The Kirby bus, as it is affectionately called, pulls up to the Madison Area YMCA’s Family Center. The kids on the bus have just taken a short ride from the F.M. Kirby Children’s Center on East Street to do their sports, swimming, gymnastics, performing arts or enrichment classes. Five-year-old John Patrick Connolly, who is in the Young 5s program, hops off the bus and follows a line of classmates. As he expects, his grandmother, Cathy Rooney, greets him in the lobby with a big hug and kiss. It’s a moment.

John Patrick rejoins the group and heads to class. His grandmother heads to her Y activity too. Mrs. Rooney takes fitness classes, participates in the Y’s shawl-knitting group and is member of the Y’s book club. She is also involved in other programs dedicated to the active older adult like socials and holiday luncheons.

The Connolly family has a classic multigenerational Y story. Children, foster children, parents, grandparents—even aunts and uncles have a place at the Y.

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Before marrying her husband, John, and having John Patrick and his two sisters, Karen Connolly was a foster parent to a teen-aged boy who lived with her for a year. As an EMT, Karen had traveled to Louisiana and volunteered at a shelter after Hurricane Katrina struck. While helping children affected by the disaster, she became particularly concerned with and attached to the teens. She recognized it was a vulnerable age for kids who were at risk. Karen decided she would become a foster parent to a teen when she returned to New Jersey.

The young man who became Karen’s first foster child wanted to live with his mother; but, at 17 he was considered too old to live in a women’s shelter where his mother was. Because he didn’t want to live in a separate one, a judge, who was his mentor suggested a foster home. Karen met with him and it was a fit. “We had a fantastic year together,” says Karen. During that time, the teen participated in Project Community Pride, the Y’s youth and teen counseling and support program, which is staffed by licensed clinical social workers. “That consistency in his life was such a help,” says Karen.

The Connolly’s eldest child, Kaitlyn, is a member of the Y’s gymnastics Pre-Team. Thursday afternoon practices are a treat for Kaitlyn because her grandfather, Norbert Connolly, drives her to the Y and he works out in the Fitness Center. The 7 year old has grown up at the Y having attended the F.M. Kirby Children’s Center daycare program through kindergarten. “Kaitlyn learned so much about increasing responsibility and organization at Kirby,” says Karen. “She was well-prepared for school.” The Connolly’s third child, 2-year-old Erin, will enroll in the Kirby Center’s preschool program this summer as John Patrick gets ready to start kindergarten.

One of the things we love about Kirby is the well-rounded approach they take to child development including healthy habits,” says Karen. “Because of what they’ve learned in Kirby and CATCH, my children know what healthy food choices and unhealthy food choices are.”

Last year during an eye health screening at the Kirby Center, Healthy Eyes Alliance recommended a follow up appointment for John Patrick with a medical doctor.

“Due to that early detection program Kirby offered, my son is now under regular care of a medical doctor for his eyes and we are able to stay ahead of changes that we may not have been aware were happening for years!” says Karen, acknowledging that the well-rounded approach to the whole person in every way in addition to having something for everyone in the family in the same place makes the Y a special place. “It brings all of us together,” she says.

The Connollys and their extended family are gearing up for an evening of “competitive togetherness” at the Kirby Center’s annual Pub Firkin Quiz Night on March 18. “It’s a huge competition in the family—we decide who is smart enough to be on the team,” says Karen, laughing, noting that her brother-in-law and sister-in-law who are geniuses have a spot. 

“The Y covers the entire spectrum of life,” says Karen, referencing her children’s experiences as well as the social aspect and feeling of “being connected” for her mother and father-in-law. “There’s a real sense of community. Why the Y? It’s all encompassing of what we love.”