So many of our members have powerful stories to share. Read our member spotlight and see why we're so proud of the community they've cultivated.
If you’ve ever stepped into the Oakland Y, chances are, you’ve received a warm hello from Davi. A front desk employee, yoga instructor, fitness coach, and Boot Camp leader, Davi’s infectious positivity is all the more humbling when you learn about their journey.
The Y has always been a part of Davi’s life. A Bay Area native and self-proclaimed “Y kid,” many happy memories were made at the Berkeley Y, and an early love for swimming developed. By the time High School rolled around, Davi was a certified swim instructor for a local community pool. High School, however, brought its own set of challenges.
“I felt a little lost,” Davi says, “like any teenager, I was trying to figure out who I was, but I was also grappling with my gender identity.”
Davi uses “they” pronouns and identifies as gender nonconforming, which hasn’t always been met with acceptance. But Davi credits their mom and the Y community for paving a path of support.
“When I started to come into my own, it did close the door on some relationships, but it also opened new doors and allowed love to flow in from brand new places.”
One of those places has been YMCA Boot Camp—a group exercise class notorious for cheery camaraderie in the face of push-ups, sprints and burpees. Davi is an anchor of the class, and will often lead the class for regular instructor, Kym Sterner. Kym, a close friend and mentor for Davi, couldn’t be prouder: “Davi packages a huge heart, along with resilience and strength of conviction, into a delightful pint-sized person. They’ve worked hard for self-acceptance, allowed their Y community to know and love them for who they are, and continue to give back, helping others through their questions and transitions.”
For Davi, the boot camp crew represents what the Y is all about—cultivating positive relationships and building community. “I’ve found friends, mentors, hiking partners, everything,” Davi says, “When I needed it most, I found a family.”
Next up for Davi is nursing school. “I just want to help more people. I’d like to work with LGBTQ+ youth, help them with their journey, help them realize they’re beautiful and strong.” With a bright future ahead, Davi is quick to affirm that they’ll always want to stay connected to the Y. And of course, the feeling is mutual.
Operating out of the YMCA-PG&E Teen Center, the Y-Scholars Program is more than just a tutoring service — it’s a learning community helping students with personal and academic advancement. With services ranging from SAT prep to after-school tutoring to family engagement and social events, all Y-Scholars receive support and individualized attention as they navigate high school and the college application process.
Victoria is currently a senior at Berkeley High, and has been a Y-Scholar since her freshman year. “I’ve always been a good student, but I struggled with the social and emotional parts of school,” Victoria says, “The Y-Scholars program really changed all that.”
Of course, those changes don’t just happen overnight. For the first two years with the program, Victoria would just come to finish her homework and complete her group and one-on-one check-ins. But something started to shift Junior year. “I realized I’d been slowly gaining more confidence, and knew I could be more involved,” she says.
Since then, Victoria has led and hosted two of the biggest Teen Center events —the graduation celebration, and Senior Decision Day. She’s incredibly proud of the personal progress she’s made since joining the program, and deservedly so. “I’m not the same person I was. I’m so thankful for the boost the Y-Scholars program and the people here have given me.”
When asked why she thinks the Y-Scholars Program has had such a profound impact, Victoria notes the holistic approach the program takes with each of the scholars. “The help with my college application process was huge, but it’s much more than that,” Victoria says. “This is a place that provides unconditional support, a place where you don’t have to be scared to ask for anything, a place where you can be vulnerable. Places like that are rare.”
Victoria sees a distinct connection between the skills Y-Scholars seeks to cultivate and the skills all scholars will need for future success. “It’s actually a lot like a job,” she notes. “You have to be accountable for your actions and keep your commitments.” And Victoria is set on continuing her commitment to Y-Scholars. She hopes to attend UC Berkeley next fall and come back to the Teen Center as a Y-Scholar tutor.
“They told me I had a voice,” Victoria says, “I just needed to start using it.
They call him The Mayor. And every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, from nine to noon at the Hilltop Y, Fred presides.
Fred can always be found sitting next to the vat of coffee and offering cheery hellos to anyone walking by. He high fives the kids, jokes with the staff, and makes room for anyone who just wants to sit and chat. For Fred, there are no strangers at the Y—everyone’s a friend.
Fred’s been a part of the Y for over 40 years. When you first ask what’s kept him coming back for so many years, he chuckles and says it’s to give his wife a break. But press further, and a pretty remarkable story emerges.
Fred is one of the few WWII veterans alive today. As an 18 year old Japanese American, he was drafted from an internment camp, and sent to fight in Europe. When the war ended and Fred returned to the U.S., it was the Y that offered comfort and immediate support. “The Y took care of us guys when we came back from overseas,” he says, “they gave us a place to stay, helped us find work, put some money in our pockets.”
He’s been a dedicated Y member ever since. “I moved around, but always found a Y. I don’t know what I’d have done without that.” A California native, Fred eventually found his way back to the Golden State. A swimmer and martial artist in his active days, he put in years of volunteer work with the Berkeley Y, and volunteered with local law enforcement as a Martial Arts instructor.
At 92 years old, the joy he finds through fellowship at the Y still runs deep. “When you pass 90, you’re allowed to just sit and enjoy life. It’s good for the soul,” he says. With few signs of slowing down, he might be on to something.
While Fred’s story is certainly one-of-a-kind, the satisfaction he finds and community he enjoys as a Senior Member is not uncommon. All five East Bay fitness branches work hard to ensure that high quality programs are available for Seniors and active older adults. From monthly breakfasts, to aqua aerobics, to ballroom dancing, the Y strives to support our members in every phase of life.