EAST HANOVER, NJ – Ilene Katz had little interest in exercise when she first joined the West Essex YMCA in Livingston, but it has since become her second home. The Metropolitan YMCA of the Oranges, which includes the West Essex Y, honored the Roseland resident with the 2018 Judge Harry L. Lindeman Award for Healthy Living during the association’s awards dinner held last week at Hanover Manor. 

Katz was undergoing treatment for cancer when she joined the YMCA in 2015. She was one of the first participants in LIVESTRONG at the YMCA, a 12-week wellness program for cancer survivors. Afterward, Katz took group exercise classes, volunteered and emerged as the YMCA’s "unofficial ambassador," according to West Essex YMCA Executive Director Helen Flores.

“I was in a slump, mentally and physically, but the Y changed everything for me,” said Katz said. “I had a purpose, a focus, and I made friends. A whole other side of me came out.”

Sign Up for West Essex Newsletter
Our newsletter delivers the local news that you can trust.

“We are so pleased that Ilene is part of our West Essex Y family,” said Flores. “She is what helps to make our YMCA so special for the many folks who need us the most.” 

Katz, now 58 years old, was diagnosed with the first of three cancers more than eight years ago. Noting that the illness "took over [her] life," Katz gave up her apartment as well as her job as a veterinarian technician. The veterinarian she had worked for introduced her to the YMCA. 

“Coming to the Y turned out to be the best thing I could have done,” said Katz. 

In sharing her enthusiasm for the nonprofit, Katz noted that many of her YMCA guests have become members. When the Y hosts events, Katz often volunteers to help with setup and cleanup, Flores said. She also joined the intergenerational social club and can often be seen chatting with friends in the lobby.

Additionally, Katz became a volunteer for the YMCA’s Healthy Aging at Home program, which provides in-home exercise regimens to homebound seniors.

“There she was every week going with our instructor to visit Myrna, making conversation and encouraging her to push through her exercise,” said Flores.

Like LIVESTRONG at the YMCA, Healthy Aging at Home is funded in large part through donations, including YMCA Program Champions.

“Ilene consistently has a smile on her face, brings joys to all those she meets, and always has a kind word to say about everyone,” said Flores.