MANSFIELD -- Mansfield Area YMCA volunteers contribute valuable time and skills to create meaningful experiences for members. Their long-term commitments translate to lives saved and families transformed through healthier, active lifestyles.
Volunteers range in age from children to senior citizens. They coach sports, instruct fitness classes, conduct wellness checks, maintain facilities and help with special events.
“If it wasn’t for those volunteers, it would be a lot hard for the YMCA to do what it does today,” Vice President of Operations James Twedt said. “It gives a chance for people to give back to the community and inspires other people to become volunteers.
A volunteer since 2005, Marcia Rice, RN, BSN, takes and monitors blood pressure readings weekly. She educates seniors about taking their medications regularly and embracing a healthy lifestyle.
“I love it because I get to know them on a personal level.” Rice said. “It helps me keep up a little bit of my medical skills too.”
She has seen improvements in the health of individuals who attend regularly.
“What I have seen in their health is they are taking their medication more often,” Rice said. “Consequently, they are more ready to go into SilverSneakers (senior fitness program) or another exercise program. They can handle that.”
Sometimes she encounters individuals with very high blood pressure, and it raises concern. She recommends that they go to a physician as soon as possible and usually they follow through.
“A gentleman came in, and I was very concerned about his blood pressure,” Rice said. “It was very, very high. He not only went to the physician, he was checked and admitted to the hospital.
“His wife came to me later and said, ‘because of you recommending he go, he’s still with me. That was a special time.”
Long-time volunteers Anu Joshi and Barb Kessler instruct fitness classes at the YMCA. They enjoy empowering members to grow by challenging the boundaries they set for themselves.
Joshi’s fitness classes help seniors gain strength and balance while burning calories. She also instructs martial arts classes designed for elementary and middle-school children.
Joshi values the YMCA because of its mission to build a stronger community and help individuals understand the relationship between the mind, body and spirit.
“We develop a lot of rapport and friendship with the members,” Joshi said. “I try to do whatever is best for them. I try to improve their skills and help them.”
Joshi recalls helping a woman gain enough strength to participate in classes without her walker. Joshi provided modifications for movements and helped the participant take baby steps. She walked on her own on the third day of training.
Joshi encourages her to go farther each day and become more independent.
“That’s what we do at the YMCA,” Joshi said. “We help people develop themselves so that they can do more on their own.”
Joshi and Kessler both instruct members in their 90s that remain dedicated to their fitness.
“They develop a lot of balance and strength,” Joshi said. “The number of needed doctor’s visits lessons because of the exercises.”
Kessler teaches Aqua Abs and Water Aerobics to senior citizens, though her classes are open to all members. She encourages attendees to let go and have fun – especially on beach ball Fridays.
“I have senior citizens who might be very serious,” Kessler said. “I get them to do silly stuff. Watching them laugh like kids again - it’s just so much fun.”
The camaraderie builds during classes and continues beyond the hours in the pool as members dine, travel and build friendships together.
Kessler resonates with her class participants because she has endured knee and shoulder replacements as well as minor back surgery. She provides modifications and alternative exercises so that individuals with physical limitations can participate.
Kessler was especially encouraged by a member with lung issues who took her class.
“She had to be on oxygen all of the time,” Kessler said. “Her and her husband figured out a way to get her oxygen tank into a container on a float so that she could come to this class.
"I thought if this woman can come and do this with having to bring oxygen with her, surely it has to inspire other people.”
Kessler chooses to volunteer at the YMCA specifically because of its ongoing commitment to helping families and children. She stays healthy by teaching classes.
“I have had serious problems with depression over the years,” Kessler said. “Since I have been doing this, it has made a huge difference.”
Kessler was even named Richland County Senior Citizen Volunteer of the Year in 2016.
“That was pretty special – an honor that I still can’t believe happened.”
Volunteers echo their appreciation for paid staff members and the familial culture that exists within the YMCA community.
“I feel like I am home there,” Rice said. “They are part of me and I am part of them. You are giving, but you receive almost more than you give.”
“It’s more than a home to me,” Joshi said. “As soon as I step inside the YMCA, I see the smiling faces and the friendliness.”
Kessler said the YMCA is her happy place.
“I just can’t imagine my life without it.”