Y makes pitch for a healthy community


Karen Leslie posed a question for almost 400 people gathered for breakfast at the Crowne Plaza yesterday.

Paraphrasing what she had heard in her church, the president of the YMCA of Greater Providence, asked how in these difficult economic times could anyone ask for money.

Using the answer she heard, she asked, “How could they not ask?”

Her point was that, when needs have been identified, it is a responsibility to try to help, as she kicked off the Y’s Annual Support Campaign to raise $1.1 million.

Campaign chairman Joseph B. White said $470,000 of that goal has already been raised. The funds will be used to support programs and services that help children achieve and improve health.

Nine months in the planning, yesterday’s event was the first Y community appeal of that size. It was a well-planned production that opened with a welcome from Mayor Scott Avedisian and included remarks from Gov. Lincoln Chafee and stories of several people who have benefited from Y programs. Video screens ensured everyone in the ballroom had a good view of the speakers and the Kent County Y Glee Club, whose performance garnered the most enthusiastic cheers of the morning.

The message was genuine and the pull was on the heartstrings.

A breast cancer survivor, Martha Dean talked of her participation in the LiveStrong program at the Kent Y, relating what she went through, describing how she couldn’t lift her arms after surgery and the effects of chemotherapy. She said after all the medical treatments, she found herself asking, “What do I do now?”

What she did was go to the Y, where she learned she wasn’t alone. She said the LiveStrong program “puts together people who have the same life experiences.” She said the program prepared her to be a cancer survivor.

The Y has also been a source of connection and hope for Gary and Dee Dee Witman, members of the Newman Y.

Gary, who was a physician working in Boston, has been quadriplegic since being thrown by a wave on Narragansett Beach two years ago. The Y offers access to some unique equipment designed to address spinal cord injuries through muscle stimulation. With a $17,000 Quality of Life grant from the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation, the Newman Y bought a Functional Electrical Stimulation (FES) bike, which helps individuals with Paralysis due to Paraplegia, Quadriplegia and stroke.

“If it were not for the Y, I would not have this opportunity,” he said. “I don’t know what I would do.”

“I, too, have a dream that Gary will stand,” said Dee Dee.

Chafee reminded people of how Ys across the state serve an estimated 75,000 children and adults daily. He touched on the Y’s wellness, nutrition and childhood obesity programs. He called the Y’s programs a “collaborative response to community needs” and “teamwork at its best.”

As the event came to a close, precisely at 9, Chris Hurd, a member of the YMCA of Greater Providence board, asked people to take off and unfold their nametags. The tags unfolded into pledge forms that attendees were asked to complete and drop into the boxes on each table.

The message was repeated.

“When you give to the Y, your gift will have a meaningful, enduring impact right in your own neighborhood.”


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