United Way Names Two New Community School Directors

Officials from United Way of Erie County in partnership with Erie’s Public
Schools have announced the community school directors at Harding Elementary and Perry Elementary, United Way’s newest community schools. The announcement of these two schools coming on board as
community schools was made earlier this year, bringing the total number of schools included in United Way’s community schools partnership to ten countywide. Shanna Schumacher will serve as the Community School Director at Harding Elementary. Shanna is an Erie native who attended Edinboro University and received bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Education. She is a former classroom teacher and reading specialist passionate about building relationships with students and families to help them be successful. Schumacher most recently served as the Literacy Programs Manager at the Achievement Center, volunteer for Erie City Moms, HOPE Rescue and United Way’s Raising Readers initiative. She was honored at the 2018 UnifiedErie Youth Work Awards as the recipient of the
Youth Empowerment Award.

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Merdick Mitchell – A Veteran’s Story

Merdick Mitchell, or “Mitch” as he’s called, is one of our early morning YMCA members. He works out diligently (which he says helps when you’re a “foodie”), then stops for a lively chat (and sometimes a donut) with his group of friends in the lobby. Mitch is married, has children and grandchildren, and retired from the US Post Office. But before he had his job and his family, he was drafted into the Army for the Vietnam War, something that affects him even today.

Mitch was a young man working at Lords to be a machinist when his number came up, changing the trajectory of his life. After training, he went to Vietnam, where he ultimately suffered injuries from an explosion during the Tet Offensive and came back to the states to be treated at Valley Forge General. At the time, he downplayed his medical issues: “if you didn’t have issues, you got to go on the plane to go home,” he says. “If you said you did, that delayed getting back home.” His young ego also had something to do with de-emphasizing his injuries. He said he could walk, even though he did so with great difficulty. The struggle getting in the taxi to leave, as well as navigating the steps up to the plane still stick in his memory, as does having to resort to coming down those steps backwards after he landed.

While Mitch to this day has issues with his back and legs due to shrapnel (he still has shrapnel in his legs and suffers from neuropathy), those aren’t the only effects from his time at war. He feels some effects from PTSD, as do many returning veterans, and he also has health issues related to Agent Orange exposure. But with all that, Mitch says he doesn’t have it bad compared to others, and he still grieves for two childhood friends whose lives were lost in the war.

Mitch says his greatest resource for veterans’ services was speaking to other veterans, something he’s more than happy to do now to help other vets. “Interacting with other veterans helps to know what path to take,” he says. The American Legion also has advisers available for those with questions. He suggests to veterans going to the VA for services that they take time beforehand to write down what their symptoms are, and “strongly emphasize your issues” (don’t play them off) when meeting with the VA, to ensure that they get the best care. Veterans who think they have been exposed to Agent Orange need to make sure they get on the registry –  they will receive a newsletter to help educate them to its effects and any new progress, as well as become eligible for any related services, treatment, or compensation.

When asked if coming to the Y helped with his issues, he said absolutely! Working out has a calming effect with him: “it helps to fill the void and block out negative issues.” As for his morning group, he enjoys their discussions on politics, sports, health care, and a variety of other topics. They don’t always agree, and that’s okay; they will poke fun, but there are no hard feelings. At the end of the day, they agree to disagree. According to Mitch, that’s the best kind of therapy for him.

YMCA Partners to Support Veterans Services

The Erie VA Medical Center and the YMCA of Greater Erie are partnering to expand yoga, tai chi, nutrition, water fitness and other whole health programs to Veterans.

Erie VA Medical Center is just one of 18 pilot locations across the US within the Department of Veterans Affairs implementing Whole Health.

 “Whole Health for Life represents the VA’s transformation from traditional disease management, to a more comprehensive approach that is based in partnership across time focused on the physical, emotional, and social well-being of each Veteran,” said John Gennaro, Medical Center Director, Erie VA. “We are working hard to provide this personalized, proactive, patient-driven approach through the support of not only the Veteran’s health care team, but also trained peers, well-being teachers, coaches and community partners like the YMCA.”

In 2019, the Department of Veteran’s Affairs and YMCA of the USA renewed their partnership to promote and enhance the health and well-being of Veterans and their families.  The agreement makes it easier for Veterans Benefits Regional Office and Veterans Health Administration facilities to work with local YMCAs to ensure that Veterans are connected to needed resources and opportunities in their communities.

“The proud heritage of YMCA service to the military setting dates to 1861, when dedicated YMCA volunteers took to the battlefields of the Civil War alongside America’s uniformed young men. Our nation’s Veterans, and their families, have dedicated so much in service to our country”, said Gerry Vandemerwe, YMCA of Greater Erie CEO. “I’m pleased to announce that this local partnership continues that legacy by further expanding the scope of our services.”

Veterans are introduced to the Whole Health for Life approach to care through an introductory session with a VA Whole Health Coach. “This partnership focuses on the Veteran’s values and aspirations for health and well-being, including self-care and complementary therapies, along with conventional medical care,” said YMCA of Greater Erie Healthy Living Program Director Michele Schroeck.

Schroeck said that Introduction to Whole Health sessions are the first and third Thursday of the month from 4-6 p.m. at the Glenwood ParkY or the VA Medical Center the second or fourth Friday of the month from 9-11 a.m. by appointment with Whole Health Clerk Mary Ferloin at 860-2437.

In addition to the Whole Health for Life program, the VA and the Y also have partnered to provide free, one-month memberships to any local Veteran that is currently receiving services through the VA. Veterans must obtain a Y flyer from the VA for eligibility for a free one-month membership which can be presented to any local YMCA of Greater Erie location. 

“This November, when a new member joins the Y, their join fee will help provide a free one-month membership to a local Veteran,” said Vandemerwe.

Local Y locations are also collecting non-perishable food items and toiletries for donation to the Liberty House, a transitional shelter for homeless Veterans. Items can be dropped off at any local Y facility now through Nov. 30.

Finally, Vandemerwe said that the Y will honor local Veterans and their families at an appreciation brunch on Thursday, Nov. 14 from 11 a.m.-12:30 p.m. at the Glenwood Park Y at 3727 Cherry Street.

For more information on the Veterans Services program offered through the Y, contact Michele Schroeck at 868-0867.


This November, we’re making life a little easier for homeless Veteran
men living at the Liberty House- a 10-bed transitional shelter.

• Spaghetti
• Spaghetti Sauce
• Hamburger Helper
• Rice /Rice-A-Roni
• Soups
• Peanut Butter
• Snack Items like
Pretzels and Chips
• Drink Mix
• Cases of Water
• Paper Towels
• Toilet Paper
• Decks of Cards
• Puzzles
• Men’s Socks size 6-11

Drop off your donation to any YMCA of Greater Erie location between now and November 30.

YMCA Offers Chronic Disease Prevention Programs

Erie, PA – The YMCA of Greater Erie will introduce a suite of evidence-based chronic disease prevention programs that will be open to the public. These programs are a YMCA strategic initiative in response to Erie County’s community health needs assessment. This initiative is meant to refocus the YMCA into a community-based Healthy Living Center.

The programs have been established with more than $100,000 received from Y-USA, the Highmark Foundation and the Erie Community Foundation.

“YMCAs across the country are committed to a community integrated health model which strengthens the linkages between traditional healthcare and community-based prevention strategies in order to help individuals prevent, delay, or live better with chronic conditions,” says Gerry Vandemerwe, YMCA of Greater Erie CEO. “Community integrated health increases access to care, lowers costs and prevents and addresses chronic disease.”

According to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, Erie County is ranked 55th out of 67 Pennsylvania counties in health outcomes, which is about the length and quality of life. The county is ranked 53rd in health factors, which determine a person’s health.

Vandemerwe says Y-USA and the RWJF have worked together to improve health since 2008. In 2016, Y-USA and RWJF renewed their commitment with a 10-year partnership dedicated to helping build a Culture of Health across the country. For the first three years of the partnership, Y-USA studied and developed the Y’s unique model for community integrated health. Y-USA also helps local YMCAs receive reimbursement from third-party payers (health insurance plans, employers, etc.) for chronic disease prevention programs.

Chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and stroke, and cancer have changed the face of American medicine. The Center for Disease Control reports that 7 out of 10 people die of a chronic disease, and the US Department of Health and Human Services found that tobacco use is the

leading cause of preventable death and disease in the U.S., resulting in more than 480,000 deaths per year.

“These are shocking, overwhelming facts that seem impossible to overcome. And yet, the YMCA has emerged with comprehensive programs to support, encourage, and improve the health of those who suffer with chronic disease,” says Vandemerwe.

The Y’s vision as a healthy living center is to provide programming and community to those suffering with chronic diseases, and to help educate the community about healthy habits that prevent chronic diseases from taking hold.

“We are working hand-in-hand with YMCAs in Pennsylvania and like-minded providers in Erie County to provide programs to help those recovering from or trying to prevent a chronic disease,” says Kelly Gibson, YMCA Healthy Living Director.  “The Y is a total wellness resource to improve overall community health. We’re a perfect partner for those recovering from or trying to prevent a chronic disease. The programs are provided for free or at a low cost, which allows us to help bridge the gap between doctor care and regular life. The YMCA has the equipment and spaces to provide high-quality programs and the Y-USA training allows our staff to become experts in developing healthy habits.”

According to the Erie County Department of Health’s Community Health Assessment, in Erie County, heart disease and cancer accounted for 45.4 percent of all deaths. Death rates for all causes of death, heart disease, cancer, chronic lower respiratory disease, stroke, diabetes, and nephritis in Erie County were significantly higher compared with Pennsylvania.

“The percentage of Erie County adults who have diabetes and prediabetes is not improving and remains higher than both Pennsylvania and the nation. Target populations are African American adults, rural residents, and residents with lower educational levels,” says Sean Beers, YMCA Executive

Director. “Since 2007, the percentage of adults in Erie County who are obese (BMI >=30) has steadily increased from 28% to 35%. This is higher than Pennsylvania and the nation.”

In addition, the report also states that since 2011, the percentage of Erie County adults who report poor physical health has steadily increased from 36% to 45% and is higher than Pennsylvania.

“Our hope with these programs is to help people avoid being part of these statistics. We want to teach people how to live healthier and to provide support for them while they make these lifestyle changes” says Beers.

The following programs will be offered through the Y’s Chronic Disease Prevention Programs this fall and into 2020, with others expected to launch in 2021.

Diabetes Prevention Program – a 10-month evidence-based behavior change program aimed at reducing your risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes. Program led in a small group setting facilitated by a certified coach. As a participant in the YMCA’s Diabetes Prevention Program, you will take 26 classes over the course of a year surrounded by a group of supportive people with common goals who care about your well-being. Participants also receive a 6-month membership to the Y.

Blood Pressure Self -Monitoring – One in three American adults has high blood pressure, which puts them at risk for stroke and heart disease, two of the leading causes of death in the U.S. Blood Pressure Self-Monitoring program offers personalized support as participants develop the habit of monitoring their blood pressure.  Research shows that the process of recording blood pressure at least twice a month over a period of four months can lower blood pressure in many people with high blood pressure.

Moving for Better Balance – In the United States, falls related injuries are major public health concerns for individuals over 65 as well as those living with chronic conditions such as heart disease.  Moving for Better Balance is a 12-week evidence-based group exercise program, based on the principles of Tai Chi, is led by a qualified instructor and teaches eight movements

modified especially for falls prevention. The program works to improve balance, muscle strength, flexibility and mobility to enhance overall physical health, which leads to better functioning in daily activities. The program works to improve balance, muscle strength, flexibility and mobility to enhance overall physical health, which leads to better functioning in daily

activities. Participation in the program may also result in better mental  health, reduced stress, improved memory and cognition, and increased self-esteem.

Alzheimer’s Support Flex & Reflect – small group program aims to keep patients and their caregivers socially engaged, cognitively challenged, and physically active. The program incorporates games, art, puzzles, fellowship and activities to increase blood flow to the heart and brain. These activities can preserve memory and slow progress of the disease.

Additional offerings in 2021 will include Tobacco Cessation and Healthy Weight and Your Child.

For additional information on the YMCA Healthy Living Center and their suite of programs, contact Chronic Disease Prevention Director Devyn Peskorski at (814) 899-9622. These programs are open to the public; YMCA membership is not required.


A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Eastside YMCA Member Les Finnell started off slowly and put in hard work over two years. Here’s his story of inspiration in his own words:

After being rushed to the Emergency Room in an ambulance during an anaphylactic episode in 2016, I remember the doctor telling me “this is your last bus ride; something has to change.” I knew something truly did have to change but did not know how. Back then, daily activities like grocery shopping would exhaust me. I had a bad ankle, after a failed ankle surgery, which limited my mobility, and my weight was the highest it had ever been. How could I exercise when I could barely walk?

I joined the Eastside YMCA two years ago, when I weighed over 400 pounds. At the recommendation of my doctor, I started taking water fitness classes twice a week. The classes were fun, low impact on my ankle, and perfect for my activity level at the time. As time went on, I started losing weight, and my mobility improved. I changed my fitness routine, lifting weights and doing various cardio exercises. I now work out six days a week. I also hired a personal trainer, Jack Newport, and work out with him three days a week. Jack pushes me to stay on track with my nutrition and diet, and to exceed my limits in the gym.

Now, a little more than two years later, I can proudly say I have lost 230 pounds!


Congratulations, Les, on keeping up your hard work for a healthier you! You’re an inspiration to all!

Edinboro Resident Schedules Brew Run & Walk for County YMCA

Maria Schall, founder and event director, recently announced this year’s Brew Run and Walk will be held on Friday, July 26th at the beautiful Sprague Farm & Brew Works located at 22043 US  HWY 6 & 19 in nearby Venango.

Participants can run, jog or walk their way around this approximately two mile trail which borders scenic and historic French Creek and winds its way through sixty acres of pristine farmland. 

The 7 PM start time will give everyone an adequate opportunity to complete the two-mile course in the cool of the evening while enjoying a canopy of oak trees, fields of switch grass, wooded trails and perhaps a bit of mud in the late July twilight.  Runners and walkers on the 2 mile trail can stop along the route to enjoy some refreshment before returning to the Sprague Farm Pavilion where, after crossing the finish line, will have access to snacks.  Also, each runner will receive a refreshment from the Sprague Farm & Brew Works and the Riverside Brewing Company.  Other beverages will be available as well.

This is a win/win opportunity for everyone.  Participants can pre-register for a $30 fee by July 20th.  Late registration up to and including the day of the event is $35. Register online or drop off or mail a check made payable to County YMCA with the registration form to County YMCA 12285 YMCA Drive, Edinboro, PA 16412

For this reasonable fee, everyone will have the opportunity to join fellow runners and walkers and to enjoy the summer vistas of French Creek valley while proceeds from the Brew Run will be directed to benefit Edinboro’s own County YMCA.

Registration forms are available at the main desk at the County Y, Brink Ink Screen Printing & Embroidery and the Lakeside Bagel and Deli, all located on Route 6N west of Edinboro; at the Sprague Farm & Brew Works at 22113 U.S. Highway 6 & 19 just north of Venango in nearby Crawford County and at Achilles Running Shop, 2309 W 12th St. in Erie.  Additional information is available by calling the County YMCA at 814-734-5700.  Note that all participants in this annual event must be 21 years old. 

Color Run Erie: The Love Tour

The Color Run will return to Erie on Saturday, August 10 bringing a new vibe with “The Love Tour”! 

This will mark the fifth time that the event has been hosted in Erie since 2014, and the first time since 2017. 

Dubbed “Happiest 5K on the Planet,” The Color Run is an untimed 5K race in which thousands of Color Runners start the race wearing white and are doused from head to toe in different colors along the race course. The race will start and end in Perry Square in Downtown Erie. 

The YMCA of Greater Erie will serve as the local charity partner, receiving a portion of the event proceeds.

On “The Love Tour,” The Color Run is encouraging people to show love for themselves, each other and the planet. The tour will also feature a new 1970s inspired aesthetic, new photo ops and redesigned merchandise. The course will feature two new “double color” zones, in addition to the regular checkpoints, where runners are doused in color powder during their run. After the race, runners will enjoy a re-imagined finish festival, featuring a live DJ and massive color throws. 

Use promo code #YMCAERIE to save $5 on Groovy, Groovier, and Far Out Color Run registrations .

Click Here to register for the event.

Click Here to volunteer for the event.
Make sure to select the Y as your charity of choice.


As the world’s leading voluntary health organization in Alzheimer’s care, support and research, the Alzheimer’s Association is committed to raising awareness of this fatal brain disease. In partnership with the Eastside Family YMCA, “Flex and Reflect” will offer exercise classes for your spirit, mind and body.

The diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease or another related dementia is life changing. It often leads to questions and feelings of uncertainty and loneliness. Our new program, Flex and Reflect, can help people in the early stages of cognitive disorders, and their caregivers, in three areas that may have a positive effect on brain health.

Exercise Your Spirit: Staying socially engage may support brain health. Share these activities with others with Alzheimer’s and caregivers offers a sense of community.

Exercise Your Mind:  Challenging your mind through art, games, or puzzles may have short- and long –term benefits for your brain

Exercise Your Body: Physical activity elevates the heart rate and increases blood flow to the brain and body.

Debbie Wisinski, the Constituent Services Coordinator at the Alzheimer’s Association, has been facilitating early stage social engagement programs for person with a diagnosis of dementia and their care partners for several years now. Wisinksi is very excited about this new program and partnership.

“Early-Stage Social Engagement Programs offer a fun and comfortable way for people living in the early stage of Alzheimer’s or other dementia to get out, get active and get connected with one another through a variety of social events and community-based activities determined by individual needs and interests of the participants and that promote social interaction and companionship,” said Wisinski, “We are so excited to see this new initiative take off at the Eastside Family YMCA in Erie”.

Classes will begin on June 11, from 1 to 2:30 PM and run every Tuesday and Thursday in the Eastside YMCA, GE Multi-Purpose Room. Class size is limited, pre-registration is required. For pre-registration and more information interested constituents can contact Debbie Wisinski at 814-456-9200 ext 5101.

“At the Y, a supportive community is a big part of wellness. At every age and every level of activity, you’ll find people looking to live a little bit healthier. Members and program participants often cite the support and enthusiasm of fellow participants and staff as some of the key factors in their achievement of greater well-being,” said YMCA Healthy Living Director Kelly Gibson. “Living healthy is about spirit, mind and body at every age and stage. We offer classes and programs for those dealing with chronic disease, joint and injury rehabilitation, and cancer survivorship in addition to health assessments and wellness coaching.”

The Association also has a toll-free, 24/7 helpline available at 800-272-3900. Information is also available at alzconnected.org.