My Name is Stephanie Bradford. I have been a volunteer at the Wasaga Beach YMCA for a little over three years now. I didn’t expect it to go by so quickly. Volunteering has had a major impact on my life as a person in more ways than I can even count. If you looked at me before I started, you would have seen a shy, insecure, quiet student, who was unaware of where life was taking her. I felt like I was alone most of the time, between my parents separating, moving around constantly, lack of communication with my mother, constant put downs by my peers. Life for me seemed to be bouncing around. I felt so confused about everything, which path I should take, where I should be and most importantly, who I was. I was at that state in my teenage years that I was questioning everything. I had very few people that I knew I could trust and was trying to determine who was just using me. Unfortunately, most of the people I thought were my friends were just using me. I figured that out the hard way. I had to grow up really fast after my parents split up when I was fourteen, so I lost the majority of my teenage years.
I started volunteering the YMCA in Wasaga Beach a little over three years ago. I kept putting it off because I didn’t know what to expect and I was scared. I didn’t think I could do it. Finally, I decided I would give it a try. What was the worst that could happen? I started off in child and youth programming a few nights a week. The first couple weeks were the most nerve-racking because I was unsure of everything. I was always afraid of disappointing people around me. Even after I started, I was still uncertain of what I wanted to do with my life, career wise. I was still afraid of what to expect when I went in there. I was bouncing between a few things that I was interested in doing when I decided I was going to go back to school. I have learned a lot about myself as well as what the YMCA stands for and what they are all about. I continue learning; even now, every day I am learning something new thanks to the staff and other volunteers that have more experience than I do. I have grown a lot as a person since I started three years ago; I have more confidence and a higher self-esteem level than I ever thought I could have. My communication skills have become a lot stronger because I am able to talk more freely to people I have never met before with little difficulty.
The YMCA has helped me prioritize my own life and give me a stronger sense of self. I am still volunteering and I have no plans on stopping. Currently, I am volunteering in child and youth programming as well as membership services. I have also had previous experience volunteering in the maintenance department and special events. Volunteering has allowed me to figure out what I wanted to do with my life; career-wise, I am currently attending Canadore College online in Recreation and Leisure Services on a full-time basis.
It has always been one of my dreams to work with children and youth, help people and work in sports and recreation. Being at the YMCA has helped me discover that I can take some of my interests and combine them into a career. I am thankful for everything the YMCA has helped me with, whether it is something small or something on a larger scale. Everyone there has their own story, why not tell it?
It was amazing, I was impressed with myself one night last year (among others), but this one sticks with me. It as the night of our Strong Kids Campaign Launch and I was stopped by an older woman who had never been to the YMCA before, but had heard a lot about it because a relative worked there. She asked me what the night was all about, I told her what the Strong Kids Campaign was all about and how beneficial to those in the community. She was fascinated by it. I was excited. I can’t remember word for word what I said, but I knew it was something that was important to me and I wanted to share. I also shared My Y story with her; which was slightly different than it is now because I have grown a lot more since then. She was thrilled about it, she thought it was amazing that someone who was so shy only a few years prior to that was able to talk to confidently to someone so opening.
If you compare me right now to the person I was about four years ago, you would see a strong person because of the staff and other volunteers at the YMCA and how much I have grown. Being at the Y is definitely a learning experience I will never forget and will cherish forever. It is because of them I am who I am today. The YMCA has made me stronger. I often think back to my life before I started at the Y and think of how much I have changed over the last few years.