The C Word … Community
I was invited to the Copley-Price YMCA on El Cajon Boulevard that serves the Mid-City. The event was a holiday gift giveaway to children in need from City Heights, and surrounding areas. Rooms at the YMCA were decorated with a winter theme, games, crafts and gifts galore. Most moving, a line of children and their guardians/parents formed around the block, there for the giveaway! I was hooked, for four years, I have been reserving this December date to help and make the season more magical for these families. Julian Villegas, the Y’s executive director, said that “the Copley-Price YMCA puts on one of the largest events here in City Heights. The YMCA provides many opportunities for those who are in need. The holiday gift giveaway brings so many of us together.”
More than 1,200 children lined up early on a Saturday morning with holiday excitement, while their parents fill out an eligibility form with help from Y staff and board members. The kids are led into the gym, tables piled high with gifts for each age group. All the gifts are wrapped, so there’s a lot of shaking and eyeing up of which one will be the best. For a 7-year-old, this is maybe the biggest decision of the year. Overcome with excitement, some plop down and open it right there, a few will wait for the 25th. This may be one of only a couple gifts under their tree this year. They all leave with eyes gleaming and the day is not over. There are activities, games, performances, and a bike raffle.
More than 50 bikes, provided by United Healthcare, are up for grabs — and each kid dreams they have the lucky ticket. FM104.5 does yet another gift giveaway and keeps the fun outdoor soccer field jamming with tunes. George Rivera, a fellow board member, is the radio contact and is joined by other board members, different clubs, and organizations who come together to put this on. George said, “I wish you guys could see all these little happy faces. I‘m very blessed to be surrounded by a lot of beautiful people.”
Some of those beautiful people this year were from Gay for Good (gayforgood.org), who showed up two days prior with equipment and supplies to tackle the daunting task of wrapping these odd shaped, brand new toys.
This was Gay for Good’s second year and Barbara Cosio-Moreno, a leader in the organization committed to volunteering, said that “It has quickly become one of our group’s favorite events of the year.” She said that three members from the Orange County chapter joined them. “Volunteers were texting me to say, ‘I’m on my way!’ or ‘Save some gifts for me!’” Barbara said. More photos from Dennis Carey Wood: http://bit.ly/34vmez4.
I ran into the man who planted the seed for all of this by donating land, time and money to build the state-of-the-art YMCA with the expressed goal of bettering City Heights: Robert Price from Price Charities.
“This is one of my favorite events of the year because so many kids get an opportunity that they wouldn’t otherwise have. We’re the lucky ones to be able to put this on,” Price said.
Villegas, who Price commends for his leadership, says that the Copley-Price YMCA places a premium value on diversity and inclusion of the LGBTQ community as staff, partners and members will host a diversity summit along with San Diego Pride in April.
2020 looks like a powerhouse year and Liz Ruch, a fellow board member and partner at this holiday event, started Y-Strong Girls to benefit teen girls.
“We welcome all persons who identify as a girl, we accept you, no questions asked,” she said. Y-Strong Girls is funded separately from the YMCA, through donations expressly earmarked. Y-Strong Girls meets once a week for yoga, dinner, social time, and a group discussion with guest speakers who encourage and inspire ideas of career paths available such as law enforcement, tech, science and health. They’re treated to crafts, jewelry making, and the experience of volunteering to work with seniors. This reflects the intergenerational mix and inclusion at the Copley-Price YMCA. Y-Strong Girls are held to their commitment and aided in attending meeting and events, keeping up their academics and maintaining a physical healthy lifestyle. The YMCA provides the now 60 girls with membership that allows them to keep fit and strong. Liz started with 10 girls, five years ago, and said that she is always “accepting women volunteers, mentors and professionals who are looking to help and inspire.” While exposing these young women ages 13-18 to culture, they also spend time expanding their world view, discussing opinions on current affairs and issues, finding their voice and identity. The participants learn how to interview for a job, how to be assertive in a professional environment and the basics of how to shake a hand and introduce themselves. “If these girls take nothing else from me while here, it’s that they are to stand tall and look someone in the eye and tell them who they are,” she said. Liz is a dynamo who is creating young female dynamos with the help of community. For a way to get involved, mentor, give words of encouragement, or support the $50,000 yearly budget that provides all this plus two big outings (one to the theater and the other a surf camp), send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.