Community partnerships help YWCA families

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Shelly Birkelo
Friday, March 28, 2014

JANESVILLE—Spending $684 for a YMCA family membership was out of the question for Connie Jenness after she fled an abusive relationship.

But on Thursday morning, she and her 2-year-old daughter, Lili, were splashing in the Aquatics Center at the YMCA of Northern Rock County, 221 Dodge St.

The YMCA, YWCA Rock County and Data Dimensions are collaborating so Jenness and 10 other YWCA Transitions for Women Program participants and their children can use the YMCA facilities.

The one-year, free family memberships were made possible thanks to YMCA partial scholarships and a suggestion from Jen White of Data Dimensions that led to a $3,762 contribution from her employer.

It's a Godsend for Jenness, who doesn't have a car and lives only steps from the YMCA in the Jeffris Flats apartment building, 318-320 Dodge St.

“I was trying to financially attain a membership, but it was hard because I have limited funds. I would not have been able to do it on my own,” Jenness said.

After several weeks and repeated visits to the YMCA, Jenness said the membership has changed the lives of her family members.

“As a mom, it gives me freedom to know I can go somewhere safe and dependable, get exercise and see others,” she said.

Use of the facility's equipment and the time away from home relieves stress, too, Jenness said.

“It helps me mentally and physically be more healthy as a mom and person,” she said.

She hopes her daughter, who has separation anxiety, will gradually spend more time with other children in YMCA programs.

“It will be good for her to have some time away from me, learn to stay with other people and that mom will come back,” Jenness said.

Patti Belk, case manager and woman's advocate at the Transitions for Women program, praised the partnership.

“The (YMCA) location is so convenient. We don't have a yard for kids to play in. It's very urban, and we have a small playground. So all winter these kids have been cooped up inside. It's good for the kids to be able to go and burn off some energy and for moms to have a day care facility and get some exercises for themselves, which is very important for their health.”

YMCA CEO Tom Den Boer said without Data Dimensions' contribution the YMCA would not have been able to fully fund scholarships for the 11 YWCA families.

“It's a synergy of resources versus standing alone and important as we go forward to look at the public/private partnership and how we can mutually benefit all involved,” he said.

YWCA Transitions for Women has been Data Dimension's primary charity. Employees and the company previously donated coats and welcome baskets to the program and painted the program's Jeffris Flats apartments.

Knowing the positive impact the YMCA has had on her family, White said she knew a single mom would appreciate the YMCA and what it has to offer.

“These things for singles moms who are trying to change their lives would be a wonderful part of their transition,” she said.

So White met with YMCA Senior Membership Director Matt Gibson to see what could be worked out.

Gibson was inspired to work with White, Data Dimensions and the YWCA.

“It's a good feeling and warms your heart to enhance a family or a kid's life while fulfilling the Y's mission to help the community. That's why we're here,” he said.

The partnership is something that is changing family's lives, White said.

“For someone who doesn't have much, this is big, she said.

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