Blaine Havens travels … a lot. At age 21, he embraces the opportunity to visit communities around Pennsylvania through his work as a Traveling Surgical Technologist at UPMC. And each time Blaine receives a new assignment, his first call is to the YMCA. 

“When you travel like this, isolation is very real,” Blaine says. “You’re always going to be the new guy. I can just sit in my hotel room, or I can go to the Y and be around people, have conversations.” 

Before Christmas 2023, Blaine – whose home is Youngstown, Ohio, where he is finishing his Bachelor’s degree from Youngstown State – received a 6-week assignment at UPMC Hamot. He immediately contacted the YMCA of Greater Erie to learn more about volunteering. 

Blaine joined our Eastside location at the Parents’ Afternoon Out event and then again at the Christmas Luncheon, where he helped set tables in the gym. But for Blaine, it was about more than just forks and spoons. 

“When I go somewhere for 6 weeks, I want to be knee-deep in that community,” he says. “This work has given me a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to travel around the state and meet people, see their values and figure out how I can help.” 

As a young person himself, Blaine acknowledges that many people his age seem anxious about the world. “It helps to commit to something and stick with it,” he says. “For me, it’s the Y.” 

Like most people, Blaine has a Y story. He learned to swim at the Davis Family YMCA in Youngstown, which was closest to his then-home in West Virginia. He later joined the Y’s swim team and went on to swim in high school, where his coach was also his Y coach and practices were held at the Y pool. He then swam in college.  

Now, as his life has become more transient, Blaine has found the Y to be a home away from home. 

“The Y is consistently the best place to get plugged into a community and hear what’s happening,” Blaine says. “YMCA’s are a really unique intersection of all generations where you can get involved in new hobbies, learn new things, and connect with people.” 

Blaine sits reflective for a moment. 

“How do you define personal wellness,” he says, rhetorically. “Do you want to be in better shape, is it the number on the scale, do you want to make an impact?” 

For Blaine, the ability to volunteer and make connections is central to his purpose.  

“You work hard all week and get a paycheck – great! Now if you give yourself to someone fully and that person thanks you because you made an impact on them – wouldn’t you rather have that feeling? Of course, everyone needs a paycheck, but that feeling of someone showing gratitude is a wonderful feeling.” 

Blaine goes on. “When I got here, I asked the lady at the front desk where I should go to eat. She gave me a list of 12 restaurants, and we talked for a while. That kindness – you won’t get that everywhere.” 

“My argument to young people is that for $10 you can get a gym membership,” he says. “But for a little more you can be a positive influence in the community. You can meet people and make connections.” 

“My personal definition of well-being extends far beyond my BMI. It’s all about connections,” Blaine says. “What can someone like me do for someone like you?” 

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