TOM TOLLEFSON: YMCA FOR LIFE
The YMCA has meant a lot to many people all the United States. I’m one of those people. For me, it’s not just a “gym” but a safe place where I cold be myself and enjoy being healthy and active by working out and playing basketball. Today, I am a writer, coach, and educator in the Nashua School District. A big part of who I am and what I have done in my life was nurtured at the YMCA from my teenage years.
It started when I registered as a YMCA member in 9th grade. One of my first experiences there was playing in the teen basketball leagues at the Nashua YMCA on 17 Prospect Street, an address I will forever remember. I fondly remember those Thursday afternoons and evenings playing basketball first in my league games and then continuing into the evening to play with adults coming down after work. Then on some fortunate Saturdays, my mom would drop me off at my favorite gym after breakfast with a basketball and lunch bag in hand and I would stay until she picked me up for dinner in the evening. Next to my faith and family the game of basketball was and is still a driving force of empowerment and motivation in my life.
During my high school and college years, I struggled to deal with personal issues such as depression and my mom’s ill health. I also had problems socializing and had trouble finding a place where I belonged among my peers. Honestly, I didn’t feel as though I fit in many places. However, every time I was at the YMCA, I felt a sense of purpose and belonging. I was comfortable to be myself and enjoy being active and competing and practicing the sport I love so much…basketball.
After college, I found myself working and volunteering at the YMCA. I was blessed with a chance to coach multiple age groups in a variety of youth basketball leagues as well as working at the Summer Teen Adventure Camp. I also received mentorship from other staff and coaches who helped mold me into a better coach, leader, and a better person. One of the older staff members took specific interest in helping encourage and challenge me to new heights as an individual and as a result to this day remains a close personal friend. This combination of friendship, mentorship, and ability to give back made the YMCA more than just a gym, it was a community. As a young adult unsure of my career, future, or anything in life, the YMCA not only taught me how to lead, they gave me an opportunity to tap into my character and rise from the cloud of self-doubt to see that I had abilities to be a positive role model and have a beneficial impact on my community.
The YMCA has also blessed me through the financial support of the Y Cares program. For many years as a student and then young adult, I lived around the poverty level and couldn’t afford a membership to my favorite gym. However, the Y Cares program based my membership rates on my income to afford me a chance to remain a member.
Today, I am still an active member of the YMCA, and I haven’t slowed down. You can find me at the Nashua and Merrimack YMCA playing basketball and working out the same as ever before. Now I bring my wife as a new member, and look forward to the future of having children and one day sharing my Y experience with them.
I can’t say enough about how much the YMCA community has been a blessing in my life and a contributing factor to my physical, mental, and emotional growth. As a husband, coach, teacher, writer, and athlete, I wouldn’t be the same person I am today without it. Thank you YMCA! Thank you for your opportunities, friendships, safe space, and for ultimately making me a better person!
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