In "Alhambra Characters" we highlight our favorite snippets from past interviews. The series puts a spotlight on Alhambra's diverse and vibrant cast of denizens.
When the San Gabriel Valley YMCA lost $350,000 in state funding during the recession, Director Valarie Gomez responded by ramping up the Y's fundraising efforts, securing over $100,000 in 2011 alone. Gomez spoke to us again recently, saying that while the Y is resourceful, it also relies on help from the community. Last year the San Gabriel Municipal Water district donated $75,000 that went towards landscaping, upgrading the Y's plumbing, and installing shower timers that limit water usage to two-minutes (the timers have saved the Y a thousand dollars a month on their water bill). Reflecting on the struggles and triumphs of the past few years, Gomez said, "It's been life changing." The Y served a purpose that went way beyond a workout facility. "People were laid off. We reached out to them," said Gomez. "What I saw is that any one of us can be one step away from a crisis."
It seems like you're always on the move. What's your daily routine like?
I started at 5:30 this morning. I set my alarm for 4:45. Today my first meeting was at 7 with [El Monte Councilman Juventino] "J" Gomez. Then at 8:30 I had another meeting with the United States Tennis Association because they want to bring the program here. Then at 9 I had a meeting with the president of the Alhambra Firefighter's Association, which continually gives back to the Y. They're going to be donating an archery area to our camp. And at 10 I was over at San Gabriel City Hall luncheon, and that lasted until I came here.
Does your day ever end?
My days are long. We usually finish around 8 or 8:30.
It seems that some people don't realize that the YMCA goes beyond the swimming pool and workout room. What’s something about the Y that people may not know?
We never turn anyone away for lack of payment. We offer scholarships and financial assistance for students. We also offer free memberships to students at Century High School and Del Mar High School, both continuation schools. These are kids who have been kicked out of high school for whatever reason. They'll come to work out. We have personal trainers in our workout room. They've lost weight. They've learned how to eat healthy, and their self-esteem has risen. I hired one of the kids from Century High because I believed in him. He worked in the summer day camp, and now he's a personal trainer.
Do a lot of people come up to you and say that they learned how to swim at the Y’s pool?
Absolutely. And people will say “Oh yeah my grandmother used to bring me to the pool on Main Street, and now I bring my kids here." It's just huge to me.