YMCA: Real-Life Stories of Hope & Change

Jeff Balek with a student
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Jeff Balek with a student
Jeff Balek with a student

Has an organization ever made a difference in your life? Inspired you to be healthy, learn something new, or give back? The YMCA is dedicated to doing just that: empowering people from all walks of life to live up to their full potential. Through programs focusing on youth development, healthy living and social responsibility, the Y provides resources for individuals to grow and accomplish their goals.

The Y has touched millions of lives in a positive way.  For Jennifer Record, Joy Perez, Monique Wright-Williams and Jeff Balek, their involvement with the Y has enriched each of them in ways they never imagined.


Jeff Balek

Jeff is no stranger to meeting challenges. He has every reason not to volunteer as a reading buddy in the Y Readers program: he has no transportation, he’s not a certified teacher and he was born blind.

“I love volunteering with these kids, it’s just a really great way to give back,” Jeff said.

Jeff proves that anyone can volunteer and he is making a difference by showing the children that any obstacle can be overcome. Learn more about Jeff’s incredible story here.

Jennifer Record and Joy Perez

Joy had never been away from her mom Jennifer except when she was at school. The Y’s afterschool program, which took place at her school, offered a perfect opportunity for Joy to learn in a safe environment. The Y has helped with more than just afterschool learning. When Jennifer and Joy did not have access to food or electricity, the Y was there, checking to make sure they were okay and had access to the resources they needed.

“I felt like nobody would understand what I’m going through,” Jennifer said, “and I thought the worst would be turned against me. And instead the Y opened their arms to me, and I’m grateful for that.”

See more of Jennifer and Joy’s inspiring story here.

Monique Wright-Williams

Monique joined the YMCA’s Diabetes Prevention Program to learn more about her condition and control her diabetes-related symptoms. Inspired by how much better running made Monique and her friends feel, they founded their own running group, the Syracuse Sole Sisters.

“I could always get women to join the prevention program, but getting them to exercise wasn’t easy because there was no one to monitor it,” Monique explained. “That’s what the running group gives them now.”

Since its founding in 2013, the Syracuse Sole Sisters has grown into a supportive community of 27 women. The group’s co-founder, Andrea, is their biggest success story. Andrea never ran before and when she first started, she struggled with the 15 minutes that the members run a day. Now she runs 5K and 10K races, and is currently training for a half marathon.

Through the Y and the Syracuse Sole Sisters, Monique has become a “healthier and better me.”

The Y is making a difference in more than 10,000 communities nationwide, providing the support and resources to help children and adults grow and fulfill their potential. Learn more about how the Y impacts communities and individuals every day at ymca.net/somuchmore.