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YMCA ball provides 'an unusual evening in Los Alamos'

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By Kirsten Laskey

After experiencing several problems in a YMCA program, Maria Wolfe decided to pull her son Sam, who has Asperger Syndrome, out of the program. It was too much for him, decided Wolfe, who serves as treasurer of the Family YMCA board of directors.However, a call from Ben Sandoval, Espanola Teen Center director, changed her mind. Wolfe recalled Sandoval asking her what the YMCA could do to help Sam and, and Sandoval saying, “There are no bad kids.” After a number of meetings and program leaders gaining an understanding of Sam’s situation, Sam’s experience at the YMCA began to change. “He was having fun,” Wolfe said. “For me, that meant a lot.” She added there is nothing worse than not getting children what they need and nothing better than meeting their needs. At the Red and Black Ball, held Saturday at Central Avenue Grill, corporate sponsors, business owners and community members kicked off a fundraising campaign to ensure the organization continues to help young people. It appears things got off to a good start; about $55,000 was raised during the ball, Linda Daly, executive director of the YMCA, told the Monitor Tuesday. “It went wonderfully,” she said. “It exceeded our expectations.” Throughout the campaign, volunteers will be asking YMCA members and supporters to help continue the YMCA mission through pledges, Daly said. The campaign will run through March but pledges will continue to be received throughout this year. To energize the community to support the YMCA, a huge party was held. Party goers, dressed in eveningwear, enjoyed a meal catered by Central Avenue Grill, browsed items included in a silent auction and bid on other items during a live auction.The theme of the ball was “An Evening in Paris,” which was reflected by an enormous model of the Eiffel Tower.“(It’s) what we call the adult prom,” said board member Martha Waters. “No one goes away disappointed.” Board member Roger Waterman said, “This evening is special. The Red and Black Ball is an annual event. Friends and supporters come for a very nice and unusual evening in Los Alamos … We get to celebrate the Y’s mission, and the Y’s core values, and the Y’s contributions to the community and have a great time.”Daly said about 170 people attended the ball Saturday. It’s the ninth year the event has been held and every year it sells out, she said. The stakes are bigger this year, however: The goal for the campaign has been doubled to  $150,000. Daly said the goal was raised because in addition to the YMCA scholarships and programs, the new teen center in Española requires funding.Wolfe explained the YMCA helps families who can’t afford to send their children to YMCA. Supporting the YMCA allows for this financial aid to continue, she added. “It’s a matter of giving from the heart to the Y,” Wolfe said. Waterman knows personally the charity YMCA provides those who have low incomes. He said his father, growing up in the 1930s, learned to swim at the YMCA. “I always say (my father) could only afford to go to church and the Y because they were both free,” Waterman joked. In addition to asking participants to open their wallets for the YMCA, the board recognized several individuals who have made significant impacts on the YMCA. Service to Youth Awards were presented to Española’s Mayor Joseph Maestas, who helped make the teen center a reality; Dave Whitaker of KSL Services, who provided volunteer hours to construct the teen center; and Sandoval, who serves as a role model to the youth who use the center.The teen center was hailed as success throughout the event. Chris Ortega, board president, said, “(You’ve) done a really remarkable job down there … it’s a place where kids want to come to after school. I think its something that is really working down there.” Sandoval commented, “It’s awesome to see what’s happening in Española.” He said about 300 young people are members at the teen center. Several teens have chosen to move away from having run-ins with the law in favor of the programs offered at the center, Sandoval added.He also extended thanks to the YMCA supporters. “I believe strongly it takes family to run a program like this,” Sandoval said.