Sussex YMCA member and volunteer Joan Wallace of Rehoboth Beach greets everyone she meets at the Y with a friendly smile and a warm handshake.
It is because of her upbeat personality and volunteer spirit that Wallace received the Mary Alice Devane Spirit Award during the Sussex YMCA’s 2011 Strong Kids Campaign Thank You Dinner Nov. 17 at Rehoboth Beach Country Club.
“It’s just a wonderful honor to receive this,” said Wallace. “I was truly overwhelmed. I am very honored.”
Now 70 years old, Wallace said the YMCA has always been a part of her life in one way or another.
“I moved here permanently about five years ago, and I have always gone to the Y,” said Wallace. “It’s just like family because it’s a great place to meet people and have a lot of laughs.”
The award is presented each year to someone who exemplifies the joyful and enthusiastic spirit of the YMCA, said Gary Cannon, last year’s recipient of the award, who presented it this year to Wallace.
“She is a teacher and a strong advocate for children, as well as a joy to be around,” said Cannon.
“Joan always has a smile on her face, motivates others in their quest for health and well-being, and encourages everyone to be involved in what we do here at the Y,” said Sussex YMCA Executive Director Terry Rasberry.
Wallace enjoys water aerobics and helps out with the annual Water Safety Week at the YMCA in Rehoboth Beach where hundreds of children are taught to swim. She was also recently asked to be the newest member of the board of directors, an honor she said she looks forward to in 2012.
“All of the staff at the Sussex YMCA are so warm and open, which really makes it a special place,” said Wallace. “They make it an inviting place to be.”
Swimming for life
During the awards ceremony, the Sussex YMCA was recognized by the state organization for Water Safety Week.
Jim Kelly, state vice president of operations for the YMCA, said the program is now being used statewide to help prevent children from drowning.
“We need to do more for our kids,” said Kelly. “Water safety week is one way we can do more. It was started in Sussex and now is being used at all locations.”
Kelly said besides youth development, the state YMCA will focus on reducing childhood obesity, diabetes prevention and healthy living, as well as social responsibility.
A new program set to start in 2012 will help recruit firefighters through a Social Service Corps. Kelly said the YMCA of Delaware is working with Sen. Chris Coons, who started the program in New Castle County, but now wants to expand it to all counties.
The YMCA also plans to focus on Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden’s Darkness to Light program, which aims to prevent and report the sexual abuse of children. The plan is to train 35,000 adults to prevent child abuse through this program starting in the coming year, Kelly said.
The Sussex YMCA is also getting close to identifying a property to grow its operation.
“We are putting the finishing touches on a plan and then will meeting with Gov. Jack Markell,” Kelly said. “Then we will need to raise money.”
The new location is estimated to cost between $14 million and $18 million before it is up and running.
“Our Y is ready to grow,” said Rasberry of the Sussex YMCA. “I wanted everyone to know that Wilmington is behind us.”
Volunteers make it work
YMCA Senior Program Director Daniel Meloy joined Rasberry in thanking those who helped raise funds and volunteered through the YMCA campaign in 2011.
“We are working with incredible volunteers. While I see the number of volunteers increasing, I also see their commitment to the YMCA increasing,” Meloy said.
Meloy presented the 2011 Strong Kids Campaign Volunteer Award to Jack Vassalotti.
Rasberry also thanked all the volunteers and campaign contributors, including Virginia VanSciver, chair of the 2011 campaign.
“We share a bond of love and service that blesses the lives of all we serve,” said VanSciver.
Beebe Medical Center, Sussex Emergency Associates and Judson Bennett received the 2011 Service to Youth Awards.
The featured speaker, Dennis Minus, talked about the importance of providing programs for children. He said he was able to thrive as a young man because of after-school activities and because he kept a positive attitude.
“Don’t cheat our youth,” said Minus. “Attitude is extremely important for our youth.”
For more information on the YMCA, visit ymcade.org or call 302-296-YMCA. The Sussex YMCA is located at 20080 Church Street, Rehoboth.