YMCA Aims to Change Lives of Children

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Copyright 2017 Wichita Falls Times Record News
All Rights Reserved

Times Record News (Wichita Falls, Texas)


Luke O'Brien hated life, walking around with more anger than a 5-year-old should carry.

His mom was dead, he said. "She died in a fire," he would tell the teachers he encountered at the Wichita Falls YMCA. And he especially hated firefighters.

"Luke hated firemen," Noel Filer, mission advancement director for the YMCA, told those gathered for the annual fundraising campaign dinner Tuesday night, "because he thought the firemen didn't save his mother."

That certainly was not the case, but try telling that to a 5-year-old.

No child should carry that much anger -- a world of grief -- at such a young age. The staff wanted to reach Luke, reach deep into that grief and find a happy Luke that surely rested inside.

Thanks to the fundraising efforts of the YMCA, the nonprofit agency provided Luke and his widowed father, Michael, with free counseling, and within a few months, Luke transformed into a child no longer on the verge of being kicked out of after-school care.

"(Luke) came to my office the other day," Filer said Wednesday, "and he's a very happy little boy. He's ALL boy - very busy and inquisitive, but has a healthy sense of exploring and doing. Made my heart happy."

Another YMCA effort made Luke even happier, and ended his hatred for firefighters. Deemed Luke Day, Wichita Falls firefighers at Station 8 recently rolled out the red carpet to the young boy, giving him a tour of their facility, letting him work the water hose, treating him to a fire station meal and a rest in the bunk room.

Luke was angry no more. "And now he wants to be a firefighter," Filer said.

YMCA programs run the spectrum, from Zumba to gymnastics, to baseball and basketball. A program that transforms the heart of a child may not be listed as such in the program, but those opportunities are there. The fundraising, said Brandon Brown, YMCA president and CEO, "ensures that no child is turned away because of an inability to pay."

Another unique opportunity showcased at Tuesday's dinner featured the class created by Gymnastics Director Joe Cronin for those "special" children who might not otherwise find themselves tumbling and flipping. Cronin described a program that embraces children like tiny Josephine Roohr, born with spina bifida and paralyzed from the hips down. Cronin runs the YMCA's entire gymnastics program that added competitive feats to their regimen.

The 2017 Partners with Youth Annual Campaign aims to reach at least the same number of children as 2016, when donations helped more than 12,000 "neighbors, families and children access YMCA programs to improve their spirit, mind and body," the event flier stated.

"We conduct this Annual Youth Campaign every year because there's lots of good, hard-working parents in our community who just can't afford the full rate for many programs," Filer said. "Some of them are essential to family life, like our Early Childhood Education program. We take care of infants to 5-year-olds so parents are able to go to their jobs. We also pick up school age children after school and engage them in a great After School program until parents get off work. Those programs directly affect family life and help hundreds in our community."

To donate to the campaign:

1. Donate online at www.ymcawf.org

2. Drop off a check to any YMCA Branch

3. Mail check to:

YMCA of Wichita Falls

1010 9th Street

Wichita Falls, TX 76301

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March 23, 2017


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