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Y charges into annual campaign
Y kickoff 1
Members of the Effingham YMCA board of management pose in front of a sign displaying the goal for this years campaign, $58,000. The annual campaign to raise money for YMCA programs in Effingham County kicked off Tuesday and continues through the end of March. - photo by Photo by Paul Floeckher

When Sarah Puente and her family moved to Effingham County four years ago, they joined the YMCA in hopes of finding friends and fitness.

What they found was much more.

“We found a family — a family that cared about their members and had a relationship with their community,” Puente said Tuesday as the Effingham YMCA kicked off its 2014 fundraising campaign.

The fitness programs and child care the YMCA is known for are just part of how the organization helps others, Puente said. Its outreach programs include local food drives and the “angel tree” to make the holidays brighter for local families in need.

“It seemed like every time that I turned around, they were reaching out and making a difference in the community and from within,” said Puente, who also joined the Effingham Y staff as its program director.

The annual campaign runs through the end of March. This year’s goal is to raise $58,000 for Effingham YMCA programs.

“A lot of people think of us as ‘the gym.’ Or they might think of us as a child care center,” said Effingham YMCA executive director Kim Dennis. “We are those things, but we are so much more.”

The Effingham Y welcomed nearly 1,100 new or renewed memberships in 2013, according to community wellness coordinator Lori Sowers. Other impressive numbers from the year included 1,560 group fitness classes, 750 spin classes, 750 athletes in youth sports and 325 summer day campers.

“Our staff is working diligently to make sure Effingham County is taken care of,” Sowers said.

“I always like to think, what would Effingham County look like if the Y wasn’t here?” Dennis said. “We are having a huge impact on Effingham County every day, year-round. We are blessed beyond measure to have a YMCA in this county.”

The Effingham Y’s membership is nearly 6,000 people. Since the YMCA does not turn away anyone with a financial hardship, the Effingham Y provided about $32,000 last year in assistance for membership.

Through a variety of YMCA programs, more than a thousand children are cared for each day in Effingham County, Dennis said.

“If the Y wasn’t in Effingham County, where would those thousand children go?” she said.

It’s a long way from the Effingham YMCA’s humble beginnings with a small facility in the United Way Service Center in 1999. In 2007, the Y moved to its current location on Patriot Drive off Highway 21 in Rincon.

“It was just a dream we had. We knew we needed a Y in Effingham County,” said Pete Lancaster, who headed the steering committee in the 1990s.

At 84 years old, Lancaster will be involved in the YMCA campaign again this year. Dennis described him as “still one of my most-active volunteers.”

Lancaster is active in the YMCA’s fitness programs as well. He works out three times a week with his wife Loretta.

“The Lord has blessed me to be active and involved, and I’m going to keep doing it as long as I can,” he said.

For more information about the YMCA campaign, call 826-2199.