The Nicest Place in New Jersey: Hunterdon County YMCA in Flemington
NICEST PLACES IN AMERICA 2019 FINALIST
"We Are Family"
All YMCAs offer fun and companionship. This one also offers family.
Thirty-five years ago, Teri Snyder was going through a hard time looking for a job to support herself and her two children. What she found, in the middle of gorgeous New Jersey farmland, is an extended family that will never leave her side.
She got a job at the Hunterdon County YMCA, ideal for a single mom because she could bring her children to work and avoid daycare costs. She got training to teach swimming and gymnastics. Then she was awarded a grant to return to school and earn her teaching certification. Her children thrived in the classes the Y offered (and eventually got jobs at the Y, too!).
To top it all off, Snyder met her husband there, and their wedding was attended by her “Big Y” family. And the generosity of those at the YMCA didn’t stop there. When Snyder’s new husband donated a kidney to a cousin, their Y family brought food, sat at the hospital, and cared for their children.
When a member needed a heart transplant, his friends at the Y made transportation schedules for his kids, held playdates, scheduled food deliveries, and mowed his lawn for him while he recovered.
When Hunterdon County Y board member Sarah Gibbons’s husband deployed to Iraq in 2007, the Y family called to see how they could help take care of her two kids and other daily challenges.
“I just started crying when they called,” she says. “They were our family.”
Now Gibbons is a volunteer at the Y—one of some 600, all part of the “Big Y” family, doing what any family would do: anything to help one another.
The Gibbons family was so thankful, they had an American flag flown in the Y’s honor at Camp Victory in Baghdad on September 11, 2008. The flag now hangs in the lobby, a reminder of the bonds that inspire us to treat each other right.
They hired me as a young divorced mother of two, sent me to school, gave my kids countless opportunities, were there through births, deaths and illness, and always had my back.
35 years ago, I got hired at the Y as a divorced mother of two small children. The opportunity was amazing because I could bring my kids with me to work and not have to pay childcare to have a job. The longer I stayed the more doors opened for me. I was trained to teach swimming and gymnastics lessons. I was able to receive a grant to go back to school while still working to receive my teaching certification for the State of New Jersey. My children were able to take advantage of classes offered by the Y and they helped my kids stay on a good path. Eventually they, too, worked for the Y.
Fast forward a few years. I meet a member who is now my husband. The wedding was a beautiful affair with my Big Italian Family and my Big Y Family. A few years later my husband was an organ donor and the staff and members rallied around us, bringing food, sitting at the hospital, running the kids around.
Speaking of transplants, one of our members who had just relocated to NJ from GA had to have a heart transplant (can you imagine being in your thirties and so far from home). We had met this man when he first joined and helped him welcome his second child. The entire facility rallied around him and his family. Lists of transportation for his kids, play dates, food deliveries and mowing the lawn quickly went up around building. And thankfully he is still a member today!
The Y initiated the Livestrong Cancer Program, a free program open to members and the public for people at any stage in their journey. The cool thing about the program is people not only came to work out, they came for the camaraderie, the opportunity to vent to others who have been where they are. We have embraced these folks, gone for hospital visits, viewings and funerals.
We have had bike-a-thon fundraisers and hat drives for St. Judes Children’s Hospital. We have a diverse population in our community and the beauty of the Y is no one is turned away due to financial issues. We do food bank collections, backpacks for education, a Giving Tree at Christmas, and book drives.
It is great to see how much people (members and staff alike) are willing to give to support each other without a question or second thought. Our newest venture is a PreSchool Prom where our youngest members get to dress up and come to the Y and dance, play games, do crafts, and make new friends.
And now at the ripe old age of 62, I am still going strong with my second family. Over these past 35 years I have seen many people come and go. But, as they go, they know they will always be welcomed back with open arms.