Healthy Life, September 2016

Sisters Serve as Role Models to Help Kids ‘Be the Best They Can Be’

by Ivy Hamilton, YMCA Marketing Intern
Kourtney and Kayley Williams.
Kourtney and Kayley Williams.

Twin sisters Kourtney and Kayley Williams are self-proclaimed “kids at heart.” That’s why landing summer jobs as YMCA camp counselors was the perfect fit. The Y prefers to call its counselors role models, a title that fits Kourtney and Kayley well. Both sisters said it is important for role models to be respectful and understanding of the campers. “I try to be myself and encourage the kids to the same,” said Kourtney. At such a young age, kids are very impressionable. “The kids look up to us and almost always want to copy what we do. That’s why it’s important to be good examples, good role models,” Kayley said.

Although they were interviewed separately, when each sister was asked who her role model was, she immediately named her mother. Kourtney and Kayley’s mother is their symbol of strength and perseverance. She became pregnant at the young age of 20, but never let it slow her down. After giving birth to two beautiful baby girls, their mother returned to school to finish her nursing degree. As college students themselves, Kourtney and Kayley said they admire their mothers’ hard work, determination and unconditional love.

Kayley Williams
Kayley Williams

Both twins attend Southeastern Louisiana University and are on track to graduate soon. Kourtney is a mass communication major and hopes to one day be a television reporter. Kayley is an early childhood education major with dreams of becoming a teacher following graduation. She says working with the children at the Y has been great practice. “She’ll be a great mom, too!” chimed in Brieya, a camper in Kayley’s group.

This is the sisters’ second year serving as role models at the Y. The girls are identical twins and joked saying that both years, the adults have had more difficulty telling them apart than the campers. “They’re very attentive; they usually can tell us apart by our nail color or book sacks,” said Kourtney. Even though they are in charge of different groups, (Kourtney has boys ages 4 and 5, while Kayley has girls ages 6 and 7) the sisters enjoy working together and love to exchange stories at the end of the day.

Kourtney Williams
Kourtney Williams

“I want to do my best to give the kids a memorable summer,” said Kayley. “It’s important to me that they have as much fun as possible.” The twins said they both enjoy regular camp activities like swimming and field trips, but their absolute favorite is a game called “Drip Drip Drop,” a spin on Duck Duck Goose, reserved for Fun Fridays. Instead of patting each other on the head, the campers take turns dripping water on one another, but the “goose” gets a real cool down when the whole cup of water is dumped on him or her. “The kids look forward to it all week, and so do we,” exclaimed Kourtney.

Even when they’re not at work, Kourtney and Kayley like to hang out with their co-workers, or as they affectionately call it, “the Y fam,” and every Wednesday, the twins spend time with their real family, too. “We all go to our great-grandmother’s house, and she cooks for all of her grandchildren and great grandchildren. It’s great quality time together.” Like many other college girls, they also enjoy watching TV shows like Grey’s Anatomy and Gossip Girl on Netflix during their down time.

The YMCA’s Christian Principles are defined as love, respect, honesty, responsibility and service, something the twins were drawn to when initially looking for summer jobs. “We want to be the best role models we can be, so that the kids will be the best they can be.”

August 2016, Healthy Life

YMCA’s Christian Values Conference Enriches the Lives of Attendees

by Kristen Hogan, YMCA
Christian Values Conference attendees.
Christian Values Conference attendees.

Overlooking the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains in Black Mountain, N.C., campers and counselors alike are reminded of God’s handiwork while attending the YMCA’s Christian Values Conference. For one week each summer, students and counselors are welcomed into a diverse atmosphere, while learning Christian leadership and service in faith. The conference’s mission is inspired by John 17:21, “that they may all be one.” Teens spend five days exploring their personal values, sharing in spiritual fellowship and developing new friendships, all while having non-stop fun.

Days begin and end the same way, with a devotion attended by the entire camp that is led by talented singers. Throughout the week, “families” get together numerous times to hold discussions with an adult facilitator on issues such as relationships with family, friends and God. By providing a safe, positive, Christian environment, the conference strives to exemplify sound moral beliefs and emphasizes the importance of being an example to peers.

Three-time conference attendee Taylor Davis said, “My experience on the mountain attending the Christian Values Conference was without a doubt a huge part of what made me who I am today.” Davis enjoyed the conference so much that he talked his best friend, Brandon Lott, into attending the conference with him. Lott said, “The conference is absolutely life changing; it’s like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. It has given me the opportunity to meet and become friends with so many new people from all over the country. The bonds you create there are like no other.”

Each summer, the camp chooses a theme that is inspired by a meaningful and relevant Christian song. This summer’s theme was based on the song, “Voice of Truth” by Casting Crowns. Many fun events take place throughout the week, including Monday Night Madness, where campers dress up according to a predetermined theme. During this year’s Monday night celebration students were encouraged to dress based on the  theme “Down by the Sea.”

Taylor Davis and Brandon Lott.
Taylor Davis and Brandon Lott.

While much of the week is spent in family groups, teens also get to spend time hanging out and making new friends during social time. Campers can go hiking, swimming, do arts and crafts, or just relax and enjoy the beautiful view of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Several special events are also on the schedule, including a talent show, Family Feud, and of course, an occasional dance party.

“The Christian Values Conference is one of the greatest things anyone could be a part of. It makes you and everyone else around better people, draws you closer to God, builds your personal strength so you can have more confidence in life to achieve your goals, and builds life-long friendships with people around the country!” Davis said.

At the end of the week, the conference hosts a banquet and closing program, which brings everyone together to enjoy one last meal, and also recognizes the student leaders and adults. The Fire of Friendship closes out the week as everyone gathers around a bonfire to reflect on the time they have had together.

The Fire of Friendship on the camp's final night.
The Fire of Friendship on the camp’s final night.

Regarding his third year attending the CVC, Davis said, “Instead of going into the conference confused and to be helped, I woke saying every day is the greatest day of my life and I smile everywhere I go and speak to as many people as I can. I discovered I had a unique ability with my words when it came to helping people, so after my second year on the mountain I knew that the reason I wanted to go back was to help people the way that I was helped. Since then, that passion I found has grown stronger and is the inspiration for the career I hope to build.”

For those who might be considering attending the CVC in 2017, Lott said, “If one fiber of your being feels interested in coming, you need to sign up and come. You’ll never regret it.”

If you are interested in attending next year’s conference, please contact Billie Babin at or by phone (225) 767-9622.

Healthy Life, May 2016

Trainers at the Y guide fitness and build lasting friendships

by Bridget Stanton, YMCA Marketing Intern
Pictured to the left is Bonnie Weissman using the TRX Suspension training system and to the right is trainer Gina Stonich.
Pictured to the left is Bonnie Weissman using the TRX Suspension training system and to the right is trainer Gina Stonich.

Bonnie Weissman, now 63, an Army veteran, mother and grandmother, had been active her entire life. While stationed in the Netherlands, Bonnie served as a captain and taught other officers classes. One day while teaching, one of her students began to notice that Bonnie was not looking very well. It was then that she realized she felt a little off, and after a blood test, her doctor informed her that she had high blood pressure.

She then recalled that while she was grading papers, her vision seemed blurred and distorted. Doctors had found the root of her problem; Preeclampsia — which can cause your blood pressure to rise, and put you at risk for brain injury and other serious health problems. Bonnie was 31 years old and pregnant at that time, and she decided to take extra precautionary measures to ensure the health and safety of her baby. It was then that Bonnie realized she needed to have proper nutrition and exercise to maintain good health.

After being deployed, Bonnie continued to live a life of diet and exercise. She had two lovely daughters and an admirable husband. Bonnie stumbled upon the Y when she first moved to Baton Rouge with her family several years ago. Bonnie joined the Southside YMCA at the age of 60 and was looking to strengthen her problem areas. Bonnie began to train with Gina Stonich on an exercise system called the TRX suspension training system, which was originally developed by the Navy Seals.

This being somewhat familiar to Bonnie due to her military past, she decided to try it. TRX Suspension training targets bodyweight exercise that develops strength, balance, flexibility and core stability. Bonnie began to see immediate progress, but said that she could not have done it without the guidance of her trainer.

Gina, left, and Bonnie.
Gina, left, and Bonnie.

“Three months ago, I could barely hold one minute of a plank. I was angry, and in self-doubt. Gina constantly pushed me to do more, but kept in mind that I have a bad foot. Over time, you begin to do exercise the correct way. Trainers at the Y notice your mistakes, and help you better yourself in every sense of the way,” Bonnie stated. Bonnie also mentioned that she is an avid cook, painter, traveler and grandmother of two small boys, and without the help of Jesus Christ and Gina, she would not be able to do the things she loves to do.

“At the age of 63, if I can do this, other people can at my age. I hired a personal trainer to help guide and motivate me, but along the process we developed a friendship. Gina and I regularly get lunch together, and we are both active Christians in our community,” Bonnie said.

Gina of the Southside YMCA is an outgoing, bubbly and strong-willed versatile trainer. She is able to create several client-trainer based relationships and assist them with what they are seeking to accomplish, whether it is fitness, nutritional or personal needs. Gina not only had the passion to assist Bonnie in her active life, but helped Perry Ferand find an appropriate way of exercising that accommodated his needs as well.

Perry, left, works out on the chest press machine while Gina oversees his fitness routine.
Perry, left, works out on the chest press machine while Gina oversees his fitness routine.

Perry, 86, joined the Southside YMCA three years ago after deciding that it was time he got out of the comfort of exercising in his home after tragically losing his wife. “After losing my wife, I needed a woman to boss me around, that’s where Gina chimed in,” Perry said. Gina had to program each machine individually with Perry’s appropriate age because the machines only went up to the age of 80. Perry uses a heart monitor while he exercises on the treadmill and elliptical. It keeps track of his heart rate and Gina helps to ensure that he is not overworking himself.

Instead of just walking on the treadmill at home, Perry said one of the main reasons he decided to step out of the comfort of his home was to come to the Y to immerse himself in a social setting. “The other reason why I love to come to work out at the Y, is because I do not want to risk injury if I am working out alone. There are trained people here who could immediately take care of me if something bad were to happen. If I just came here to simply just workout, then I would revert back to walking on my treadmill at home,” Perry stated.

Perry continued, “I come to the Y to see Gina, and to interact with other people. Even if it’s to talk about the most random things, I feel the sense of community and that makes me always want to come back. I don’t know how it is for other people, but for me it is the easiest thing in the world. If it weren’t for my active lifestyle, traveling would not be possible. I love to travel. September of last year, I traveled to France, viewed Neolithic paintings and even went inside historical caves. I was able to walk around just fine. When my wife and I retired we traveled to Europe sometimes up to 5 times a year.”

“At the Y, I have established not only a better sense of community, but a long lasting friendship with my trainer Gina. We have weekly lunches, and celebrate each other’s birthdays. Here at the Y, I have been given happiness and hope after losing my wife, and I wouldn’t be where I am today without Gina,” Perry said.

Perry, left and Gina.
Perry, left and Gina.

As evidence shows, Gina impacts her clients in other ways than just being a trainer. She deeply cares about the connections she forms with her clients. Gina began training at the Southside YMCA because she loves to help those who are actively seeking guidance and assistance throughout their workouts as well as their personal well-being. She not only monitors heart health, diet, cholesterol, and overall physical health. She truly helps her clients produce desired results, and makes them feel comfortable and cared for throughout the process.

Gina trained Bonnie because she knew how passionate Bonnie was about her desire for an active, healthy lifestyle. She knew exactly what exercises Bonnie preferred because she knows Bonnie, not just on a transactional level, but on a personal level. They have formed a bond so strong, that they are able to spend time together outside of the Y. Gina trained Perry because she was moved by his past and wanted to continue to help him live his life, not only in a healthy manner, but to help him achieve a sense of community.

She wanted to make sure he felt the need to always come back to the community that the Y has to offer. She gave great emphasis as well on the fact that she is not only channeling her fitness expertise, but furthermore, actively pursuing her Christian lifestyle by helping those who need her help. Gina fosters ample friendships with her clients, which makes her feel a sense of achievement in regards to aiding others. Gina did not sign up to just be a trainer at the Y — she became a trainer because she felt it was her calling to help others through diet, exercise and cultivating friendships that will last her a lifetime.

Gina defines perfectly what we try to achieve at the YMCA. At the Y, we desire for others to be happy, healthy and belong to something more than just a gym. The Y is a loving community that is always willing to provide more than just fitness, but fulfilling friendships that will truly last a lifetime.

April 2016, Healthy Life

Terrific Turtles

by Kristen Hogan, YMCA Baton Rouge

ymca_red_rgb_rThe Y’s focus on water safety has always been a priority and after learning there was a community need for swimming lessons for children with disabilities, the Y responded by launching the Terrific Turtles program, an adaptive swim lesson for participants with special needs. Kelli Seitz, YMCA lifeguard and Terrific Turtles swim instructor, has been working one-on-one with special needs children for the past five years at the A. C. Lewis YMCA.

“With that first child, I learned that I needed to keep the child safe and comfortable in the water above all else, and their learning will spring from there.” Kelli’s experience as a Adapted Physical Education Teacher made her the perfect fit for this program, “I love being in the water and teaching others how to be safe and have fun in the water too.”

Rhett Guillot
Rhett Guillot

Rhett Guillot, 8, struggles with mild gross and fine motor skills and was diagnosed with childhood apraxia of speech at 2 years old. Rhett has attended occupational, speech and physical therapy, but Rhett’s mother, Karen Guillot, chose swimming as an addition to therapy because it is an “excellent activity for global motor and sensory input to the brain.”

“Swimming stimulates his motor, multisensory input and mental thinking, utilizing all four extremities and synchronizing his breathing and his movements,” Guillot says. Rhett began the program deathly afraid of the water. He would hold on to the side of the pool, but Kelli worked with him to begin doing a little at a time, first standing next to the pool, then standing on a step in the water, then standing in the shallow end, etc. “Over time he was learning to hold his breath and kick his feet and now look at him, he is swimming the length of the pool,” Karen says. Karen added that swimming has helped with his cognitive academic performance, allowing him to be more engaged in school, as well as tuning his fine motor skills and improving his writing. She has also seen an improvement in his multi-tasking abilities, self-confidence and a decrease in his classroom insecurities.

Gavin Boutte
Gavin Boutte

Gavin Boutte, 8, is also a participant in the program. Diagnosed with classical autism at age 2, his mother, Sasha Matthews, wanted him to learn to swim so he would survive if something were to happen — research has shown that drowning remains a leading cause of death in children with autism. “Gavin wouldn’t let me wet his hair, he didn’t want water on his head or in his face and now look at him,” Matthews says. “The Terrific Turtles program has done so much more than teach him to swim, it’s been an improvement to our quality of life; it’s changed our life in more ways than one.”

YMCALessonsGavin is progressing in the program and has learned to love water. “This is his happy place, he lights up when he sees Kelli,” she says. It was hard to find programs and resources for children with disabilities Sasha remarked. “[This program is] something special for us, we have felt so welcomed from the very beginning. We are not judged here; our special noises and actions won’t be looked at because here at the Y, we are all the same.”

Both Gavin and Rhett continue to make progress in the Terrific Turtles program and the Y is happy to be a part of their lives! For more information about the Terrific Turtles program contact Heather Shaw at

Healthy Life, March 2016

The Y is Giving Kids Their Best Summer Ever

by Kristen Hogan

YMCAMarchTrading stories and sharing a favorite book or song with a new friend; being greeted with smiles and high-fives from staff and teammates after scoring the winning point; always fitting in, just for being you—This is what the Y’s day camp is all about, and we are ensuring kids get more out of summer: more learning, more exploration and more achievement. For parents and guardians who enjoy seeing their child’s face glow when retelling a camp story, and want to see their child accomplish things, the Y encourages you to enroll them in the Y’s day camp.

The YMCA of the Capital Area day camp offers a mix of fun and educational activities aimed at improving kids’ well-being, such as swimming, health and wellness activities, arts and crafts, sports and more. Our program centers on three areas proven to impact kids’ development: friendship, accomplishment and belonging.

Working with SEER Analytics to find out how camp benefits kids, the Y recently surveyed nearly 30,000 parents and caregivers with kids enrolled in camp at nearly 190 Y associations nationwide. Ninety-two percent of parents/caregivers said they agreed the Y’s day camp program helped kids make new friends. In addition, 83 percent said they agreed the program helped their kids discover what they can achieve, while 87 percent agreed their child felt a sense of belonging at their Y camp. The Y’s day camp activities help kids grow socially, emotionally, cognitively and physically.

As a leading nonprofit committed to strengthening community through youth development, the Y offers so much more than a place to play and have fun. Through a holistic approach to youth development, the Y nurtures the potential of children and teens from birth to career to help them achieve in school and life. Through day camp and other youth development programs, the Y is working to keep kids active and address gaps in learning when school is not in session.

To learn more about the YMCA of the Capital Area day camp program, visit

Healthy Life, October 2015

YMCA Sports: Everybody Plays, Everybody Wins!

by Kristen Hogan

Lyla & Rowdy Gaudet-2YMCA Sports emphasizes a holistic approach to developing the spiritual, mental, and physical well being of a child. The Y’s youth sports philosophy is that everybody plays, everybody wins, which allows kids to participate in a non-competitive environment that emphasizes fun, skill development, teamwork, and character development.

Y sports programs are led by volunteer coaches who help children develop their sports skills while ensuring each child has the opportunity to play. Coaches also serve as role models to emphasize the Y’s four character traits: caring, honesty, respect and responsibility.

Millions of people around the world have been introduced to sports through the YMCA youth sports program. The YMCA has also made significant contributions in the history of sports; some of those contributions include the invention of basketball, racquetball and volleyball.

YMCA instructor, William Morgan, who thought basketball was too strenuous for businessmen, invented volleyball in the 1890s, by blending the elements of basketball, baseball, tennis and handball. He called his invention “mintonette”. In 1896, at the International YMCA Training School in Springfield, Mass., the name “volley ball” was first used to describe the back-and forth manner in which the ball flew over the net. Today, there are more than 46 million Americans who play volleyball.

Basketball was invented in December 1891, by James Naismith at the International YMCA Training School in Springfield, Mass. The school’s director, Dr. Luther Gulick had given Naismith, the YMCA’s physical education teacher, two weeks to develop an indoor winter game to challenge a class of future Y directors. Naismith used peach baskets and hung them from the bottom of the running track on the second level of the gym and then taught his new game: basketball. Not only did the Y invent basketball but also the game’s first professional team came from a Y. Today, basketball is the second most popular sport in the world.

Smith College Basketball 1904-2Racquetball was invented in 1950 at the Greenwich YMCA, in Connecticut by Y member, Joseph Sobeck. After growing tired of handball and squash he tried to think of an alternative sport. Using paddleball and platform tennis rackets as a pattern, he came up with the idea of using a new, short strung racquet similar to a platform tennis paddle to allow a greater variety of shots. Sobeck promoted the sport to nearby Ys and formed the Paddle Rackets Association. In the 1980s, racquetball became one of the fastest growing sports in the US. In the 90s there were approximately 10 million US players and 14 million players in more than 90 countries.

The Y is proud of its rich history in sports and continues to offer innovative programs for kids and for the community. Everyone plays, everyone wins, everyone who wants to play, can! The Y’s mission is to provide quality programs for all, if you or someone you know needs financial assistance to participate in YMCA sports or any other Y program, please visit the nearest Y to find out about the YMCA Scholarship Program.

August 2015, Healthy Life

Only at the Y

by Kristen Hogan

Picture1When dealing with life’s daily demands, people need a place to go where they can feel supported and receive help in trying times. A place where adults can find life balance; children can reach their full potential; seniors can be active and find camaraderie; and families can connect and strengthen relationships. By becoming involved with the YMCA individuals have the opportunity to improve their health and well being, and connect with the community, all while participating in their favorite program or activity at the Y.

At the Y there is a unique combination of programs and services that improve health, nurture youth, and connect you to the community. Programs include: art classes, water exercise, outreach programs, youth sports, swimming lessons, family fitness classes, Bible studies and more.

Along with its unique combination of programs for seniors, children, and adults, only at the Y will you receive the tools needed to improve health and well being at home. Following are five recommendations to improve your spirt, mind and body:

  1. Eat Together: Sitting down together for a meal is a great way for parents and children to share stories, or talk about the school day or their favorite part of the day. Set aside time for the family to eat breakfast, lunch or dinner at least once a week or every day if scheduling permits.
  1. Volunteer Together: Giving back and supporting your neighbor benefits everyone involved. It teaches children and teens the value of helping others and is also a way to meet new people or discover a new interest. Find an opportunity in your community that the entire family may enjoy, such as cleaning your neighborhood park or distributing food at a local food bank.
  1. Unplug from Technology: Limit screen time (television, video games, computer, etc.) and instead set aside an hour or two for activities that allow interaction and camaraderie. If weather permits, go for a walk, bike ride, trip to the park, or have a game night at home. If you do want to watch television, maybe have a movie night with the family.
  1. Be Physically Active: It’s important for children to get at least 60 minutes of physical activity each day (30 minutes for adults). Incorporate physical activity into your daily routines and spend more time walking to places instead of driving to improve your health and well-being.
  1. Put Extras to Good Use: Do you have extra canned goods or clothes that could benefit others in need? Clean out your pantry, closet or attic and donate extra items to homeless shelters or community outreach programs. You can also get the entire family involved and demonstrate to the children the value of giving.