Stories to ShareMembers and Staff Who Serve

More than 6,500 military members and their families belong to the Y in San Diego County.

In November, we celebrate National Veterans and Military Family Month and the Y's mission to provide a place where families can connect and build strength, from the inside out. We asked some of members (and staff) to share their stories.

Mike Z.

“The VA has deemed me at over 100-percent disability. My diagnoses range from CPOD, diabetes, thyroid problems, PTSD and issues from Agent Orange and the fires from Gulf War. With the physical demands of F being active duty for 30 years comes orthopedic complications, as well.

“You name it, I’ve got it.

“I knew that exercise was a part of my life that I needed to reintegrate. I tried out the water aerobics classes, but it was not my cup of tea. I found that power walking in the water has helped beyond what I can put to words. I am convinced that being able to come to the YMCA to do my power water walking for an hour at a time is the only reason I am alive today.”

– Mike Z, Retired Marine Corps Sergeant Major | Rancho Family YMCA

Kat J.

K Johnson and family at Toby Wells Y“I was working out one day and a wellness coach told me that she had been watching me work out and saw how strong I was getting. She happened to be a military mom, too. She let me know that there were openings for wellness coaches. I applied, thinking it was going to be just another job.

“I love being a wellness coach because I am grateful to play a part in our members’ wellness journey. Everyone’s is different — whether their goal is to keep fit, have fun or feel good. There is always a story, and I enjoy them.

“I'm blessed to have found my passion, and to have a husband and my three wonderful kids. I love that there are so many military families at Toby Wells, and I’ve met many civilians who helped me through tough times. They became my family and helped me build myself. Because of the Y I am a better person, mom, wife and friend.”

— Kat J, Member and Staff at the Toby Wells YMCA

Anderson D.

“Being active duty and working at the YMCA has given me a whole different outlook on life. In the Marine Corps, we are focused on the mission. The mission comes first.

“Working at the YMCA was the best thing I could have chosen to do, given the positive energy and acceptance of everyone. With all my heart, I loved teaching young kids how to swim. It gave me so much pure happiness to see their progression and growth.

“My co-workers’ happiness and joy flowed through me every day, and I loved being surrounded by people like that. I got a break from the harshness that comes with being active duty. It gave me sanity and peace to know I was working with such an amazing and gifted staff at the YMCA.

“As an active duty marine, they are my home away from home.”

— Anderson D, Corporal in the Marine Corps currently deployed in the Middle East and Staff at Rancho Family YMCA

Penn Family

“Our children look forward to when Ms. Josie is coming over because they know their day will be full of fun. Like the time they took a huge box outside and created the USS Penn; a ship the kids sailed in their imaginary ocean long after Ms. Josie left for the day.

“Ms. Josie reminds them to make good choices, put away their shoes, wash their hands and say excuse me. She helps with homework and reads bedtime stories. As parents we are able to go on dates, go to the gym and sometimes just take a nap.

“Our family is truly blessed to have a great provider. We appreciate her and the respite care program for the support in caring for our children.”

— The Penn Family | YMCA Respite Care Program

Jessica M.

“The YMCA is a supportive community for anyone, but as a military family we have definitely felt supported at the Rancho Y. My husband, Aaron, is a JAG officer in the Navy. We have three boys, and have loved the opportunity for swim lessons, swim team, soccer leagues and summer camps.

“The Y has helped us enjoy these activities at an affordable price, in a great setting with strong community values. At the end of my son's preschool sports class, they always talked about a "value word," such as responsible, kindness, trust.

“I grew up at the Y — 13 years swimming competitively on the swim team, and my first job was a YMCA life guard/swim lesson instructor. I learned a lot about community.”

— Jessica M. | Rancho Family YMCA

Alicia E.

“Deployments are tough; sometimes impossible. The Y gave me a break. It gave me strength and led to a job. When the Navy moved us to San Diego, we joined Toby Wells YMCA. Soon after, I became an instructor.

“The Y has helped me create friendships with other military spouses. I hosted a military spouse workshop. We discussed the good, the bad, and beautiful, and the ugly of military life. We also talked about making self-care a priority.

“Being a member of the Y has helped me make it through the times my husband is away. It allowed me to fall in love with fitness and gave me the opportunity to share that love with others. The Y has provided a safe place for my children to grow, develop friendships, learn soccer and how to swim. We have met the most wonderful friends who are now family because of the Y.”

— Alicia E. | Toby Wells YMCA

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