Naomi Collier has struggled with weight for years, but she admits she used her first summer membership at the Southside YMCA mainly to hang out at the pool in her spare time.
“A friend of mine was a lifeguard, so I came to hang out with her. Occasionally, I would take a water aerobics class she taught,” Collier said in a recent interview.
Then she started taking water aerobics regularly. Doing nothing but that, she said, she lost a noticeable amount of weight.
She wondered, if she lost weight doing that little, what she could do if she got serious about getting healthy.
“That’s about the time I started really getting into it,” she said.
She started coming regularly, sometimes twice a day, working with a trainer at the YMCA and learning about better nutrition.
Then the semester started back, and every part of her day that wasn’t filled with graduate school classes, papers and projects was taken up with her job.
“Pretty much the only way I could fit it in my day was to get up early and work out before my day started,” she said. “Then it came down to money. I’ve carved out the time, but once school started, I wasn’t sure how I would pay for it.”
A few miles down Perkins Road at the Manship YMCA, Jamila Ellis recalled the impossible loop of working to support herself and her son, which required child care, which required taking on another job to pay for child care, which meant requiring more child care.
“And if my hours changed, I would have to figure out a way to work around that or find another job,” Ellis said.
For both women, the YMCA Scholarship Program has made life a lot easier and healthier.
Ellis’ scholarship pays a portion of her son’s after-school program cost and allows her to use the YMCA to work out, though knowing her son is safe and occupied after school has been, by far, the biggest relief, she said.
“He loves it. He has a really good, close relationship with the counselors, and he’s a boy boy. He likes being outside. He likes all sports. He’s able to play all of them at the Y, and was able to take swimming lessons this year,” she said.
Collier was able to keep working out at the Southside Y through graduate school and has lost 154 pounds to date.
Not only that, Collier said, but she’s found a second family at the Southside YMCA.
“You tend to see the same people every time you go. If they haven’t seen you in a couple of days, they’ll say so. It’s another layer of accountability and encouragement to keep going,” she said.
Collier liked it so much, in fact, she joined the Southside YMCA’s board of directors, and now helps decide on scholarship applications.
Both her journey to better health and her time on the board have been life-changing experiences, she said.
In all, the YMCA awards the monetary equivalent of about $600,000 in scholarships parish-wide, said Randy Brown, executive director at the Manship Y.
A scholarship committee at each branch goes through every application and decides how that branch’s scholarship funds will be distributed.
The number of applications vary, of course, according to the time of year. In the weeks leading up to summer camps, Brown said, his branch may field as many as 100 scholarship requests within a three-week period.
“We don’t want to turn anyone away for lack of ability to pay,” Brown said. Their main job at that point becomes juggling the numbers, deciding what percentage of assistance they can offer each qualified applicant, he said.
Once holiday camps are behind them, the YMCA will start up its annual scholarship fund drive to raise extra money to fund these programs, Brown said.
The Y accepts scholarship applications year-round, meeting weekly to review any applications that come in.
For more information on how to apply, or to make a donation or volunteer, visit any YMCA branch, or the Y’s website, http://www.ymcabatonrouge.org/SupporttheY/AnnualCommunitySupport?subject=">http://www.ymcabatonrouge.org/SupporttheY/AnnualCommunitySupport .