Y Member Stories

Our members are amazing and each has a story to tell. The Y meets people where they are in life and helps guide them on a journey to reach and exceed their goals. Meet some of members below. If you want to share your Y story, please contact us at info@rockriverymca.org.

14-year-old Seth G. recently accomplished a sought after milestone in TaeKwonDo – he was promoted to a black belt! Seth started learning and practicing TaeKwonDo four years ago with instructor Mr. Victor Fong at the Northeast Family YMCA.

TaeKwonDo means the art of kicking and punching. There are 10 ranks between white and black belts. Besides learning self-defense, the students also improve physical condition, flexibility and self-confidence.  

Seth says that TaeKwonDo has taught him perseverance and to be more disciplined. The dedication definitely paid off with this new accomplishment, but for Seth it came with mixed feelings.

“It was quite exciting, but not as much as I thought it would be. After how far I've come, it is more like a new step in training.” 

Mr. Fong, who has a second-degree black belt, enjoys teaching and watching his students progress through the ranks.

“Seth is a very dedicated and hard working student who seldom misses a class.  He is polite, has good manners and always has a positive attitude. I am proud of his accomplishments and progression towards a black belt in four years.”

So, what’s next?

“I will continue to learn. Not only will I keep practicing and learning new techniques to advance further in rank, but I will start learning how to teach as well.”

Seth now assists Mr. Fong with a beginner class and recommends it to anyone who is interested.

“The TaeKwonDo class at the Y is safe, friendly and thorough. Everyone can learn without stress,” says Seth. “It is more than just a class; it becomes a lifestyle and an aspect of one's personality.”

Way to go, Seth!

More Y Member Stories

In my mid-thirties my lifestyle was pretty sedentary and my body showed it. I really needed larger pants and the bathroom scale told me I was nearing a milestone I didn't want to achieve. I had three young kids to keep up with and I knew I needed to make a change in my life. 
I began riding my bike again with my friend Mark Carlson. I started to lose weight and gain some muscle and improved body image. If he couldn't go, I often wouldn't either. I learned a big part of the exercise was enjoying time doing something I liked but I needed the support of a friend. When fall came the bikes would go into storage and my sedentary lifestyle returned. In the spring, we would get our bikes out again, try to regain our training and lose a few pounds of "winter" weight. After about five years this got harder. That's when I decided to take a look at the Y.
In the fall of 2010 I picked up a catalog of the Y's offerings. I saw a class called fxStrength for men. It was geared toward men of 35 years old with the idea that we need functional resistance training to fight the natural effects of aging. My friend John Johnson said he would join me in the class. 
I'll have to admit I was a little intimidated because I really didn't know what I was in for. We walked in that first morning and I saw the instructor, Jim Appino, sitting on a physio ball waiting for students to arrive. He looked like an Army drill instructor to me. I quickly learned he was a super nice guy who had our best interest at heart. We have become friends and John and I have been going ever since.
Jim taught us how to use the equipment at the Y as well as how to train. Almost immediately I was coming to the Y four or more mornings per week to practice what I was learning. I was making friends in fxStrength as well as in the Wellness Center. I started attending other classes and getting to know people there as well. Going to the Y was the best part of my day. I would get up year-round before the sun, no matter the weather, to see the people and to workout.
Jim suffered an injury while coaching basketball. I was able to jump in and lead the class for 20 weeks. This experience prompted a pathway to earn my personal trainer certification. In the last couple of years I have started running. Again, this was because of the influence of a Y instructor, Shannon Spiess. After attending one race as a spectator and then participating in one where I placed third in my division I was hooked. There was a team of Y members formed a couple of months later with the goal of running a half marathon. Now I run almost daily and usually one race per month. One of my best friends, Dan Alita, is someone that I really got to know through running. 
While training for that half marathon I got to know Melissa Burns the Executive Director of the Northeast Branch as we were both on the team. She asked me to join the Northeast Advisory Board. I was happy to jump in to serve the branch, my home away from home. As I learned more about the workings of the Y, I found that in addition to membership fees there are fund raising campaigns that help to make budgets. I also learned that many of the services provided by the Y are either subsidized, or free, depending on need. It was at this point that I was asked to become a donor and I am happy to give as I am able. I encourage others to join me in support of the Y.

Every conversation with Natalie reveals a new story and some fascinating tidbit about her life. A native of Canada, she moved to Rockford 13 years ago. She said she chose Rockford for the green space, a good YMCA and affordable housing.

She is definitely a Y frequent flyer as she spends 4-5 hours a day at the SwedishAmerican Riverfront Y. Between her own fitness routine and getting her kids from program to program – she invests some serious time at the Y, and we’re happy she does.

Natalie and her husband have 3 biological children and 6 foster children who are siblings. The children range in age from 3-26. Five of the kids are in swim lessons and three are on the Stingrays swim team. Away from the pool, you’ll find Natalie in the weight room, a group fitness class or running – anywhere she can. She is an avid runner and Vice President of the Wildcats Cross Country Team. She is also a former board member of the Rockford Road Runners, an active member of the Coyote Trail Running group, and race director of the Rockford Road Runners Fall Trail Classic race, held at Anna Page park on September 22.  *Side note – she will try to convince you to run with her if you find yourself in conversation with her.

“Running connects you to everything around you. It makes you feel better. It is something everyone can do, although many people believe they can’t,” said Natalie. “I like trail running and being in the forest. It is fun to do with the kids as we discover, jump in puddles and explore.”

Natalie likes running Ultra Marathons, which means they are more than 26 miles. Yikes! Last year she ran a 50-mile race in Peoria in 18 hours, which put her in the middle of the pack. She said it was a hilly race, which aggravated a previously torn meniscus. Prior to that injury, she has been on a 1,155-day running streak with a minimum of one mile run each day. The injury broke the streak and slowed her training, but now she is back with her eye on the Superior 100-mile race in Minnesota. She has qualified and is entering a lottery with a group of friends to run it.

Healthy living is a way of life in their household. There is no junk food to be found and everyone must be active every day. This is much of the reason why the Y is a home away from home for Natalie and her family. However, as Natalie shares there are so many reasons why she loves the Y.

“I like the people at the Y and the community feel. The Y enables people of all abilities and income levels to participate. My one son is special needs and they are giving him adaptive lessons. The adults here know my children, talk to them and play with them. In fact, they did little contests over the summer in the building with my kids. They rewarded them for reciting core values and understanding them. It’s nice that they do that.”

Natalie and her husband are striving to instill the values of caring, honesty, respect and responsibility in their children.

“They have to be people who change the world. I want them to know they are responsible for what happens. They need to step in and fix things. This is my most important job in raising them. We have made decisions to sacrifice so they can have experiences that we didn’t.”

Natalie’s life goal is to be happy and to see her children happy. Well, that and the 100-mile race. Please help us encourage Natalie and wish her well on meeting her goals!

We love seeing hard work, determination and passion on display in our youth members. If you spend time at the SwedishAmerican Riverfront YMCA, then you’ve likely seen Avery. This 14-year-old has laid out a path to success. She wants to play collegiate basketball on athletic and academic scholarships as she pursues a career as a pediatric nurse. 

To accomplish her first goal, Avery is at the Y training most days on the basketball court.

“My workouts include getting warmed up with stretches, warm up shots, ball handling with my non-dominant hand, working on various offensive moves, and finishing with stretching or a couple of laps on the track. Some days I will also work on strength and conditioning, speed and agility.”

Avery started playing basketball in 5th grade and fell in love with the sport right away. She admits that she devotes all of her time to basketball. Avery will be a freshman this fall at Boylan Catholic High School where she hopes to play basketball all four years. 
We admire the path Avery has laid out for herself, but more than that, her ability to challenge herself to make it happen.

“What motivates me to push myself in life and in sports would be the goals I have for myself and people who have contributed to my success as a young athlete.”

Once such person is Gene Houston, Avery’s trainer. She credits him with helping her learn the game and hone her skills.
Avery says she loves the Y. 

“I like that I’m able to train, workout, play in games, and enjoy Subway when I visit.”

At the Y, social responsibility is one of our three areas of focus. We encourage our members and our community to give back so we may all become stronger together. Avery already understands the importance of helping in her community. 
At her former school, Maria Montessori, she was Student Council President and held a clothing drive for “RPS 205 Families in Transition.” 

“I started this clothing drive because when my mom and I volunteered, they didn’t have a lot of clothing available for the families, especially the teens, so I became determined to help out these families. My travel basketball team became involved and my entire school did, too. It made me happy to know that I could make someone see the glass as half-full rather than half-empty.”  

We wish Avery the best in her high school career and beyond!

Weight loss doesn't happen overnight. There are no shortcuts or easy paths. It takes determination, inner strength, and a desire to change. Our inspiring story this month is of a YMCA member who has lost 192 pounds and is ready for more!

Linda S. Rascoe has been a member of the Y for the past 14 years. Since the beginning, she has focused on exercise and eating a healthy, balanced diet to lose nearly half of her body weight. 

Linda has spent a lot of time coming up with a weight training set that works for her. It is constantly evolving to meet the needs of her increased strength and desire to stay on track. In the last couple of weeks, she has started adding rowing, the SciFit, and spin bike to her routine. She admits that it has been really fun to experiment with the new equipment and try things that she has never done before! Like most people, it can be tough to find the motivation to come to the Y, but she reminds herself how much of a difference it makes and knows it will continue to help her maintain her independence.

On top of exercise, changing her diet has been key to her weight-loss. Her greatest tool is counting calories. Linda writes down what she eats every day, which helps her feel in control of her journey. She has also been able to tell what food will be the most satisfying vs. the food that will leave you hungry.

Losing nearly 200 pounds is not an easy journey. Linda's faith in God keeps her going, along with the ability to keep her independence! "If I don't lose any more weight, I'm perfectly happy because I feel good!"

Great work, Linda! Keep it up!

Earlier this year the Y started a new group on Facebook called YMCA Monthly Fitness Challenges. The group was formed to inspire members to take their fitness to the next level, try new things, support one another, hold each other accountable and build relationships. One of our top users from the start has been Christine.  

Christiane has been a Y member for about 17 years. When her boys were young, the Y was their home away from home.

“I used the Y for fitness while my boys played basketball, flag football and went to Camp. We found a sense of community. I was a single mom and I didn’t want to be home alone. The Y became like a family.”

Christine’s kids are grown now and the way she uses the Y has evolved. She still loves the camaraderie in group fitness classes, but her focus is on becoming the strongest version of herself.

“I had a warped perception of what fitness should be as a former dancer. I now know that being strong and healthy is more important than being thin.”

Christine uses all three Y facilities. You’ll find her in a variety of group fitness classes and in the weight room. 

“The Y has awesome instructors. The amount of effort that goes into these classes is amazing.”

Christine has even shared her love of the Y with her sister and got her involved. 

“There is truly something for everybody and all fitness levels. That’s what I love about group fitness. We can all be in the class together – from beginner to advanced and all be challenged.” 

In fact, being challenged is what drives Christine. 

“I look forward to the next challenge on the group Facebook page. It keeps people inspired. It makes me want to try harder for myself, but also for those around me.

Determined, ambitious and a sweet heart – words to describe six-year-old Jack. Jack played Jr. NBA basketball this past season for the first time. His mom shared how he begged to play basketball, so they decided to give it a try. She admits it was somewhat of a discouraging start for Jack.

“When Jack first started, he stared at the ball while dribbling, couldn’t keep it with him by anything he tried and forget about getting the ball in the basket,” said Carista, Jack’s mom. “He got discouraged at first because he saw his teammates taking the ball to the hoop and making layups!”

But, she says, with his coach’s encouragement, practicing with tennis balls to learn better control and a mini hoop to help with his aim, Jack persevered. 

"Jack is a very ambitious and motivated kid,” said Coach Davis. “When he first came to basketball practice he couldn’t dribble a basketball. By the end of week 3, Jack was able to dribble around cones and effectively shoot the ball and make shots in practice. He always showed good team support and willingness to learn.” 

At the YMCA, youth sports is much more than winning and losing. It’s about character development. We strive to teach the core values of: Caring, Honesty, Respect, Responsibility and Faith. This past season we gave a character award to one player on each team. Jack was selected for the 5/6 Celtics.

“Even being discouraged at first, and probably one of the least experienced players to start with, he always was excited for practices and games,” said Carista. “Despite being almost in tears one game, he fought for the ball like a pro and kept trying! Starting from the little shy guy who didn’t even want to ask if he could borrow a ball, to becoming a much-improved player with friends on his team, I couldn’t be more proud of him!”

And, we are too. Way to go, Jack, and all of the Jr. NBA players! 


YMCA Member and 97Zok radio host Mandy James is on a mission to spread a message of love, positivity and inspiration. Mandy was recently featured on WREX-TV for their Inspiring 815 segment for the #RockYourBodyRockford movement. 

Last October, Mandy shared her struggle with Body Dismorphic Disorder – an illness involving obsessive focus on a perceived flaw in appearance. Instead of seeking medical treatment, she and six other women started a movement.

“There are so many people in our community who are struggling with issues that you don’t even know about, and so this is about sending out a message to not only love yourself, but to love others,” said James.

#RockYourBodyRockford started as a 30-day challenge to post a photo everyday and say something positive about yourself.

“You just need one powerful, inspiring moment to make that change.”

Mandy has been a Y member for two years and she admits she was nervous to join.

“Coming from a boot camp style program where you’re in a group setting, I was worried I wouldn't be able to achieve my fitness goals alone.”

She soon learned that she was not alone at the Y. 

“I found a wide variety of group fitness programs, state-of-the-art equipment, and the entire staff is so friendly and accommodating. Additionally, I take comfort in knowing that if I'm traveling, that I can use my Y membership anywhere, so I never have an excuse to miss a workout.” 

Mandy’s preferred workout is in the weight room.

“That's where I spend most of my time; picking up heavy stuff and putting it down is one of my favorite things to do. That, and walk around the room giving fist bumps and high fives; because who doesn't love it when other people recognize their hard work?”

Mandy says she continues to go to the Y and work hard every single day because, “you just never know who you're inspiring, or who's going to be inspiring you.” 

“Joining the Y is one of the best things I have done for myself,” says Cynthia Reynolds enthusiastically. 

The last time she belonged to a gym was in the 1980s. She says she did some at-home workouts for a while and stayed generally fit. She never really felt loyal to one gym or workout.

Things changed when the University of Illinois College of Medicine and the Y teamed up a couple of years ago. The College opened the Glenn Netto Center on campus, which is run by the Y. All staff and students can use the facility for free. Twice a week Y instructors would teach group fitness classes on-site.

“I decided to give one class a try, then another and another. Soon the instructor, Ginger, was encouraging me to do more,” said Cynthia. “I was invited to attend a Less Mills kick-off event at the Northeast Family YMCA, so I went and loved it.”

Cynthia went from trying one group fitness class on campus to becoming a full YMCA member and now participating in at least 5 classes a week!

“I’m hooked! I feel better, I look better, and it’s better for my stress.” 

Cynthia likes that group fitness classes provide accountability. She also likes the sense of community – not only in the classes, but at the Y overall. 

“I’m always greeted by name when I walk in the door. Customer service is important to me.” 

Cynthia also points out that she loves that she can use the Y anywhere she goes across the country with Nationwide Membership. “When I’m traveling, it’s easy. I just find a Y and never miss a workout.”

February is National Cancer Prevention Month and we wanted to highlight a LIVESTRONG at the YMCA cancer survivor.

Marsha Manthei was diagnosed with breast cancer after a routine mammogram in 2014. While she admits to experiencing the shock of diagnosis, she remembers feeling it was her turn. She is the third generation of women in her family - following her mother and grandmother¬ – to be diagnosed with breast cancer.

“I watched my mother and grandmother go through the fight not once, but twice. These brave prayer warriors were such an example for me.”

Marsha sought care at Mayo Clinic as her mother and grandmother had. She chose to have a Bilateral Mastectomy and then was treated with the breast cancer drug Tamoxifen. She then went on to have two reconstructive surgeries. 

Prior to the surgeries, Marsha learned she would lose her job for needing six weeks off because she didn’t qualify for the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). She credits her family and friends for helping her to get through this time in her life.

Marsha says losing her job with a cancer diagnosis was devastating. “I’m a Registered Nurse and a Licensed Nursing Home Administrator. I had worked as a Director of Nursing for 15 years and never thought this would happen to me.”

Once she was able, Marsha joined LIVESTRONG at the YMCA. LIVESTRONG at the YMCA is a free program tailored to meet the specific needs of adult cancer survivors who would like to improve and reclaim their health before, during, and after treatment. 

“I looked forward to and enjoyed bi-weekly fellowship with fellow cancer survivors, their family members and our leaders.” 

Over the course of 12 weeks, Marsha met with others in small groups to exercise, enhance functional ability, and improve energy levels. The classes are led by certified instructors who have completed specialized YMCA of the USA training in elements of cancer, rehabilitative exercise, and supportive cancer care. 

“This program helped to nourish my body, mind and spirit. It taught me to live every minute of my life with every ounce of my being, and to not let cancer control me. Unity is strength, knowledge is power, and attitude is everything!”

In 2015, following her recovery, Marsha was offered a new position with a company that better suited her needs. She says her relationships are stronger and her bond with the Lord is unbreakable.

“I will forever hear my mom telling me, ‘Trust in the Lord with all your heart, all your mind and all your soul. Have faith. God loves you. It’s going to be ok.’”

Marsha is still active at the Y doing cardio workouts a few times a week. She remains close to her fellow LIVESTRONG at the YMCA graduates. They meet for dinner frequently to share what is going on in each of their lives.

Why the Y?

...it’s the people.

I joined the YMCA, in 1982 (shortly after the earth cooled). It was at this time, that the “Exercise Craze” was hitting a zenith. The downtown Y was expanding and machine equipment was replacing bar/free weights. My afternoons were spent with a group of people I didn’t know but we all had the same goal, “Be in better shape”. Because of this, I have made and maintained wonderful friendships with a group of people who share the same sense of good health. Now, here at the Northeast Branch, I have had the good treasure of establishing a whole new wealth of friends that share the same mindset.

...it’s the people.

More precisely, the staff.

In those years, there really weren’t trainers, in the traditional sense but a group of dedicated women and men and who cared enough to learn the latest techniques and share them with us. They were knowledgeable and were eager to share what they had learned. Many of us viewed them as “conscientious mentors”.

Yes, we sweated and we were sore but because of these early coaches, we made their classes, part of our daily diet.

...it’s the people.

Northeast Branch 2017.

5 AM comes early. Some days it’s cold, raining, snowing, and humid, or just plain miserable. However, there’s always a smile and a “Good morning“, from the front desk. Your feet lead you into either the weight room or to a class. It is here (classes), where the real difference has taken place. Today, there are certified trainers, who are up on the latest physical movements that are beneficial to the whole human anatomy. From strength training to cardiovascular implementation, “Today’s" trainers (and more succinctly), the Y’s trainers, are very conversant.

They not only instruct you on proper techniques, but attend to your psyche’ when you want to give up and offer you proper nutrition suggestions, to keep you fueled before and after. In my opinion, this speaks volumes.

In closing, I want to thank the YMCA of the Rock River Valley, for allowing me to be a member for 35 years and employing people with a true sense of physical and mental expertise.

Terry A. Giardini Psy.D

Meet the Dawson family – Desiree, Nick, Cameron and Colin. They are a proud Camp and Kids’ Time family! The Dawsons have been members of the Y for about six years. They joined the Y because it had the programs they were looking for as a family at a reasonable cost. 

Colin and Cameron are enrolled in Kids’ Time before and after school care as well as being regulars at Camp Winnebago every summer. The Y has become more than a place that cares for their children – for the Dawsons, it is a place where their family thrives.

“We have truly become a Camp family where we have watched our boys grow and mature and really use the Y values both at camp and at home,” said Desiree. “Camp fosters such a great learning and nurturing environment where kids can explore. It is something we are fortunate to be a part of every summer.” 

They were even more excited when Camp Days launched – allowing the boys to attend Camp on days when school is not in session.

“Camp Winnebago and the Kids’ Time program give us that peace of mind and we know our children are in excellent hands with them.” 

Desiree says family nights at Camp are one of their favorite days of the week during the summer. “What an amazing thing to be able to be a camper right along with them every Thursday night. We get to meet and get to know all of the counselors there, sing camp songs, and watch skits that they worked hard to put together throughout the week.” 

The Dawsons love their time exploring Camp together and seeing all of the children so excited to show their parents the activities that they get to participate in. Camp overnights are a big hit with Colin and Cameron.

“They try not to miss a single overnight the entire summer if they can help it. We all have so much fun and it does really feel like one big camp family.”

The Dawson’s say because of the amazing experiences they have had with Camp Winnebago, they decided to send the boys to YMCA Camp Benson the last two summers for a week of away camp. YMCA Camp Benson is located in Mount Carroll, IL and is a great option for families looking for a stay away option. 

Between School’s Out Days, Youth Education Programs, Camp Rekindle in the winter and Camp Revive in the spring – Camp Winnebago offers year-round fun and learning for area children.

“I can't say enough about the staff and how amazing everyone is there. I wish every child could experience how truly great Camp is.”

Bob Bowers joined the YMCA on January 2, 2009 – with a new year and a fresh start. Nearly nine years later, he is still as dedicated to his health. As a retired 2nd Degree Black belt Tae Kwon Do assistant instructor, Bob knows the value of good physical fitness and health.

Over the years, Bob has dealt with many major medical issues including Asthma, Cardiac, Diabetes and Kidney diseases. He knows it is very important to try to control the impact of those diseases on his life. Therefore, he tries to exercise five days a week by doing strength exercises on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and cardio machines on Tuesday and Thursday.

About 18 months ago, Bob lost his wife of 55 years. That was a very difficult time for Bob and he turned to the Y to fill the void. He considers the Y staff at the Northeast Family YMCA and its many members to be his extended family.

“Cyndi R., Colleen, Holly, Karen, Margie, Marilyn, Melissa, Nikki, Vanessa, Isaiah, Logan and Strezz are all so kind and friendly,” said Bob. “My thanks to Mr. Brown and his very strong management team for running an extraordinary organization like the YMCA. Thank you so very much for allowing me to be a member of the Y organization.”

The Y aims to Build a Better Us one person at a time. We commend Bob on his dedication to a healthy spirit, mind and body.

Joel Sjostrom has been a YMCA member on and off for nearly three decades. Remaining fit is a priority for him and helps him focus. His current preferred method of activity takes him back to his family’s love of water. A friend recruited Joel to the YMCA Rowing Crew in 2009 and he has been on the river four to five mornings a week since.

“My whole family has been around water for generations. I rowed in canoes and row boats as a kid, which I believe set the foundation for rowing as an adult. I also remember watching Olympic rowing as a child and thinking it was pretty cool.”

Joel splits his time from rowing alone in a single boat to rowing with a team.

“When you row alone, every mistake is obviously yours so it is helpful for improving stroke technique.”

However, he admits it’s more fun to row with others.

“We all encourage each other and exchange suggestions. It’s gratifying to help other people improve their stroke technique and get better at working as a team because the feel of a well synchronized crew in a fast boat is exhilarating.”

Rowing Crew members often tout the serenity of the river and Joel echoes that sentiment. He and the others are on the water by 5:30 or 6:00 a.m. when the water is calm. The season usually starts in late April and runs through the annual Head of the Rock Regatta in October.

Joel may race in the Regatta, but his priority is to ensure there are enough volunteers on the dock to launch and retrieve about 600 boats.

“Regatta day is fun – there is so much action. I’ve been on the dock crew since I started rowing. It takes a lot of teamwork and coordination to stay on schedule while ensuring safety for all the athletes. We figure there is a boat coming or going every 45 seconds on the three docks.”

The 2017 Regatta is October 8 near the I.D. Pennock Family YMCA. Joel says what he likes most about rowing is that it truly is a sport for all ages.

“We have teenagers to people into their 70s and the crew has a wide range of abilities and motivations – from racing to fitness to just enjoying being outside. I especially enjoy seeing our high school crew’s rapid growth this year and expect to see more next year since the Rockford schools now recognize rowing as a varsity sport."

I grew up in a small town without a Y or public pool. Swimming just wasn’t on my family’s radar, so it’s not surprising that as a small child, I had to be rescued from the deep end of a friend’s pool. Then I failed swim lessons a few years later, scared and embarrassed to be the oldest kid in class. 

As a new mom and lifelong avoider of pools, I was determined to give my girls the gift of safe, confident swimming. They started lessons at the I.D. Pennock Family YMCA as soon as they could walk. Never did I imagine that swimming at the Y would grow from a skill to safeguard their lives into our family’s way of life—as members of the Stingrays swim team.

My oldest, Katie (16), is about to celebrate 10 years as a Stingray and recently got her first job as a Y lifeguard, while Ella (10) just earned her five-year-member plaque. My husband Steve and I are avid volunteers, and I’d venture to guess that we spend more time together as a family at Y pools than any other aspect of our busy lives. For that, I will always be grateful! 

Being Stingrays has given my daughters so much: confidence and skill in the water; respect for their coaches; the values of teamwork and sportsmanship; the thrill of doing their best; and the will to bounce back when it’s not the best day (well, ok, that’s a work in progress). Don’t even get me started on the long-lasting friendships—I’m already getting emotional at the thought of Katie and her teammates that we’ve known forever giving their senior speeches! 

From the parent standpoint, being a Stingray family has taught me the importance of volunteering…not just to support the team, but also to be a positive role model for my girls. It’s pushed me beyond my comfort zone: from a clueless non-swimmer in the bleachers, to president of the Parent Action Committee and even Y Volunteer of the Year. It’s filled my head with knowledge about this fascinating sport, as my kids can attest when I critique their streamlines while they roll their eyes (because yeah, I still can’t swim).  

One of my favorite things about our team is that it’s competitive yet welcoming at all levels. I love watching the little rookies grow into strong swimmers! Fast-forward to high school swimming, and you’ll see Stingrays celebrating each other’s achievements despite representing different schools. Stingray parents also come together and yell like crazy when any of our kids swim well—we’re like the United Nations, only louder and wearing catchy t-shirts. 

I could go on and on about the Stingrays…but if your child loves swimming, I say check out Rookie Week for yourself. Come join our swim family!

Four years ago, we were in need of a new daycare for my daughter who was 10 months old at the time. The in-home daycare wasn’t working for us and after touring a few places, separating the kids by age group also became important to us. We did not like the facilities that had children of mixed ages sharing a room. My mom worked for Rockford Health System at the time and recommended the Children’s Learning Center to me. We toured the building, met the staff, and decided this was the place for us. It felt like home.

Fast-forward to the present and we now have a second child in the care of the Children’s Learning Center. I never question dropping my kids off, I know my kids get just as much love there as if they were at home with me. 

The teachers have been great to work with. They have so much guidance on the different phases each child is going through and can offer tips on the next level and growth stages. 

My kids have also learned skills at the CLC that they have brought home with them. For example, when they are done eating, the kids put their cup/plate in the sink. I didn’t teach them that. I know it was something they learned at school.

The most difficult thing to overcome is saying bye to the teachers you love when it is time for your kids to move to the next age level. The teachers build relationships with your entire family, and not being able to see them everyday is a hard adjustment. 

Since the Y took over, I’ve seen more smiles and more happiness in the staff. The new staff members are fabulous finds and we are lucky to have them! This is so far from a babysitting service or an in-home childcare – the staff and teachers are always engaging the children, whether it is reading, playing, singing, or making art or science projects.

It was a great bonus and money saver getting a Y membership with our enrollment. I use the fitness and cardio equipment the most. I was able to cancel my gym membership elsewhere and we are grateful for the monthly savings.

I always recommend the CLC to anyone looking for childcare. I tell them about the teachers, how family oriented everyone is, the great playgrounds and facilities, and how much the classroom layout makes a difference with separated age groups. I would never hesitate to give my opinion!