have we been busy at the Y? Yes–everyone in the family is a member. It’s the most wonderful place in the world and the most positive–that’s what I would like to say about the Y. It is a very, very positive environment. If you’re down, there is always somebody who will lift you up.”