Ever since her children were young enough to ride along in a stroller, Cheryl Donohoe and her family have participated in an annual fun run held on Father’s Day at Plymouth Family YMCA. This experience turned out to be Donohoe’s springboard to her role as a volunteer at YMCA.
“My husband and I have been runners since before we had children and it’s really important for us to model healthy living for our family,” Donohoe says. “In particular, with the Father’s Day run, my late father-in-law would also come and do the 1-mile event and push the kids in a stroller or in a wagon. After he passed away, it became a legacy event for us to remember him, too.”
When Donohoe’s daughter Keira was in third grade, she joined Girls on the Run at her elementary school. Within a couple of years, Donohoe began coaching the team, too. “Girls on the Run was a great combination of increasing Keira’s interest in running, and it also has a strong youth development component,” she says. “This really fits into our family philosophy of trying new things.”
Volunteer at YMCA to strengthen your community
By the time Donohoe’s son Isaac was invited by friends to join a Y basketball team, YMCA was already a big part of the family’s lives. Donohoe was invited to join the YMCA Advisory Board as a volunteer and parent whose kids were impacted by Y programs. This role allows Donohoe to serve the community in ways that are important to her and to families served by the Plymouth Family YMCA.
Volunteerism is strong in Donohoe’s family. “My husband has coached sports teams our kids are on, and we help when we can — if that means being team manager for a hockey team or helping in a classroom, we see it as our obligation to our community,” she says.
As Keira gets older, Donohoe is looking forward to the many Y opportunities for teens, which, along with other community programs like scouts, means that everyone in the family has a way to participate and give back.
“Our kids are growing up seeing us modeling volunteerism and taking part, so it’s normalized and has become an expectation that this is how you care for those in your community,” Donohoe says. She adds that because the Plymouth Family YMCA is an outreach Y without a physical facility of its own, it’s a “well-kept secret. It would be great for Plymouth and the surrounding communities to know what this branch has to offer,” she says.
Job that launched a career at the Y
Another metro Detroit mom’s entry to YMCA came well before she even had children. As a fresh college graduate, Jenny Paffi moved back home, eager to find a fulfilling career.
“I didn’t know what I wanted to do next and my mom said ‘Go and see the Y,’ and I did,” Paffi says. “I went to the Carls Family Y in Milford and quickly got involved in day camp, which was great because I had worked in residential camps in college and loved it. At the Y, I found an opportunity to do something I loved as a career.”
The Y’s core values of caring, honesty and respect — and, more recently, inclusion — aligned with Paffi’s personal philosophy of teaching through positive encouragement. “I loved the proactive approach of teaching kids desired behaviors and characteristics,” she says. “I was lucky to be involved in something that wasn’t traditional teaching, but allowed me to have a profound impact on the kids I worked with. I really fell in love with camp, Y youth sports and family programming.”
Paffi says she learned valuable skills that served as a foundation for other roles she’d eventually pursue at the Y.
“Being a camp counselor is really hard but it’s also very fun. In my experiences as a counselor and as camp director, I really valued parent communication and even more so now that I have kids,” she says. “It was a really big thing that I understood early on. We can make sure kids have fun all day long, but we also develop relationships with parents in order to make it a meaningful experience for the whole family.”
By 2006, Paffi achieved the role of full-time Program Director, which put all the skills she learned at the Y and other youth-focused community service programs together. She worked on community initiatives and helped develop the Y’s food program.
Many benefits to having the Y in your life
Today, as mom of two children and Associate Executive Director of the Boll Family YMCA, Paffi says her whole family has benefited from having the Y in their lives. “My husband starts work early in the day and child care was always going to be part of our plan,” she says. “Being able to work at the Y downtown that has child care that starts at 6 weeks through preschool means I’m very fortunate to be able to bring my kids to work with me.”
As her kids grew, Paffi says they learned to swim — a point of pride for her older daughter, Leelin — and went on field trips around the city, riding the People Mover, visiting Campus Martius and eating lunch near the “big tiger outside Comerica Park.” Throughout all of these experiences, Leelin and her sister, Edie, made friends — and Paffi did, too.
“Among the staff at the Y, I found the ‘mom community’ that doesn’t usually happen until kids are in school. My kids had a cool network of kids they grew up with and I had the benefit of gaining a community of other moms,” she says. “Raising kids is tough, so it’s helpful when you have people you can talk through concerns and insecurities with, even if it’s just how to get my kids to eat their vegetables.”
While Paffi didn’t plan on building a career at YMCA of Metropolitan Detroit, she says it was a great fit from the start. From quality child care to summer camp to swim lessons and youth programming, Paffi finds motivation from the work she does at the Y, every day.