All posts by Christa Abbott

National Volunteer Week 2018 – Annie Walker

Name: Annie Walker

Branch: Camp Chief Hector

Position: Mountain Haven Volunteer

Number of Years Volunteered: 8

Number of Volunteer Hours in 2018: 35


How has the nominee been a YMCA Calgary Ambassador?

Annie has been involved as a member of the YMCA community for well over 40 years. Her love of Camp Chief Hector has made her a true promoter of how being in the outdoors, challenging one’s self and being surrounded by role models can be life changing. The Mountain Haven Program has been impacted by Annie’s dedication for over the last twenty years. Mountain Haven provides women and children who have been impacted by domestic violence, with an opportunity to connect, building community and create family memories in the outdoors. Annie has a way of creating a sense of community and empowering the women within a very short time frame. Over the years, it is not uncommon for our partnering agency staff or a returning camper to ask if Annie is at camp.

How does the volunteer engage in the YMCA Calgary Community?

Annie engages with some of our most vulnerable ‘campers’. Right from the moment that the women meet Annie she is working at creating a safe space for the women to feel comfortable for the adventure that has been planned for them. Annie is one of the most non-judgemental, engaging and caring volunteers at camp. Her warmth and genuine care is a key to making the women feel safe; whether it be from assisting the mothers in getting their children comfortable with the camp counsellors, to her encouraging words as the mom’s try the giant swing and right through to leading a gentle session of yoga and breathing.

How has the nominee built positive relationships?

The Camp Chief Hector Mountain Haven program has a limited time to build trusting relationships with the moms and children who attend. Annie volunteers with the complete intention of helping to build memories for the women to feel empowered and reenergized when they take the bus back to Calgary. Her humour and her laughter help to bring the women out of their city comfort zone and put them in a place of wanting to experience the magic of the outdoors. She is simply just amazing; we know that she loves this program.

In what ways has the nominee exceeded the expectations of their role?

Annie is not guided by just one role in Mountain Haven. If she’s sees an opportunity to make the program better for that moment or day she will move into action. For example, on one particular windy and cold afternoon the women expressed how cold they were on the swing. Annie took it upon herself to get the Old Lodge nice and warm, set up yoga matts and run a relaxing session with the moms. The mom’s talked about this for the rest of their weekend. Annie is a mentor to the seasoned Mountain Haven staff and volunteers and she brings a calming energy to the whole program.

New YMCA Youth Basketball Leagues

Invented in 1891 by a Canadian YMCA Physical Education Director, basketball has a special at the YMCA.


We’re getting back to our basketball roots this winter and we’re continuing on our mission to develop the spiritual, mental, physical and social development of the community by offering basketball leagues.

YMCA Calgary will offer youth basketball leagues from ages 5 – 17 (age groups offered vary between locations).  Based on the national Steve Nash Basketball program, our leagues will include one practice and one game on set days each week.

Our leagues will promote friendly competition, include intentional, progressive skill development and will teach kids sportsmanship and team skills. A fun way to build friendships, keep active and build life-long skills.

CLICK HERE to register.

Influence and Inspire positive change at the YMCA

Each year YMCA Calgary gives the community an opportunity to provide feedback on our facilities, programs, services and more through the YMCA Annual Impact Survey.

Feedback helps us identify ways to better meet the needs and expectations of those who use YMCA Calgary facilities and who participate in programs.  Feedback from the community influences and inspires us to evolve and change.

Following completion of the 10 – 20  minute survey, respondents will have the opportunity to enter to win great prizes (one-month Plus Membership/upgrade, heart rate monitor, gym bag and more!).

Help us provide quality facilities, programs and services and help inspire us to do more by completing YMCA Calgary’s Annual Impact Survey.  Survey must be completed by November 30, 2016.  Click here to get started.




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

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.


FRIEND BENEFITS. Get the benefits of working out with a friend.

Reap the benefits of a workout buddy this fall. Along with the social benefits, you’ll get so much more. A friend helps you:

Embrace Commitment Scheduling a workout with a friend helps hold you accountable to your scheduled gym time. Meeting a buddy at the gym not only motivates you to show up, it forces you to complete the intended workout and intensity while you are there.

Brave new things A friend can help take the intimidation factor away from trying something new. You’ll get the support and confidence you need while navigating your way through new skills, new found muscle groups or getting comfortable in unfamiliar parts of the gym.

Push the limits Exercising with a partner pushes you to work the best of your ability. And when you work out with a partner who is stronger or faster than you, it can motivate you to test your limits.

Work out longer Time flies when you’re having fun… and distracted. Having someone to chat with helps focus on your conversation instead of the workout and makes the time go by quickly.

Go back for more If you loved your social time during your work out, you are likely to set up your next work out session before you leave the gym!

Be your friends best motivation, and they’ll be yours.


Did you know members get free and discounted admission rates for your friends.  Click here for YMCA member benefits.

Want your friend to come more often? Click here for details on our waive the joining fee promotion (a savings of $75!).

A YMCA Global Partner creates global awareness, builds peace and discovers the true YMCA spirit.

Yana, a volunteer with one of our global partners, YMCA Ukraine, participated in the three-month YMCA Youth Peace Network program this summer. Now in Calgary on the last part of her journey, we’ve learned about Yana’s incredible experience.  Here biggest take-away from her time in the program?  “The caring, giving, and dedicated YMCA Spirit was as prevalent in the people from Canada and participating countries as it is in the Ukraine”

The YMCA Youth Peace network program brings youth (ages 19 – 30) together from all corners of the globe to help create global awareness, understanding of other cultures, and to build peace.   Successful YMCA applicants (both volunteers and employees) converge in Vancouver for a summer dedicated to developing leadership, intercultural communication and conflict resolution skills.

As part of the program, participants work as camp counsellors at the local camp. One of Yana’s roles was to teach campers about her country, its traditions, and guide discussions and learning on the differences and challenges in both communities. The goal is to help Canadian youth and families better understand the world and become more effective global citizens.

As part of the program, participants work as camp counsellors at the local camp. One of Yana’s roles was to teach campers about her country, its traditions, and guide discussions and learning on the differences and challenges in both communities. The goal is to help Canadian youth and families better understand the world and become more effective global citizens.

“I was scared when I first arrived at camp. My English was not where I wanted it to be and I didn’t know how the kids would react to me or if they would understand or accept me.”  Yana was surprised to find the opposite reaction.  “The kids were curious, interested, accepting, compassionate and caring.”  “They took care of me and took a leadership role by helping me learn, communicate and feel comfortable at camp.”  Their cultural and language differences only added to the interest and depth of the experience.

After two weeks spent at camp, the balance of Yana’s time was spent in Vancouver at Global Week. A week of participant-lead sessions brought youth together to learn how other YMCA organizations operate, to learn about other cultures, and to promote respect and peace.

Youth Peace Network participants are expected to apply their learning within their own YMCA and home communities by developing a concrete action plan for use upon return to their respective countries.

Yana is already shown that she is a dedicated citizen responding to the needs of the global community –we know she will continue to make a difference in her community when she returns.

Our biggest takeaway from Yana’s visit?  Yana too embodies the true YMCA Spirit.


With the help of PrarieSky Royalty Ltd., YMCA summer camps were fun and beneficial.

With generous support from PrarieSky Royalty Ltd., our summer student helped YMCA campers build fundamental physical literacy skills.

My name is Seann Mahon. I was hired this summer to help facilitate and promote Physical Literacy in YMCA Calgary summer day camps. I have a degree from the Faculty of Physical Education and Recreation at the University of Alberta and am going into my final year of my Elementary Education degree, with a specialization in Physical Education, at the University of Calgary.

The implementation of Physical Literacy during YMCA summer day camps was met with tremendous success. Through the support of our leadership team we were able to facilitate opportunities to support our counsellors’ growth in their understanding and implementation of Physical Literacy programming. Children participated in fun games that helped them develop fundamental movement skills. These skills, akin to the alphabet of movement, are necessary to help kids build the confidence to participate in a variety of different sports and activities.



We began the summer attending the Super Hero Physical Literacy Training at the University of Calgary. This set us up with a framework and understanding of how we wanted to implement Physical Literacy training for our camp teams. Subsequently our counsellors all received a similar training at YMCA’s Camp Riveredge thanks to the support and expertise of our Youth Director Team. This training helped them to understand the importance of Physical Literacy in child development as well as ways to implement these skills into summer camps in a fun and engaging way.

My summer involved facilitating Physical Literacy training sessions for our camp coordinators and our leadership camps, modelling effective programming to counselors at the beginning of the camps season.  Over the summer, I observed over 100 YMCA counsellors during programming and provided individual coaching to each of them.

In addition to my work with summer camps, I developed a physical literacy based multi-sport program for children ages 9-12.  And re-wrote the existing YMCA Active Y program plan for children ages 6-9 to include a physical literacy.

This was a tremendous opportunity for me to further develop my skills in a field in which I am very passionate. Physical Literacy plays an instrumental part in providing children with the platform and opportunity to participate in games, sports, and activities that will support them in leading happy and healthy lives.

I thank YMCA Calgary and PrairieSky Royalty Ltd. for the opportunity to assist them in their mission to promote and implement Physical Literacy and look forward to recognizing the positive impact they will continue to have on Calgary’s children and youth for many years to come.