A Thank You Note

22 Jul

By Katie Souris

On November 11th, 2011, I began a 10 hour per week position at the YWCA of Asheville assisting the Care Counselor of the Diabetes Wellness and Prevention Program with general office work such as faxing and creating sign-up sheets. I soon began taking on other tasks, like making the support group schedule and handouts for various health topics. Before long I was doing intakes, attending groups and talking to participants about my experiences living with type 1 diabetes.

I remember the first participant I met in the program, a man named J.J. – we were coming down the stairs from the mezzanine and he was walking up. I recall thinking how he and Mehgan, the Care Counselor before me, greeted each other like old friends and how welcoming he was to me. I didn’t know it then, but J.J. was just beginning his journey towards losing more than 100 lbs.

Katie Souris and program participant, David Gist

Katie Souris and program participant, David Gist

The first time I facilitated our wellness support group was the beginning of my journey towards discovering what I love most about my job. I agonized over my presentation, outlining every detail, rehearsing in the shower, in the car and practicing with friends. The topic was ‘Sick-Day Wellness’ and I made laminated wallet-sized tip cards for everyone to take home. I made peppermint tea that almost no one drank. I was sure everyone thought I was crazy but soon enough we were engaged in a meaningful conversation about people’s experiences. If you had told me that three years later I would feel comfortable facilitating wellness groups and relating to diverse groups of individuals I would have (nervously) laughed at you. This job has helped me practice some of my most valuable skills through direct experience, and learn that talking about health is one of my favorite things to do.

My dream of working full-time at the YWCA and having a bigger role in the Diabetes Wellness and Prevention Program team slowly became a reality when a little over a year ago I became the Coordinator of Preventive Health. Coordinating the program has given me the opportunity to experience more of the challenges of organizing and implementing a health intervention program. One of the hardest parts has been balancing scheduling, meetings, and grant reporting with the time I spend interacting one-on-one with participants. Yet, just when I feel swamped with spreadsheets and logistics, I’ll have a conversation with someone who is creating and bravely navigating positive transformations in their life.  Getting to tell those stories in the community, to secure great guest speakers and events for participants, and to watch people change is what motivates me.

Now after nearly four years I am ready to create and navigate a change in my life, and I have my work and time at the YWCA to thank for that. I didn’t know when I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes my freshman year of college that it would set off such a grand adventure for me. I didn’t know that I’d meet so many amazing people because of it. I didn’t know I would feel drawn to work that related to chronic conditions and public health. Finding the Diabetes Wellness and Prevention Program has changed my life just as much as I’ve seen it change anyone’s. As I leave my position at the YWCA and begin a new adventure, I am excited to hear how the program continues to grow and improve, as I continue to follow the lessons I’ve learned here.

Thank you Katie for four great years! Katie’s last day at the YWCA is July 31st. 

Latino Mothers are Eager to Improve Their Health Through “Salsa Sabor y Salud”

16 Jul

By Leah Berger-Singer 

If you are a stranger walking into the YWCA’s multipurpose room on Wednesday mornings you may feel as if you are walking into a room full of controlled chaos. However, with twenty children ages 1 through 12 and sixteen of their mothers, Salsa Sabor y Salud (SSS) is a program that has a lot to offer, including the feeling of having the freedom to run about.

Katie Souris, Preventive Health Coordinator, and I are working together to teach Latino families about the importance of eating a nutritious diet and getting daily exercise in both fun and creative ways. This program is free to join, lasts for seven weeks and each session is two hours long. During each session we teach a nutrition lesson in which we do an art activity, play a game and/or have a discussion all related to food. We also provide some sort of physically active game, dance or exercise, such as yoga or zumba.

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On our second week of SSS mothers had already made changes to their daily routine and were happy to share what they had been doing to improve their health. One mother stated: “yo veo videos de youtube cuando quiero hacer ejercicio,” to translate, she watches Youtube videos when she wants to get exercise. Other mothers nodded in agreement that this was a resource they could use to be physically active at home. One mom mentioned that she stopped drinking sodas as well as stopped eating less-healthy foods such as tortillas and other flour-heavy foods. Another woman shared that she was drinking “liquidos verdes” or green smoothies, with garlic, celery, kale, spinach and other veggies.

During our most recent session of SSS, in order to introduce the importance of growing and cooking your own fresh food we read Ruth Krauss’ famous book, La Semilla de Zanahoria, which you may know as The Carrot Seed. We folded origami newspaper planters, and the children filled them with soil and radish seeds.

Every week each one of us learns and teaches something new, creating a friendly, familial atmosphere for Salsa, Sabor y Salud at the YWCA of Asheville.

YWCA of Asheville Summer Camp Children Respond to Charleston

13 Jul

Our YWCA Summer Camp kids sang a song in response to the tragedy in Charleston.

Video by Katie Christie, School Age Director. Song written & produced by Rickey Payton & Voices United.

“Black is beautiful when you understand
It’s not the color of your skin, a woman child or man
White is beautiful together we are free
We are one we are family”

Madalyn Rogers’ Story: Embracing the Spirit of the YWCA

7 Jul

I’m a native of Asheville – I’ve lived here all my life except for 1 year away at college in Savannah. My whole family consists of “super natives!” I have a degree in art from UNC Asheville – I love to draw. I work with my father at Hammond Antiques – an antiques store in Burnsville – where I repair and refinish furniture. I love working with my hands; taking something that’s broken and bringing it back to life.

Madalyn Rogers

Madalyn Rogers

I have four children; they’re 27, 22, 10, and 4 years-old. I also have an 11 month-old granddaughter.

I’ve always struggled with being a little bit overweight, but until my mid 20s I was active and took good care of myself. I was fit. But after a series of things that happened in my life I didn’t eat as well, and my metabolism couldn’t keep up with it.  I reached a point where my health has been affected it.

I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes with my last baby – that was a wake-up call for me. My grandmother and mom have diabetes, and I knew that this is something that runs in my family. My doctor told me that my A1C was too high: “You’re diabetic – we need to do something about it.” I was fooling myself that I wasn’t getting less and less healthy. I needed that truth in my face that I really had to make some changes in how I was eating and how I was living.

I started the YWCA’s Diabetes Wellness & Prevention program in December. I love it here – it’s so challenging and encouraging. It’s made me face hard facts about eating habits and emotional issues around eating. The way I grew up I learned an unhealthy relationship with food. I come from a big family without a lot of money – we ate what was cheapest and easiest to get. I developed a taste for processed food. I’m also an emotional eater; I have struggled with depression and one of the things I do is eat.

When I started coming to the YW I started feeling so much better. I’m still struggling with what I’m eating, but my clothes are looser, I’m more energetic, and my body can do things it couldn’t do two months ago. I recently went on hike with family and climbed up a hillside of rocks, and it wasn’t difficult for me. It was really exciting for me – suddenly I could trust my body to do things that I hadn’t been able to trust it to do in a long time.

It’s a huge help to have the accountability of meeting with my YW trainer, Sean, every week. He’s a joy to work with. He’s encouraging, but he knows when to tell the truth. He asked me to keep a food journal… I was ticked off at him for a few days for that because it was easier to be mad at him than at myself. It showed me how deep my issues are, and how much work I have to do, which was discouraging and good at the same time.

It hasn’t been easy, but my family is very supportive. At first my husband would still get the kind of groceries that weren’t helping the situation. Then I explained to him that bringing food I shouldn’t be eating into the house is like if I was a recovering alcoholic and he was putting beer in the fridge. That really clicked with him. I can tell that he really cares. He is learning with me, and is committed to being my teammate.

I have 84 pounds to go to reach my goal weight. But that’s not my only goal.

-I want to go do a zipline.  You have to weigh below a certain number, so I need to reach that first – my best friend promised she would do it with me.

-In 1 to 2 summers I want to take a two-week hike on the Appalachian trail.

-My goddaughter is a fashion guru – when I reach my goal weight she’s going to take me shopping for a whole new wardrobe.

-Lastly, my long term dream is to take my family to serve on a mercy ship – these are giant cruise ships that have been converted to hospitals that dock off the coasts of poor nations. Teams go in to the country and bring back people who can’t get medical care where they are. But they won’t let you go if you have a chronic health problem, so I need to make sure that my health is under check.

My goals are all things that make me hopeful. Before joining this program I had started to feel like: this is who I am; I can never be fit again. My identity had gotten wrapped up in things I couldn’t do physically – I had to get fed up with it.

I’ve embraced the spirit of the YWCA – that it’s ok to be honest about what’s bad and what’s good, and to be willing to face it and make a change. I find myself surrounded by people who’ve been on a journey. We’re able to understand and support each other because we’ve all had something to face in our lives.

Jean Coile Scholarship Helping a New Generation Swim

2 Jul

Paige Peterson is a single mother of 2 year-old twins. A self-described “water and outdoors person,” Paige says: “So many water accidents happen with kids… it’s very important to me that my daughters learn how to swim at a young age. My granny is 73, and doesn’t know how to swim – I didn’t want them to experience that toll in life.”

Paige Peterson with her daughters

Paige Peterson with her daughters

With that in mind, Paige came to the YWCA in September, where she learned that she was eligible for a Jean Coile scholarship to help subsidize her children’s swim lessons. Jean Coile was the YW’s Aquatics Director from 1979 until 2010; the fund was created upon her retirement to honor her work.

“It means a lot to have a scholarship that I can use when times are tight,” says Paige. “Otherwise we would have to miss out on a month of classes, and the girls would lose some of that momentum.”

As it is, the twins have graduated from the Baby 1 & 2 class to the preschool class. They can do ‘chipmunk cheeks,’ hold their breath, jump in the pool, and are starting to learn windmills.

“I’ve seen tremendous progress from when they first started,” says Paige. “My mom comes with me, and it’s a time for them to bond. The girls love swim class, and it’s good for them.”

The Jean Coile Scholarship is needs-based, and is available on a limited basis to subsidize instructional swimming lessons for adults and children.  For more information contact Kitty Schmidt, Aquatics Coordinator, at 828-254-7206 x. 110.

For more information about the YWCA’s swim lessons, visit www.ywcaofasheville.org/aquatics

Standing in Solidarity with Charleston

30 Jun

The YWCA of Asheville family has been grieving for the 9 victims of the shooting at Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, SC and their families.

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On June 19, Beth Maczka, our CEO, made the following statement:
“At the YWCA board meeting last night we learned that one board member lost a relative and another lost three Delta sorority sisters in the Charleston shooting. We are all connected – and if we are to prevent future shootings, we must begin acting like these are our family members. Be angry, be sad, be outraged – but feel something and do something. Be a witness, be an ally, be a light in the darkness. Prayers for our sisters and brothers in Charleston.”

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We then called for our staff, members, and supporters to wear their Stand Against Racism t-shirts and join us for photos in front of our marquee sign on S. French Broad Ave, where we had a message of support for Charleston.

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In addition, we invited people to write a reflection for our version of the Wailing Wall in the YW lobby. Sticky notes were available with the following prompts: I feel… I wish… I pray… I need… I will…

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Here is what people responded:

I feel devastated and sad.
I will stand against racism.
My prayers go out to all the families. Bless everyone.
ENOUGH
I will start a conversation about race.
I will continue to spread awareness
Praying
The perpetrator was caught, but the killer is still out there.
#takeitdown
I will not let people around me make racial jokes or comments without my intervention.
I pray for change.
Black lives matter. Life matters, period.
I will pray for you Charleston!
God is good
I pray for peace and love to prevail!
I will speak and act for equality and healing among all races
No more guns in the hands of disturbed young males. Period.
I pray for single mothers everywhere. Stay strong.
I feel love
Kindness is a choice
I pray for world peace
Black lives matter
Let’s go down to the river to pray, studyin about those good ol’ days…
Take down the confederate flag and step into the 21st century!
I am sad and I am angry. Enough is enough!
I feel solidarity with Charleston and awe at the thoughtful and loving way the response has unfolded. You have changed the U.S.
I pray to the good people of the south to stand together and rid us of the confederacy. Pray to move on —
I will… keep asking hard questions
Stand up for peace!
I wish for LOVE and kindness for all people
Black lives matter!
I hope that this tragedy will be followed by justice, peace, and meaningful change!
I will… listen
The time is now!
I will not be a silent witness! I will speak up.
Love will triumph over hate.
My love and prayers are with you all.
Black people count!
Wishes for peace and caring.
I feel we do not live in a ‘post racial’ society
I pray for better dayz (Tupac Shakur)
I need the world to change
I will forgive and pray.
I feel sad when a person comes and kills people in god’s church.
I need a system that does not foster hate behind closed doors.
I will always remember.
I feel… betrayed
I will… sign every petition
I wish… for no more reasons to feel pain
I feel sad
I pray that this will never happen again!
I wish it never happened
I will pray for everyone
I wish awareness will be spread!
I feel like we have to take action – together – as a community.
I wish – it never happened. It would stop. It was never like this. America was not raised racist!
I will forgive, but never forget! Love to Charleston
Be the change
I feel sad
I need… a safe place
I feel disgusted (they were in church!!!)
I am sad!
I pray for peace, clarity, and understanding
We are sending love to everyone affected by this tragedy
I wish we saw only love not race
We shall overcome
True Christianity is shining through the hate.
I don’t understand
Take it down!
It feels like we’re stuck. Why can’t we move forward?
I will start a conversation
I will forgive and pray for the people who had to die
Some things just do not make any sense. We worked too hard to turn back now

Another Transformational Year of MotherLove

2 Jun

073Another school year has come to a close for the parenting students of MotherLove.  This year, we wanted to celebrate our graduating seniors with such style that our rising sophomores, juniors, and seniors would enter into their next school year with stars in their eyes for the good things to come.

Beth Maczka, YWCA CEO, with a MotherLove baby

Beth Maczka, YWCA CEO, with a MotherLove baby

MotherLove high school seniors, as well as MotherLove’s continuing high school students, were invited – along with family and friends – to gather at A-B Tech for an End of Year banquet in the Magnolia Dining Room, overlooking a gorgeous view of the mountains.  Little ones played with bubbles outside, babies gazed in fascination at each other, young moms and their families shared stories over lunch,  and members of the YWCA’s Eleanor Roosevelt Giving Society enjoyed meeting our MotherLove participants and their babies.

071After a delicious lunch, provided by the chefs of Green Opportunities, it was time to honor the parenting students’ accomplishments for the year.  Tender words of advice and wisdom were offered up by Senator Terry Van Duyn, followed by the distribution of MotherLove’s first ever Senior Scholarship Awards.  Seven graduating seniors received a fully loaded laptop to support their future educational and career goals.  Many thanks to former Director of Women’s Empowerment Diana Sierra for initiating the Senior Scholarship; we hope it will become an annual tradition for MotherLove.

The afternoon closed with reflective thoughts, sage advice, and words of encouragement from Ahmarie Gaines and Jocelyn Franks, two of MotherLove’s graduates from last year who have served on the Alumni Committee throughout 2014-2015.

Ahmarie Gaines and her son

Ahmarie Gaines and her son

Afterwards, Motherlove’s Coordinator, Holly Gillespie, administered a very serious homework assignment for the summer: “Play with your baby.”  The necessary equipment for the assignment (a gift bag of toys) was distributed and everyone left the afternoon full of food, smiles, and the knowledge that MotherLove believes in them.

We are grateful to all those who helped make the entire day a success, and are looking forward to another transformational year in 2015-2016!

A MotherLove participant and her father

A MotherLove participant and her father

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