LIVINGSTON, NJ — Hundreds of community members recently thanked the West Essex YMCA for five decades of service to the people of Livingston, West Orange, the Caldwells and Roseland by participating in the Y’s 50th anniversary celebration, featuring activities for all ages as well as tributes from visiting dignitaries.

In the pool, children swam with pumpkins; in the gym, families practiced yoga and participated in a free-throw contest; on the first floor, there was a festival of crafts; and on the front lawn, a brass quintet entertained the crowd while children delighted in a petting zoo and created a mural commemorating the day. Saint Barnabas Medical Center, a frequent partner with the Y on healthy living programs, sponsored the entertainment for the day, during which everyone moved to the beat of hip-hop and enjoyed hot dogs and hamburgers provided by the Kiwanis Club.

Rick Gorab, President and chief executive officer of the Metro YMCA of which the West Essex Y is a member, congratulated the extraordinary legacy of the YMCA in Livingston. Because of its excellence in programs and service, the West Essex YMCA has named “Y of the Year” for seven of the past 10 years, he said.

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After the presentation of a citation from Congresswoman Mikie Sherrill that commended the community-building spirit of the Y, Freeholder Pat Sebold, a resident of Livingston, read a proclamation from the Essex County Board of Chosen Freeholders that lauded the Y for its 50 years of service to all, regardless of race, color, religious belief or sexual preference.

“I usually don't read an entire proclamation, but I will today because this is so special,” said Sebold, who read the proclamation thanking the Y for five decades of  “outstanding service for all those who were in need of emotional, financial and social support.”

Everyone who registered for the event was invited to share his or her own YMCA story. The result was an outflow of personal stories about the Y's impact on the community, families, and individuals. 

One person, who has had MS for 40 years, wrote that involvement in the Y is the reason he is still “walking and living a fairly normal life.”

Another said, “For my son, the Y means ‘inclusion.’”

Others pointed to their use of programs like the free memberships for middle school students and the complimentary “Live Strong” program for cancer survivors and their families. Many said they value the Y as a place to make friends and that Y programs have been formative in their lives.

Several people also gave examples of how the Y has been a support in coping with problems.

“The Y means Family – always helping overcome everyday hurdles,” one said.

Another said the Y is a place for her busy family “to re-connect in a healthy environment.”

One person also said, “We couldn't have functioned – juggling daycare, jobs, and commuting – without the Y's partnership.”

To conclude the day's formal presentations, Livingston Mayor Al Anthony delivered a proclamation of gratitude and thanks to the West Essex YMCA Executive Director Helen Flores. Referring to the Y's many services to the community, the mayor said, “It's difficult to imagine the West Essex area without the Y.”