Finding connection and community at the YMCA

Long-time volunteer Cindy Pocza finds connection and community at the Shawnessy YMCA

Cindy Pocza moved to Calgary’s deep south just as the Shawnessy YMCA opened in 2002. An experienced fitness instructor, Pocza offered her services. She’s been volunteering there ever since.


For Pocza, volunteering is a way to stay fit and active. More importantly, it keeps her connected to her community. “I just love the interaction with other people. You get to know everyone, and you can learn from them and give back —to me that’s the greatest thing. Just having that connection and being able to help others and have them help you.”

As a fitness volunteer, Pocza teaches exercise classes including a morning cycle class, YBO (a martial-arts aerobics activity similar to kickboxing)

and sometimes step aerobics and interval training. “They also have programs for teenagers through Bishop O’Byrne High School, so I volunteer for some of those when I can fit it in.”

One of more than 400 volunteers at the Shawnessy YMCA, Pocza teaches for a couple of hours each week — more when her schedule as

a full-time accountant allows. “I’m there all the time. I help out whenever I can. “Pocza says the YMCA has become a true gathering place for Shawnessy and the surroundingarea. “We never had anything like that in the community before, where we could all come together in one location and share whatever we’re sharing.”

Former Shawnessy YMCA general manager (and current Remington YMCA general manager) Jenny Miron says it’s not unusual to see people from a wide range of ages and backgrounds using the facility. “We see every type of person, from newborn babies to people in their 90s. Young families, single adults — there’s a whole variety of folks coming in, all for different reasons. Some people come because they’re new to the community, some have a specific fitness goal, some want their kids to learn to swim or socialize.”

In the past, Pocza has worked as a fitness instructor in conventional gyms, through the City of Calgary and the YWCA. She enjoyed all those experiences, but to her the YMCA feels like home. “It’s comfortable. It’s easygoing. Anybody can come in and join the class.”

Miron says that because the YMCA relies so much on volunteers to handle everything preschool and youth programs to the conditioning centre, member services and babysitting, the atmosphere can’t help but be welcoming. “They don’t have to be here; they choose to be here. Our staff and our

volunteers create a great energy, and our members feel that.” Currently, Pocza is training through the provincial government’s Living Well Program to

gain her Older Adult Certification. The program assists people with critical illnesses when they return to their communities. Once certified, Pocza intends to bring her skills and training to her community through the YMCA.

She plans to stick around for a long time. “Many of the volunteers have been here forever, and it’s the same with members. I’ll be here when I’m 80.”

– by Julia Williams

From addict to marathoner. One step at a time.

A collaboration between the YMCA and the Drop-In Centre is helping to transform a former addict into a marathoner.


John Stewart quit drugs in 2010 and quit drinking the year after that. At the start of 2012 he smoked his last cigarette. Four months later he started to run. “I can’t tolerate antidepressants so I used to walk to deal with my anxiety. I was walking over 100 kilometres a week when I switched up to running. I found running more effective.”

Stewart began running because he wanted to race the 5K distance in the 2012 Scotiabank Marathon and raise money for the Calgary Drop-In and Rehab Centre — his home for the past year. To help with his training, he joined a group of Drop-In Centre residents who worked out a couple of times a week at the Gray Family Eau Claire YMCA.

“That’s where I started running on the machine in my street shoes and khakis and my heavy cotton shirt. I got pretty chafed up and it was tough, but I kept at it. I’m glad I did.

“The workout group, called the “DI-Y” program, was created by Jorge Campusano, team lead of internal volunteers at theDrop-In Centre, as a way to give interested residents fitness opportunities, as well as companionship, goals and a routine.

“Sometimes, just sitting around is problematic,” Campusano says. “People want to stay busy and productive, and to be with happy people. Working out gives you a break and it’s a stress reliever. It can motivate people in other areas of their lives.”

For Stewart, running has given him a sense of momentum. He completed the 5K in 2012 and ran 10K the following year. This year, he intends to complete the half-marathon distance, and in 2016 he’ll run his first full marathon. “I’ve run 17K, so I know I’m able to do the half. The amazing thing about it is I’m 56. I’ll be 58 when I finally run the full marathon.”

As well as helping Stewart meet his running goals, working out through the DI-Y program has led to other positive experiences. “I met a guy at the YMCA and we found out we each have five sisters and two brothers. Then one day he saw me coming in with Jorge from the Drop-In Centre. He said, ‘I knew we had something more in common’; 25 years ago he was an addict.” The man decided to sponsor Stewart, paying his YMCA membership for a full year.

Campusano says Stewart has become an excellent runner. “Running gives him focus. It gives him a source of relief and pride and motivation. He has an impressive standing in his age group. He’s proud of that.” Today, Stewart has moved out of the Drop-In Centre, found a job and reconnected with three of his formerly estranged sisters — who, coincidentally, are also runners.

He runs three or four times a week and continues to do strength training at the YMCA. Campusano says the DI-Y program is still going strong, too. “About five to 10 people come with me twice a week. A lot of former regulars now go on their own. I still see John there regularly.” As for Stewart, he’s looking forward to his next run. “Motivation has never been a problem for me. Running is therapy for me. I feel at peace.”

– by Julia Williams

A Letter from the Gray Family Eau Claire YMCA Strong Kids Committee

gfecy-strong-kids-blogThe Fall is always crunch time for the Gray Family Eau Claire Strong Kids Committee as many of our Strong Kids donors wait until the end of the year to make their decisions. In addition to this, the current economic climate in Calgary has made this year particularly challenging. With just over two months remaining in the Campaign, uncertainty is high and we don’t know whether or not we will make our fundraising goal. We need your help in reaching this benchmark because the community need for these funds is higher than ever.

Requests for financial assistance at the Gray Family Eau Claire YMCA are up 14% year over year and the $208,000 raised to date is 15% below this time last year. Our goal is $400,000 and we are only 50% there. The goal seems difficult at this point in time but we are working hard and believing in the generosity of the community.

We are planning a couple of in-branch Strong Kids blitz days for November, focusing our efforts on people who have given in past but have not given this year and pursuing new corporate and individual Chair Round Table (>$1,000) donors.  We understand that times are difficult and resources are spread thin, but we encourage those that can to invest in the city’s children and youth – our leaders of tomorrow and our future.

On behalf of the Committee, my appeal goes out to fellow Y members, community partners and all Calgarians to help us ensure all children and youth in Calgary have an opportunity for YMCA experiences regardless of their financial circumstances. Nobody is turned away for financial reasons at YMCA Calgary because of the continued generosity of Strong Kids donors. 100% of the monies raised go to providing experiences for kids.

If you have donated, we thank you so much.  If you haven’t donated yet and are interested, please visit Member Services or click the link below to donate.  You can track our progress as we close in on year-end through the fundraising thermometer just behind the main entry desk.

I love to talk about our Strong Kids program and would be happy to answer any questions you may have. I can be reached at or 403-290-1900 ext. 224.


Randy Green

2016 Volunteer Chair

Gray Family Eau Claire YMCA Strong Kids Committee





Setting SMART Goals

Setting a SMART goal is more than just something you think is manageable, a SMART goal has defined parameters.  Goal setting is a major piece to the fitness puzzle,  It provides you with direction, motivation, and a vision of what you want to achieve.

SPECIFIC – Set a specific goal, for example instead of saying you want to “run better”, focus on a specific piece of the puzzle.  For example, running for a longer amount of time (45 minutes instead of 30), or running at a quicker pace (move from 5.0 to 6.5 on the treadmill).

MEASURABLE – by setting a specific goal, you have unknowingly set a goal that is measureable.  Staying with the running example, running faster, longer or at an incline are all things that you can track and watch your progress.

ATTAINABLE – Choose a goal that is something you can physically achieve.  I have severe arthritis in my knee, I’d love to be able to do higher box jumps, however I know that this isn’t the goal for me.  Keeping my quads as strong as possible without high impact is something that is attainable for me.

REALISTIC – Realistic and attainable sound like the same thing, I like to look at “attainable” as big picture. Realistic can be a breakdown of mini goals within that large goal.  Small realistic goals are stepping stones to reach that finish line.  For example, adding five minutes to your run every two weeks.

TIMELY – give yourself a realistic timeline to accomplish your goal; setting too quick of a time line can set you up for failure.

Remember that the pieces to this puzzle can be adjusted at any time.  You can add to your goal, adjust your timeline.  Making sure that whatever you adjust is specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and can be completed in a timely manner will ultimately lead you to success.

Machines VS. Free Weights

Any workout program you choose, any training style you choose, resistance training (weight lifting) is beneficial to you.  There are two ways to accomplish resistance training, Machines vs. Free Weights.  Machines are stationary, usually plate loaded or have a weight stack and pin system for choosing the amount of weight you wish to lift.  “Free weights” is a broader term, and refers to things like dumbbells, barbells, kettle bells, body bars, and body weight resistance tools such as a BOSU, stability ball or TRX.

Which is better?

Well that depends.  Both have a role in training, and it really depends on what you are looking to accomplish.  Stationary machines are a wonderful tool for beginners, and they help to teach the body about postural awareness, what an exercise should feel like and where exactly you should be feeling it.  Machines are also useful for intermediate and advanced lifters, as they work to isolate specific muscles or muscle groups.    Machines may also facilitate the ability to lift more weight, as you are more stable and controlled.  Stationary machines hold your posture, thus they take out the necessity to have an advanced body awareness, and it can be easy to forget to activate your core muscles. Because a weight machine keeps the body in a stable position, it usually only works the muscle in one plane of motion at a time.

Free weights generally require heightened body awareness, as proper posture and core activation will reduce the risk of injury.  When beginning to lift with free weights, you can start by doing many of the exercises seated as opposed to standing which keep a greater amount of control.  Seated vs standing free weight exercises also allows for heavier weights to be lifted safely.   Moving to dynamic equipment such as a TRX suspension system, a greater awareness of proper posture and core activation is recommended. Free weights also train the body in more than one plane of motion at a time.  The body moves dynamically, and free weight training is more functional in terms of movements in every day life.

There are definitive benefits and drawbacks to both – mix it up and try something new.  Remember that if you need help with any of the topics discussed, spotting, or an idea for a different exercise, please ask us!

The Lamer Family: Strong Kids Donor’s making a difference


“It means so much to our family… I want them [Strong Kids Campaign donors] to know that they’re helping a family that really, really needed it and it’s making a big difference in our life.”

After announcing the upcoming arrival of their third child, Jason and Shelley Lamer anticipated the natural challenge of being outnumbered by their kids and planned for the extra commitment. What they never could have planned for was Shelley’s stage three cancer diagnosis, just two weeks after the birth of their youngest child.

“Things started moving quickly because I have Stage 3 breast cancer, an aggressive form of cancer. I did about 6 weeks of radiation every single day and all this time, I had a baby and two other kids”

Parenthood comes with its fair share of challenges, but combined with the cancer, it made the task nearly impossible. “It was very difficult for us and Jason had to handle a lot. I couldn’t help, I couldn’t do anything and I would struggle daily”

They soon realized that a YMCA membership with options for fitness programs and quality child care was necessary for Shelley’s recovery as well as their kids’ health, growth and well-being.

“My oncologist tells me that I need to do 40 minutes a day of physical activity and of course we had money problems because of my illness and the YMCA gave us a membership for a very low fee”

“In the summer, my six-year-old did two camps and swimming lessons so I was able to get some rest this summer after undergoing radiation. I was having trouble being able to take care of the kids and the YMCA also offered to watch my children in child care. I don’t want them on an iPad or watching TV and this way they are learning”

Shelley is now on the road to recovery, successfully battling her cancer every single day with a little help from YMCA Calgary and the Strong Kids Campaign donors.

“I still have breast cancer, but I’m recovering from the heavy stuff, the chemo, the radiation and the kids are doing great. I get to use the [YMCA] programs, both of my daughters are in swimming lessons and I just want to express my gratitude for it all.”

Do you want to help a family in need? Donate to the Strong Kids campaign today!


Water For Wellness

The overall picture of wellness can be daunting, but don’t let that stop you.  Your wellness can be tackled one small change at a time, and a big change for your health that really takes little effort is drinking more water.

Don’t underestimate the wonders that water can do for your health.  Water cleans your dishes, car, and your clothes, and who out there doesn’t appreciate how good you feel after a shower?  When you drink water, you’re doing that for your insides.  Water is a key component in your overall health.  It aids the body by flushing out toxins, regulating body temperature, assisting in  digestion and relieving constipation, as well as aiding in weight loss.

Flushing out Toxins – Water allows the body to remove toxins through sweat and urine.  Water also allows for greater function of the kidneys and even helps to reduce the chance of kidney stones by diluting those toxins.

Regulation of Body Temperature – When you get hot, you sweat.  The sweat evaporates off your skin and leaves you with a more balanced body temperature.

Digestion – Water aids the breakdown of food and promotes regular bowel movements. Allowing our body to become dehydrated forces the body to extract water from the colon, leaving stool harder to pass.  Adequate water consumption stops this process, thus relieving constipation.

Weight Loss – Drinking water in between and before meals makes the stomach feel full, reduces the urge to snack, and limits the amount of food we eat at meal times.  Water is also has no calories in it, and replacing soda and other sugar filled drinks reduces our caloric intake.

Defining Your Wellness

There are a lot of words and phrases in the fitness world that can be confusing to even a seasoned gym-goer. I’m hoping to take some of the mystery out of your workout, and define some terms and equipment that can trip us up.

Sets – The number of cycles of repetitions of an exercise performed.

Repetitions (reps) – the number or times an exercise is executed in one set.

BOSU – Blue half ball with a rubber dome and hard black bottom.  BOSU means BOth Sides Up, meaning you can exercise and do balance work on it dome up and dome down.

TRX – A portable suspension training system that leverages gravity and body weight.  Traditionally black and yellow.

Fusion – Fusion Fitness refers to a blend of two forms of exercise.  Most commonly we see it as a blend of Yoga and Pilates.

Plyometric – also known as “jump training” or “plyos”, are exercises in which muscles exert maximum force in short intervals of time, with the goal of increasing power (speed-strength).

HIIT Training – High Intensity Interval Training.  HIIT mixes traditional strength exercise with high intensity cardiovascular intervals and plyometric exercises

The Calgary Flames Foundation is helping create a healthy, positive youth culture.

Calgary Flames Grade 6 YMCA Program – FREE for all Calgary grade 6 students.

YMCA Calgary is proud to be partnering with the Calgary Flames Foundation with a shared vision of creating positive and healthy change for children in Calgary. This partnership allows all Grade 6 students in the city of Calgary to have a free membership and active YMCA youth programming at all YMCA Calgary locations.

The Calgary Flames Grade 6 Membership Program has provided 5, 180 children the chance to learn and grow in a positive and healthy environment over the past two years. Through increasing opportunities for physical activity and engaging in new connections during this critical stage of growth and development, positive behavioral changes can occur for these Grade 6 students that will impact the rest of their lives.

Last year through survey results we heard from our Calgary Flames Grade 6 members, here is what they said: 

  • 94% of participants report they get along well with peers and staff at YMCA
  • 80% of participants feel they know more about healthy living
  • 87% of participants feel more positive about themselves because they can do better than they expected in sports/group activities
  • 84% of participants report feeling more confident in achieving goals they set for themselves
  • 87% of participants report having a better opportunity to get involved in sports/activities they like
  • 86% of participants feel they have become more active

 “Going to the YMCA has taught me lifelong skills about the importance of exercise, which I will use in my life because I know that exercise is more important than computer/video games and exercising with your family, that’s even better.”   ~Calgary Flames Grade 6 Member

 We are grateful to the Calgary Flames Foundation for continuing to make such an important impact in the community.  We appreciate our partnership as we both work towards the goal of improving the health and wellness of children and youth in Calgary.

To learn more about the Calgary Flames Grade 6 YMCA Program, click here.