The 154th annual YMCA meeting and award ceremony saw smiles, tears and plenty of recognition for service and dedication.
The ceremonies took place at the Lillian V. Ney Renaissance Center and lasted just over two hours.
As guests were settling into their seats, they were treated to renditions of "Brown Eyed Girl" by Van Morrison, "Don't Stop Believing" by Journey and "YMCA" by The Village People performed by the band Teachers, Preachers and Trent.
YMCA awards performance
Once guests were settled in, the Eastside Middle School Academy Dance Club performed a dance routine to the song "Stand By Me" and Doug Schutte took to the microphone to announce that after months of effort, a crosswalk has finally been built adjacent to the Eastside Y on Second Street. A PSA created by the YMCA on crosswalk safety was then aired for guests to view and met with a round of applause.
Shortly thereafter, Missy Freeman and her children were welcomed to the podium to give a mission statement for the YMCA and state how the YMCA has helped them succeed and grow as a family.
"The Eastside Y has helped us all out as a family so much," said Freeman. "It's helped us all to learn tolerance and acceptance of others, regardless of backgrounds and abilities. Each one of us goes through different challenges - Matthew (son) has Still's disease, which is physical, Ryan (son) has autism, which is neurological and Rebecca (daughter) has a hard time making friends sometimes. However, through the Eastside Y, we've come beyond that and learned leadership, friendship and social skills to become just like every other family, only stronger. That's the big thing about the Eastside Y, it's like a family to us. We run into different things in our daily lives and to be able to (be a member of the YMCA family), it means so much to all of us."
Teachers, Preachers and Trent performed as part of the opening ceremonies for the YMCA awards.
"The Y has helped me with my homework, my everyday problems that I face and it has helped me by building confidence, my mind and my soul," said Rebecca Freeman. "It helped me to know what it is like to be a Y member and to be surrounded by my friends and people who love and care for me."
After a short business session, dinner was served. Guests were treated to potatoes, fettuccine alfredo, stuffed chicken breast and pulled pork, all of which was supplied by Sandee's Bakery and Deli. The pre-meal blessing was said by John Barber.
Before the awards were handed out, state Sen. Catharine Young addressed the audience and thanked them for the overwhelming support they all offer the YMCA.
"It truly is wonderful to be here tonight," said Sen. Young. "All the people who are here tonight that get involved with the Y really have a passion and I want to thank all of you for the leadership you have. ... I was very fortunate when my children were little we had access to a YMCA. They learned so many valuable lessons there and it's not just the athletics, as we know. It's about building character. ... To each and every one of you, congratulations and thank you for doing everything you do."
Finally, as the audience was brimming with anticipation, the YMCA awards were finally handed out. Awards were presented to: Andrew Rodriguez, Elizabeth Rowan, Angela Tona and Matthew Freeman - YMCA outstanding teen; Holly C. Hannon - volunteer of the year; Chautauqua Striders - partner with youth award; Jason T. Chinni - coach of the year; Dianne L. Merchant and Jeanne M. Larson - child care worker of the year; Taylor G. Lubi - employee of the year; the Osborn family, Jack, Shannon, Grace and Jack Harris - family of the year; Paul D. Young - executive director's award; Hollyloft Ski and Bike - red triangle award; and Roberta "Bobbi" Thompson - Paul B. Sullivan Lifetime Service Award.
"Without volunteers - and it's not just volunteers, we're honoring kids, teens that are doing the right things," said Mark Eckendorf, chief executive officer of the YMCA. "You already read about kids in the paper that are doing the wrong things, but these are kids that are doing all the right things. We're honoring a family of the year and of course our lifetime service award winner."
Eckendorf went on to elaborate upon how the lifetime service award is the YMCA's most prestigious award that was handed out during the ceremonies.
"(Thompson) was board president when I came onto the board 25 years ago," said Eckendorf. "She came on during a very difficult time when the Y was in trouble. She was the first female president and she stayed on for three years which is a very long term for a president. Over the years she's stayed on with the Y and recently became a trustee. She's got a heart for the kids and is so dedicated to the Y, so we're happy to give her that award."
Thompson, flabbergasted, graciously accepted the award.
"I've been blessed to the a part of the Y," said Thompson. "Everything that I've personally gained from the Y and the impact it has on the youth of the area is amazing. I'm just so proud to be a part of the Y."
The ceremonies concluded with an address lead by guest speaker Carrie Bair-Norwood, vice president of brand and impact advancement for the Pikes Peak region YMCA in Colorado Springs, Colo.
Bair-Norwood gave an address speaking about the nature of fundraising for the YMCA and how important it is, even if some find it uncomfortable.
"I had one volunteer for the Y that was willing to give (his own money) but said to me, 'I'm not comfortable asking other people to donate,'" said Bair-Norwood. "Finally one day he told me, 'one day I realized that I wasn't asking other people for their money, I was asking them to make sure that our kids had a place to grow.' Now he's one of our best fundraisers, even though he won't let us call him that."