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2016 Volunteers of the Year · YMCA of the East Bay

The You Are the Difference “Diffy” Award is the highest honor the YMCA of the East Bay gives to recognize our most impactful volunteers. “Diffy” award winners demonstrate a selfless commitment to serving our community and creating real, lasting personal and social change.

Karen WongKaren Wong

When Karen’s children were young, they spent their afternoons and weekends at the Y for swim lessons, basketball clinics and Y Day Camp. In an effort to make these programs accessible to all children, regardless of income or geographic location, Karen volunteers at our Annual Campaign. By stuffing envelopes and calling potential donors, she raises critical funds for subsidized memberships and Y Camp Scholarships. Karen takes her advocacy one step further by coordinating an annual healthy food sale at the Downtown Oakland YMCA. Not only does the event increase public awareness of the Y’s diabetes and obesity prevention programs, it provides affordable dry goods and produce to low-income neighborhoods where nutritious groceries are not always available. Karen says, “The Y is a second family to me and I think that other people in the community should have the opportunity for healthy living in a safe environment through YMCA membership.” Thinking about her contribution through the YMCA Annual Campaign, she notes, “we can help others have the opportunity to live a healthy life through financial assistance for membership and scholarships.”

Natalie MillsNatalie Mills

Natalie is a dedicated and valued member of our YMCA! When Natalie’s beloved Uncle Vince passed away, he left a huge void in the West Contra Costa Youth and GovernmentTM program. Vince had been volunteering as an advisor for several years. Wanting her uncle’s legacy to continue, Natalie stepped up as a Y&G Advisor on short notice. She ensured five teens had an awesome experience in Sacramento, learning valuable life skills by building a model legislature. When the delegation returned, Natalie presented each delegate with an award at our regional board meeting and provided them with a photo album commemorating the experience.

Kirby BelgerKirby Belger

Kirby has contributed so much to our Y this year. He volunteered for our Healthy Kids Day this year and our Halloween events for the past couple of years. He was an integral part of our staff BBQ this year, helping appreciate the Hilltop Family YMCA staff as an essential part of our community. He also helped out at our Pancake Breakfast and served as an Annual Campaign fundraising volunteer. When asked about why he volunteers, Kirby says, “We need to help those who need help. The Y has shown me they help and care about the community.”

Tonya RichardsonTonya Richardson

Tonya has been on our board for the past several years. She used to work for the Y years ago, and continues to be committed to furthering our mission in the Eden Area. Over the years, she has helped bring in many new friends and donors to the Y, and is responsible for raising thousands of dollars. Considering the impact she makes through the Y, Tonya says, “I am proud to volunteer in the area that I grew up in. Whether it’s through fundraising, working on projects, or talking about the great work that the Y does to people that I come in contact with, I hope that my work with the Eden Area YMCA helps to ensure that all kids and families in the area have access to the quality community programs that the Y provides.”

Iris LinkIris Link

Iris Link has the respect and gratitude of the Fremont/Newark YMCA community because of her commitment to helping others and providing support to our members. She is the first to greet members and guests as they step through the front door and is well known for her wit and attitude. When one of the fitness instructors was having transportation issues, Iris would come to the gym, get started on her work out and then leave to pick up the instructor to ensure they arrived in time for class. She is generous with her personal time in helping those in need and her closest Y friends as well as her sister would describe her as caring and giving. Modestly, Iris says, “we all need help in this world and some of us need a little bit more than others. I enjoy doing things for people who are in need of anything I can give them. We care and we show it.”

Jaclyn Provencher & Kyle BoosJaclyn Provencher & Kyle Boos

Jaclyn and Kyle are committed to enriching the lives of our Youth and GovernmentTM delegates. They have come to every conference and meeting for the past two years and have played an integral role in the growth and development of our delegates. Jaclyn notes, “The YMCA created a sense of community and belonging when I relocated to the East Bay. I truly believe in leading by example, and I feel that our advisor team exemplifies the respect, trust and fun that we hope to instill in the delegates of Y&G. Seeing the kids support one another, confide in their peers, and break out of their shell is one of the most satisfying parts of volunteering.” Reflecting on his time as a Y&G advisor, Kyle says, “you are given the opportunity to be a mentor for up to 4 years with some kids and make a lasting impact during that time, all while establishing real friendships with other advisors along the way. Being able to enjoy the volunteering experience with friends keeps you coming back.”

Tina HigashiTina Higashi

Tina has volunteered for many years in our Organic Children’s Garden. She comes once a month to participate in the local garden club volunteer work parties. No task is too difficult or too tedious for Tina. She has a wonderful way of explaining what needs to be done and keeps the children on task, while still making sure everyone has fun. Tina often stays after our work parties to work on our ongoing seed-saving project. She is truly a valuable volunteer at the Camp Arroyo Organic Garden. Reflecting on her work with the Y, Tina says, “We are often working when the school-aged campers visit the garden to learn about their food. Many do not have a clue about what vegetables and herbs look like growing. I enjoy their questions and ‘a-hah moments’ when we can help them discover something new.”

Robert WhiteRobert "Seraph" White

Seraph is a camp staff alumni who now volunteers his time to support our camp programs. He has volunteered for a number of Camp Loma Mar Family Camps over the past few years, leading programs and activities and has also trained staff on how to lead by facilitating team-building activities and sharing tips for how to work effectively with kids in a camp setting. Seraph coordinated a group of volunteers from the Berkeley North Face Outlet store to support our Family Fun Day at Camp Loma Mar this past spring where he upped the fun-factor by leading activities. Beyond helping at Loma Mar he also volunteered to help prep Camp Ravencliff for Family camp this past spring.

Crystal CopesCrystal "Mocha" Copes

Crystal is a past staff member at Camp Ravencliff who went on to work for the Y in childcare for a number of years. This year, she volunteered to chaperone the 4 hour bus ride (each way) for a session of camp, volunteered as relief staff for an entire week at Ravencliff where she ran activities, supervised campers and covered cabins during counselors’ days off. She has been a positive role model for our counselor staff and is a constant source of positive energy and a joy to work with. Reflecting on the impact she has made through the YMCA, Crystal says, “I have helped children figure out what they love to do. The YMCA taught me to give my heart, mind and soul to the children.”

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