Monday, April 30, 2012


Seventeen-year-old Jonathan Bunzey lost his ability to speak when he contracted encephalitis as a toddler. But that didn't silence his passion for making sure all kids are included in everyday activities.

April 28, he stepped up his enthusiasm on the dance floor by participating in “Dancing Like the Stars” at the Southern Women’s Show. The event was sponsored by the National Inclusion Project.

He knows first-hand that confidence, learning and leadership develop through inclusion opportunities.

Jonathan started as a camper at the A.E. Finley YMCA’s summer camp.  The National Inclusion Project provided an interpreter so he could be participate with other kids. Today, Jonathan works at Finley Y’s after school program and summer day camp.

In 2007, Jonathan won the Champion of Change award for his work for kids in the Raleigh area. To date, he has raised more than $20,000 for inclusion projects. And, he donates the majority of that money to the Finley Y's We Build People program and Camp G.R.A.C.E. for autistic children.

Jonathan is such a star that he was featured in The News & Observer on the day of the competition. While Jon didn’t win the overall competition, but he and the dancers raised more than $18,000 for the National Inclusion Project.
The National Inclusion Project was founded by American Idol star and former YMCA staff member Clay Aiken.

Thursday, April 26, 2012


Angela Alford is no slouch on the basketball court, but it seems that she may have met her match in the Senior Women’s Basketball team at the A.E. Finley YMCA. Alford, a standout basketball player for Vanderbilt and USA Basketball in the 90s, is now taking on a role off the court.

When Alford returned to school to earn a film degree, she chose the Senior Women’s team as the subject for a documentary. 

Alford started going to the “Fabulous 70s” practices, following them to their games and learning their stories.

“I thought I would find genetic wonders,” she recalls. “But what I found were people who were dealing with cancer and heart disease just like everyone else. The difference was that these women were fighting it together, encouraging each other. Basketball was keeping them active, independent and believing they could do anything they wanted to do.” 

Alford spent more than a year with the team filming the documentary. She even traveled with them to the 2011 National Senior Games in Houston. After getting funding, she hopes to make “Granny’s Got Game,” into a full-length movie.

She hopes the film will inspire others to honor and celebrate older athletes, change the perception of the capabilities of the elderly and contest negative stereotypes. In addition, she hopes it will help younger viewers appreciate today’s sports opportunities, highlight the support women get from being part of a team and inspire people of all ages to stay active. 

“I thought my glory days were over. Then I met this team. These women helped me remember how much I loved to play and how much I enjoyed being part of a team,” says Alford.

The Fabulous 70s recently participated in the Raleigh Wake Senior Games. To learn more, view the film’s trailer and find out how you can help Alford raise funds to complete the project, visit her website.

Thursday, April 19, 2012


We can’t wait to dive into summer at the Y! There’s nothing like that cool dip in the pool. But we want it to be a safe, fun experience.

We hate to brag, but the YMCA has been stressing the importance of swim lessons and swim safety since 1909. More than 100 years later, swimming remains a core program here at the YMCA of the Triangle.

At the Y, we believe swimming is a critical life skill for everyone in the family. That’s why we offer a wide variety of swim classes and swim teams.

“YMCA swim lessons are successful because of the relationships developed with children and families in our communities,” explains A.E. Finley YMCA Aquatics Director Justin Guest. “Children, and adults, learn more when they have a relationship with their instructor. They also know that relationship is built on the Y’s core values: respect, responsibility, honesty, caring and faith in God.”  

Justin urges you and your child to remember these important safety tips before you dive into the water.

Never swim alone.
Children (and adults!) should only swim under the supervision of a lifeguard or an adult who is a confident, experienced swimmer. Even in a shallow pool or lake, swimming alone is dangerous.

Only dive or jump into the deep end.
Jumping or diving into shallow water can result in hitting the bottom of a pool. This can cause a number of injuries including neck and back injuries.  You should also be careful because you don’t want to land on another swimmer!

Swim near the shore.
It’s a good idea to make sure that you can always touch the bottom of the ocean while your head is above water. Because of strong currents and tides, going out too deep is dangerous. Young swimmers should never go into the ocean without an adult.

Don’t swim in a thunderstorm.
Water is dangerous when lightning is in the area. Pools are required to close during thunderstorms. If you’re at the beach or a lake, it’s up to you to get out of the water when a storm rolls in.

Wear sunscreen.
It’s easy to forget about sunburn when you’re splashing around in the water, but don’t forget to apply sunscreen regularly. And make sure to allow your sunscreen to sink in before jumping back in the water.

The only way to become a confident, skilled swimmer is to practice, practice, practice. Don’t be afraid to use floatation devices – whether a life jacket in a lake or floaties in the pool – to help as you learn. If you’re looking for more organized swim instruction, talk to someone at your local YMCA branch about the best class for your child.

Now that you’re armed with these swimming safety tips, you and your kids are ready to dive in!

What water adventures are you and your family looking forward to this summer?

Wednesday, April 4, 2012


April is Autism Awareness Month. This is a wonderful piece written by Cherith Mangum, Director of Communications at the Alexander Family YMCA. Learn more about the impact that the YMCA has had on one very special little boy.

It’s truly heart-warming to see Karen and John Hammes spend time with their only child, 11-year old Heyward.

Laughter, hugs, high-fives, encouraging words. The small family shares a strong bond that you might experience in your own home—one filled with love, loyalty and just plain fun.

However, a small difference characterizes the Hammes’ relationship. Heyward is a young boy with autism.


“When he was diagnosed at age 2,” Karen recalled. “It was very hard to see him struggle with just the basic skills in life.”

For the last 9 years, Karen and John have worked to find an effective developmental program for Heyward. While Heyward has strong athletic skills, he possesses limited language capabilities.

“Public places and noises cause him to easily go    into sensory overload,” Karen said. “So he needs to have a very specific kind of environment to learn and grow.”

While they kept searching for an ideal location,  Karen and John assembled a team of professionals to help them teach and nurture Heyward. However, it wasn’t until the family found the Y last fall that Heyward’s progress skyrocketed.


“The Y has finally given us a safe, consistent place to help Heyward grow,” Karen said. “And since we’ve been members, Heyward’s learning has gone from 0 to 60 in just a few months!”

Three times a day, like clockwork, Heyward and one of his mentors come trotting into the Y for an hour of fun activities.

You might find them walking the track, playing a game of basketball or exercising in front of the mirrors in the fitness studios.

According to Karen, consistent exercise helps Heyward develop his language skills. Throughout every activity Heyward does around the Y, his mentors are able to connect his physical actions with words. Playing sports? Heyward can identify each of the sports balls by name!

 “We never had one place that we could visit to do all of our activities,” Karen said. “But after the consistency of the Y, Heyward’s expressive language has grown by at least 150%!”


Familiarity. Consistency. The Y has provided Heyward and his family with a stable environment to learn, grow and succeed. But more importantly to Karen, the Y has become a place for Heyward to belong.

“We’ve been blown away by how warm and accepting people are at the Y,” Karen said. “We feel like the staff—and even other members—rally around Heyward to help him succeed.”

“The staff know Heyward’s name. They give him a high-five when he comes in.” Karen continued. “And they’ve been so patient and supportive of any needs we might have.”

A big smile. A friendly high-five. To Karen and her family, the YMCA serves as much more than a workout facility. For Heyward, the Y has become a community of support and a safe haven during a difficult time of growth.

“Every night in Heyward’s prayers, we thank God for the YMCA,” Karen smiled. “We feel like we belong here.”