Y support changes man’s life

Chatham YMCA member Dustin Gawne; Andrew Lochie, CEO for YMCA of Southwestern Ontario; and 2023 Community Starts Here volunteer campaign lead Jim Loyer are all smiles as they accept a $15,000 donation from Dava Robichaud of TekSavvy. The donation marks the kickoff for the fundraising campaign which has a goal of $88,000.

Community Starts Here fundraiser kicks off at C-K YMCA

By Pam Wright
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Without the generosity of donors, miraculous transformations like that of Dustin Gawne might not come to pass.

Gawne found himself at the doors of the Chatham YMCA seven years ago. He was severely depressed, in a wheelchair due to a devastating spinal cord injury and more than 100 pounds overweight.

Today, thanks to hundreds of hours of working out at the Y and encouragement from staff and patrons, the 39-year-old is fit, happy and is considering a nationwide bike ride to raise awareness for mental health, addictions and the homelessness crisis.

“This place is my safety haven,” said the recovering alcoholic/addict who now has five years of sobriety. “What the Y means to me is safety and family and love. I found a place of hope in depression. Without the help of staff and the members here, I don’t think I would have made it the way I did.”

Gawne said he stepped up his workouts during the pandemic, sometimes coming for two to three hours a day, and has now been eight weeks without using a cane.

As part of the 2023 Community Starts Here fundraising kickoff, Gawne’s story illustrates what can be achieved with the support of community. This year’s goal for the Chatham YMCA is $88,000, and thanks to a $15,000 boost from TekSavvy, it’s off to a strong start.

Dava Robichaud, administrative and events co-ordinator for TekSavvy, said the Community Starts Here campaign is an excellent cause.

Robichaud said the company wants to help as many in the YMCA community as possible – particularly those who “may not otherwise have the chance.

“We want to show them there are choices and opportunities for them to be all they can be,” Robichaud said.” There’s something for everyone, no matter the age or the ability.”

According to Jim Loyer, volunteer campaign lead for the fundraiser, 32 per cent of local YMCA members require financial assistance to partake in what the YMCA has to offer.

Loyer, a member himself, said donations help with a wide array of activities ranging from children’s camps and swimming lessons to activities for seniors and more.

He said he’s talked to many people who have “made memories and friendships” at the YMCA that have stuck with them for life.

“We don’t have to seek out these stories, they come freely,” Loyer explained.

Chatham YMCA general manager Amy Wadsworth said opening the doors to everyone – regardless of their financial status – is one of the best parts of her job.

“For me, what I love is that I don’t have to turn anyone away,” Wadsworth said, noting an equal playing field allows everyone to join in, and, like Gawne, embark on his or her health journey.

The Community Starts Here campaign raised $80,000 in 2022.


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