Cathy Gero hoped to slip into the Bangor Region YMCA unnoticed, to do a little exercising in the pool for the few months she was staying in Maine. What she didn’t realize though was how quickly she would bond and make connections with those inside the local Y.
“There were a bunch of things that happened that made me feel more and more comfortable. I’d see all these women with health issues going into the pool and doing aerobic classes or swimming, then I’d watch the athletes go into the cold water section and they were doing all these great things. Then I’d come out and there’d be this parade of kids and they’d smile and wave, and I found myself smiling and waving without even thinking. When you see that kind of joy and happiness, I thought this Y has so much to offer,” Gero said.
Gero, who splits her time between Rockwall, Texas and Maine, is a cancer survivor. While going through chemo, she signed up for adult swim lessons at the Bangor Y, to help keep her strength up and ease her anxiety.
“Swimming is good for my mind and helps me get lost from all the things that were running through my mind that were negative,” she said.
The more she swam, the more she discovered just how beneficial the Y was for her and for so many others around her.
“I watched different types of people walk in and out the door. You can have any level, any social class, anybody with any amount of disability walk in and be fully accepted, and to me that’s just amazing. My Y in Texas is newer and modern and fresh and has a great group of people, but it doesn’t do a quarter of what this Y does,” Gero said. “This Y is not a brick façade. It’s old and it needs maintenance but heaven knows it is so rich in what it provides.”
Which is why Gero decided to invest $20,000 of her own money into the Y and the people who depend on its programs.
“Not only did she want to give. She wanted to do something that would encourage other members to be part of this effort to give back to the Y,” said Diane Dickerson, CEO of the Bangor Region YMCA. “She wanted to teach a lesson to children and families. Our teen center is free, for example, but I was saying to her that I want to instill in these kids that nothing in life is free. You have to contribute and give back, so I think that sparked her thought process to split her donation up between the membership side and youth side.”
If members can raise $10,000 for new locker rooms and the kids, staff and families who use the Y can raise another $10,000 for youth development programs, Gero will match the whole $20,000, dollar for dollar. Gero is challenging all participants to raise the funds by Nov. 15.
“Some of these people don’t have money. I grew up very poor. I wouldn’t have had 10 cents to give anybody. But as I thought about this, I thought they can pick up recycle bottles, they can ask their grandparents, they can bring a flyer to their neighbors and say, ‘I go to the Y and I love it and I’m collecting change for the Y,’ Gero said. “That was the hardest part was coming up with a reasonable way for those who don’t have resources to participate. It doesn’t matter if you give a penny or you give more, it’s just that you give something and share in the experience.”
For more information or to make a donation to the matching campaign, log onto bangory.org.