A nonprofit founded in 1992

Hartford Courant: YMCA - Celebrate the champions in your life

By John L. Reilly
Published October 8, 2014

When you think "champion," who comes to mind? The Boston Red Sox, the UConn Huskies? Most of us correlate "champion" with competitive athletes who are honored for rising to the top of their professions. The accomplishments of athletes are "celebrated" every day. We purchase uniform replica jerseys for our favorite players, plan game-watch parties on weekends, and splurge on tickets for big games.

Off the sports field, we often forget to recognize the everyday champions among us - the people in our community. A person who fights for a cause on behalf of someone else; parents who organize to improve local schools; legislators who relentlessly work to pass laws to help those in need or protect environmental resources; volunteers who step up to keep an underfunded program afloat. They're all champions in their own right.

Each fall, the YMCA of Greater Hartford celebrates champions who help us build strong communities. Our champions help by helping individuals reach their fullest potential through transformative programs that promote Youth Development, Healthy Living and Social Responsibility through innovative, life-changing programs and services that are accessible to youth, families and adults, regardless of their ability to pay.

This year, we honor Tiffany Cooper Gueye, Ph.D., chief executive director of BELL (Building Educated Leaders for Life), for her leadership of BELL and its impact on the academic enrichment and success of children in Hartford and throughout the country; Beth Shluger, executive director of the Hartford Marathon Foundation, for her leadership of the Hartford Marathon and its positive impact on the health and prosperity of the region and country; and Curtis D. Robinson, founder, Curtis D. Robinson Center for Health Equity, for his vision and leadership of the Men's Health Institute and its impact on prostate health (and health disparities generally) in greater Hartford and throughout the country.

While we celebrate the leadership and the wonderful work of each of our honorees, we also celebrate the wonderful work of their teams. Of course, this is October, and come October, all minds turn to baseball. That's why we also welcome Johnny Damon to YMCA Celebrates Champions. Damon is best known as the centerfielder and leadoff hitter for the Boston Red Sox team that broke the 86-year-old "Curse of the Bambino" with a World Series win in 2004, and he is one of the first players since Babe Ruth to win World Series championships with both the Red Sox and Yankees.

He's also the kind of champion we celebrate at the Y. Johnny founded The Johnny Damon Foundation to assist local and national programs that provide leadership and growth opportunities for disadvantaged children at risk.

It doesn't take a formal fundraising event to recognize the everyday champions in your life. Say "thank you" to the parent who volunteers at your child's school. Drop a note to your local elected officials to let them know you've noticed their hard work on a cause that's important to you. Best yet, become a champion yourself. If you see an injustice or disparity in your community, find out what you can do to make it better. That's what a champion would do.

For more information about the YMCA Celebrates Champions event or to purchase tickets to the event, contact Natalie Zembrzuski at 860-522-9622 ext. 2309 or go to http://www.ghymca.org.