Our Work is Our Message

Welcome to our blog, Changing Lives. Shaping Community.  We are very excited to share stories, memories, life experiences, and just the work that we do and have done for 146 years in the Bangor region.  The Bangor YMCA has definitely helped change lives and impacts this community in many different ways.  Member or not, the many diverse and far reaching programs offered by the Bangor YMCA impacts us all and makes everyone in the Bangor Region a part of the “Y family.” With programs that promote health, fitness, nutrition, cardiac rehabilitation, cancer survivor support groups, summer camps, aquatics, outdoor recreation, adventure excursions, leadership development, traditional sports, martial arts, personal training, child care, before and after school programs, youth outreach programs, and educational partnerships, there is no area of our lives or our community that the Bangor YMCA does not touch.

However, this blog is going to be about more than our programs. Do not expect to find pool schedules or daycare cost comparisons here! We’ve come to this space for a larger purpose: to reflect on the meaning of our mission. Here you will find musings on and definitions of what social responsibility, healthy living and youth development really mean, as well as real life stories of the impact this mission has on our community.  Real people telling real stories, which, in turn, can help, motivate, inspire, and educate the readers of our blog.

With more than 100 employees and 10,000 children, teens, adults, or seniors who are participating in our Y programs, there are many perspectives that could lend a voice to the discussion. Their stories will be told through the primary contributors to this blog, Diane Dickerson and Jeremy Robichaud.  Diane is the Executive Vice President of Marketing, Development, and Community Engagement of the Bangor YMCA. With more than 30 years’ experience in the field, a mother of three, and an advocate of youth, education, and health issues, Diane brings her professional and personal passions to this blog.  Jeremy is the Director of Adventure Recreation for the Bangor YMCA.  He directs all adventure based programs, is the Leader of our Adventure Seekers programs for all ages, and leads all of his programs with his background as a Register Maine Guide, a Wilderness EMT, and a licensed Guide and Instructor for the American Mountain Guides Association (AMGA) and Professional Climbing Instructors Association (PCIA).  It is our honor to be the people who get to tell the stories of others, and generate discussion about the things that influence, matter, and contribute to the people of our community.

Our first blog is a story from a loving and devoted sister and mom.  Her name is Jennifer Laferte Carlson, a long-time member of the Bangor YMCA, a local teacher and coach, and someone who has shared a very personal and intimate story of The Bangor YMCA Leaders School.  Please read on and hear Jennifer’s touching reflection.  For all of us at the Y, it is stories like this that keep us doing what we do every day.  Our work is our message, and we encourage you to participate in this blog by adding to our message, or telling your own story that will help change lives and shape this wonderful community for which we are so blessed to call home.

In the words of Jennifer L. Laferte-Carlson

When I was in high school, Leader’s School was but a blip on my radar. I knew of kids who went, but didn’t know enough about it to look into it for myself. Flash-forward about 9 years and my brother was then in high school. A couple of good friends of his went and recruited him to go. After that first summer, he was in…all in. He also thought maybe I’d like it too, and he asked if I would go as staff. If you knew the relationship we had, you would know that whatever my brother asked me to do, I did. That’s what older sisters do, right? Well, maybe not all sisters, but in my case, there is nothing I wouldn’t do for my brother.  He was the light of my world.

It was the summer of 1998. Richard was going into his senior year, so therefore, it was his last year at Leaders. At this point he was, well, I guess established would be the best way to describe it. At 6’6”, it was kind of hard for him to go unnoticed, but when you had a personality as big, it was impossible to go unnoticed! He was especially known for a particular (albeit nasty) talent…he could swallow an ENTIRE can of Cheeze Whiz in one gulp. It was the high point of any meal. It would start out as a whisper, cheeze whiz, cheeze whiz, cheeze whiz, cheeze whiz, CHEESE WHIZ!  Or, perhaps a chant something like “Knit one, pearl fizz. Let’s see Richard eat Cheeze Whiz!” Next thing you knew, there he was cheese whiz in hand and down the throat! Cheers would erupt so loudly that I am sure it could have been heard across Branch Lake!

The other thing I saw that week was a side of my brother I had never seen before. I had a suspicion it was there, but never witnessed it until that week. Here was my baby, and only, brother being a LEADER! He exemplified every value and attribute you would expect to see in a leader. And, it wasn’t just one or two times that I saw it. All week, in many different situations, there it was! Others saw it too. At the end of the week Richard was voted as the boy who best represented the values of Leaders’ School, and thus was awarded the Fellowship Cup. I had never been more proud of my brother. And to have had that experience with him is one that I have always cherished. Not only did he and I have an incredible week together, but I was introduced to some of the most incredible, supportive people I have had the pleasure to know. And, it doesn’t matter that I haven’t been able to come back as staff, I’m still one of them.

It’s a good thing I have those people in my life because I needed their support this past January when my brother unexpectedly passed away. They were there the night of his party, armed with Cheeze Whiz, hugs, incredible words of kindness, sparkles, and arms to hold around each other. These amazing groups of people were there to honor his memory and support me and my family. Words cannot even begin to express my gratitude.

This summer I am going to get the chance to strengthen those bonds when I return to Leaders as staff again. This time I will get to spend the week with my son, Sam, as he has ever so graciously said he is going  to “let me” go! Little does he know that I have just been waiting for him to be old enough to go during the “high school” week. But, this will not be Sam’s first experience; he has been going since the “middle school” week. Like my brother Richard, Sam has been assimilated! Richard was always going to try to come back as well.  Although he won’t be there physically, I know his presence will be felt.

I have Richard’s Fellowship cup sitting in my house with each of his wigglers in it. Not only is it something of Richard’s that reminds me of the bond he and I shared, but it serves as a reminder of what Leaders’ School is to me… a chance to be who you have the potential to be, a chance to make lasting memories, and a chance to create incredible relationships.