EDITOR’S NOTE: This story was written by current MBU student Maya Reyes when she served as a YMCA communications intern in the spring 2021 semester. She’s now employed at the YMCA part-time as she continues her studies.
As a cool breeze filters through the air, it carries with it the excited chattering of children. A young woman – her curly black hair styled in an undercut – helps the kids set up a game called SPUD. It’s become a favorite of sorts.
Jay Melendez, a 2021 graduate of Mary Baldwin University, has been part of the STAUNTON-AUGUSTA FAMILY YMCA’s Youth Development team for the past two years, first as a volunteer and later as a part-time employee.
She weaves through the group of children that have crowded around her, counting them as she goes. They stand in grassy clearing surrounded by trees but the grass at center has been worn away from play, leaving behind compacted earth.
Melendez first learned of opportunities the YMCA when YMCA program director and Teen Center supervisor Eddie Santiago spoke to at MBU class instructed by Dr. Mary Clay Thomas. Melendez was among a large number of MBU students employed by the YMCA.
“They (‘Mr. Eddie’ and Chris Lassiter) came to my class,” Melendez said. “It was a social work class, and we needed a couple hours (volunteering). They said ‘If y’all need a couple hours, we need volunteers. So I hit up ‘Mr. Eddie.’ They made it seem fun!”
Closeness exists in both relationships and in physical locations between Mary Baldwin University and the STAUNTON-AUGUSTA FAMILY YMCA. Location, education cycle, time and connections have woven this informal partnership together in a way that allows the two institutions to play off each other and create well-rounded students and a stronger YMCA.
It’s common to walk around the Y and see Mary Baldwin students, working hard and playing hard. And because of the geographical proximity – the college and the non-profit are four-tenths of a mile apart – It is also common to see MBU students walking to the YMCA.
LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
The law of proxemics studies how things that are in proximity with each other interact. In the case of Mary Baldwin and the STAUNTON-AUGUSTA FAMILY YMCA, it would be no surprise that these two Staunton locations have a relationship together.
Not every student has a car or a license that can take them to locations. Students who are in MBU’s Program for the Exceptionally Gifted (PEG) require drivers. Places they can walk to for work or recreation are important.
The YMCA is able to meet this need by being within a 15-20 minute walking distance making it ideal for student engagement.
Lindsey Walsh is the Assistant Director & Coordinator of Internships and Employer Relations at Mary Baldwin. She works with students and outside organizations to create networking opportunities and relationships.
She can attest to the convenience location has in this relationship.
“The Vantage Point and Mary Baldwin University are very grateful for the partnership with the YMCA!” Walsh said. “We appreciate their location within walking distance of campus and the variety of services they provide.”
AN EDUCATED WORKFORCE
People go to college for different reasons, but a major one is to learn skills they would not be able to cultivate as easily without college.
The professors at Mary Baldwin promote a way of interacting that encourages skills such as critical thinking, oral communication and teamwork. If you walked into in-person classrooms you would notice all these skills being nurtured by constructive discourse. These skills will lead students to be successful in any career field they enter into.
Nicole Kozikowski, who served as Day Camp Director at the STAUNTON-AUGUSTA FAMILY YMCA, had numerous Mary Baldwin students working in her department.
“MBU students are desirable, because of the level of education they receive,” Kozikowski said. “A lot of our programming is at the higher level. We are looking for candidates who are going to be successful and still meet the education minimum requirements.”
EDUCATING A WORKFORCE
There’s a saying there is no better teacher than experience. Within the walls of the YMCA, this rings true. MBU students who work at the Y are able to attain experience in the future career fields.
Students like Melendez and Anita Hiner garner worthwhile experience that they cannot achieve in a classroom.
“Volunteering here (the YMCA) made it a lot easier.” Melendez said. “I was able to be more open in talking to people and helping people through whatever they need.”
“It has helped me develop different skills in different areas,” Hiner said. “All these kids learn in different environments and learn better with different skills. It has been beneficial for my role in education.”
Mary Baldwin has a focus on K-12 education. In 2020-2021, there were over 200 students enrolled in the education graduate program. Employment at the Y allows students to refine their teaching methods.
Walsh believes it’s a large part of what makes the relationship between MBU and the YMCA work so well.
“More students are finding employment at the YMCA, which is great!” she said. “I appreciate Chris Lassiter and the YMCA team reaching out to recruit students for their staffing needs. Many of our MBU students have an interest in working in health science or with children, and they have great opportunities to gain experience with both pursuits.”
It is almost a rite of passage to for college students to survive off of ramen noodles and the occasional vegetable.
However, the YMCA helps breaks broke stereotypes by giving jobs to Mary Baldwin students.
“I was a college student,” Melendez said. “I needed a job for bills, food, clothes and other necessities.”
The YMCA’s employment model is unique in that it depends on dozens of part-time employees.
Finding qualified workers with flexible schedules can be a challenge, but having MBU in such close proximity has been a huge help.
This makes the odd hours of a college student the ideal working conditions.
A college student needs a work schedule that can change as semesters change and to fit between their classes.
Both of these institutions are flexible and require flexibility.
Some people grew up in the YMCA. Others didn’t, but that doesn’t change the fact that the Y has become like a second family to people working there.
A day student at MBU, Staunton native Tavian Brown found a sense of family at the YMCA while growing up.
“They are always very caring,” Brown said, “very nice, very helpful, they go out of their way to check on me and talk to you …you feel it from everybody.”
Others have moved here and found a family.
Alli Bascunan worked at the YMCA while finishing her undergrad and master’s degree at Mary Baldwin.
“Your work family stays your family,” Bascunan said, “ even when you aren’t at work.”
FRIEND OF A FRIEND
Walsh works hard to forge connections between the Y staff and MBU students.
“We have open lines of communication, several people on campus that know and work with the YMCA staff,” Walsh said, “including Christina Harrison (Spencer Center), Bruce Dorries (Communications Professor), Amy Davenport (Development & Alumni), and Martha Walker (Dean of Arts & Sciences). Connecting the YMCA opportunities with MBU students and desired professional development has assisted with cultivating this relationship.”