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I owe a great deal to my parents, Eugene and Chris McFarlane. I was a shy child who lacked self-confidence and we were not well-off growing up in Windsor, ON in the 1950’s. Dad only made $1200 per year, but he and my mom were determined to help me gain skills to survive in an environment surrounded by water. They scrimped and saved $9 for a year’s membership in the Windsor YMCA. 

It started poorly. I nearly drowned in my first large group (50 person) swim lesson. After I was resuscitated, I demonstrated a strong fear of getting into the water again. My parents took this setback in stride and we started going to the open family swim every Saturday night at the Y. Under my parent’s tutelage, with suggestions from the Y lifeguards, I quickly overcame my fear of water, learned to swim and progressed in skill development. Our family seldom missed this time together over the next six years and we were joined by many other families too.

By the time I was ten years old, I had gained enough skills to pass the Royal Lifesaving Society’s Bronze Medallion. I was too young to receive the honour (you must be 14 years old) but I really wanted to become a lifeguard and so did my brother, Jim, who was three years younger. Within two years, we both were city swim champions. Our parents were very proud and excited! In fact, my parents were so pumped about our success that they founded the Boy Scouts Swim Program. Over the next six years my folks and a few friends taught more than 4000 young boys to learn to swim and increase their skill levels. I was recruited to help them as well. 

If I had not joined the Y I might never have learned to swim and I might never have had a forty-three-year teaching career. The Y experience exposed me to many other sports and I also learned to dive competitively and to compete in gymnastics from a mentor, Nino Marion, who represented Canada in the Olympics. 

It was not just sport and skill-development that I learned at the Y.  I met many friends from all over Windsor, southwestern Ontario and even southern Michigan, who I had a healthy competitive relationship with. I learned how to handle bullies and valuable problem solving strategies from my mentors and peers at the Y; they added to my parents’ input. When we moved to London, Ontario, the Y there became a part of my extended family; especially important to me as I struggled with the challenges of high school.

At the London Y, I had some of my most rewarding experiences. I was a student leader in the gym and in the pool and had the pleasure of seeing many people learn to swim and grow in their athletic pursuits. It was also at the London Y that I was in the first graduate class of the National Lifeguard Service Training School. I had become a lifeguard and would later graduate to managing pool facilities in London and Windsor.

Now we have the good fortune of being members with the fantastic YMCA of Okanagan! We strongly support and donate often to this Y as their impact in our community is so vital. Isolation is a growing problem in our society. The Y is a real, positive antidote for loneliness. And our Y is a very safe, community-oriented gathering place – morning, noon and night. I am so proud of this place!

DROP IN ANY MORNING. You will see thriving children as they scurry through the hallways clad in PFD’s, swim suits and goggles. They burst through the pool door eager to be taught by knowledgeable, dedicated and enthusiastic instructors, as their parents grab a workout.

LOOK CLOSER. We often take for granted the things closest to us because they are within our personal safe zone. We take for granted the very friendly and welcoming staff at the front desk! They are truly fantastic at welcoming, answering questions and making you feel the pride of service that this Y is known for. 

KEEP ON LOOKING. The entire staff, from the custodial staff to the leaders in the pool, gym and the front office are knowledgeable, well-trained, very personable and helpful. These front-line workers are also enthusiastic and dedicated to making your experience at the Y comfortable, personal and inclusive.

LASTLY. Go into any gym or wander upstairs and you will see the same shine in the eyes of mothers, teens and seniors as they pound around the track, work out on machines, stretch in the stretching area, take a class together or simply chat in the foyers. Race, sexual orientation, gender, age or fitness level are irrelevant. 

Check into the various programs the YMCA of Okanagan has to offer. You will be surprised at the breadth and depth of the offerings. Come and see. It is said that it takes a village to raise a person regardless if he/she is a newborn or one hundred years of age. Our Y is definitely part of that village and can be a formative development center for many people of all ages as it has been for me.

Please assist the Y in continuing to be that lifeline to health and social acceptance in our community. Whatever you can spare, whether $5, $50, $500, or more. Strongly consider supporting this valuable place and its staff and programs. You won’t regret it – and it is tax deductible.