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For so many in our community, “the Y” means something very special or unique to each individual. It might be where your first sport experience was, where your child learned how to swim, where you work, where you go to meet your fitness goals, or a place to connect with friends.  

I recently received a Y story from Denise Dantzler, associate attorney from Kansas City and a long-time Y member, who shared how her childhood Y experiences influenced the young professional leader she is today.  

Here is Denise’s story:

► In my early life, the YMCA translated to “safe space.”

That is why my parents decided to sign me up for my first organized sport, tee ball, 23 years ago at the Maple Street YMCA. Besides hearing about the Y on the radio, my parents learned about the youth programs offered through a family friend and loved the convenience of being able to work out while I “practiced” and expended my 3-year-old energy. After my first tee ball season, my parents quit their existing membership and became Y members, loving the family-oriented environment the Y provided. Though my parents didn’t need financial assistance, they loved how affordable the programs were, so they signed me up for more.

At age 4, I was a Mighty Kicker, playing on my first Y soccer team.  At 7, I was a White Group SFC camper, eager for a trip to the playground. And at 10, though under 4’5”, I even started playing basketball.

Of these activities, I cherished my time at SFC the most; so from age 6-12, I was ALWAYS at the Y during the summers, ending the program as a polka dot. Because I was an only child, socialization was a top priority for my parents—so the YMCA became that for me, a safe place where I could be myself all those years.


► In my teen years, the YMCA translated to “belonging space.”

From age 13 to 17, I attended both the teen after school program and summer camp. This is the age that doubt creeps in, but, through the brilliance of our teen counselor, the YMCA was a belonging space for each of us. Though we all came from diverse racial and socioeconomic backgrounds, we were a Y family. We competed against each other, playing knock out at the PVA. We schemed, trying to get extra turns on Mario Kart and Guitar Hero. We skated until our legs gave out, and we even mourned the loss of a friend together.

During this time, I also volunteered at the Maple Street YMCA because my parents wanted me to give back to the place I called my second home—my safe space, my belonging space.


► In my college years, the YMCA translated to “professional space.”

At 17, the summer before I went to college, I worked as a front desk representative for two different YMCAs—which, for me at that time, could have easily found a space under Webster Dictionary’s definition of “hard work.” I traded my Y membership card for a Y badge, going from checking in myself to checking in and conversing with the early crowd as I brewed their morning coffee. Early in the morning and late at night, I sold memberships to those wanting to get fit, completed towel runs, toured new families through early childhood learning center, all while learning the importance of a smile and collected demeanor during difficult situations. 

From age 17-19, I worked winter and summer breaks when I could, and I even helped fundraise for the Strong Communities Campaign by running my own Facebook campaign.

In graduate school and now in my career, the YMCA now translates to “giving back space."

Though I do not physically step foot in the YMCA anymore, I try to donate when I can, particularly during the Strong Communities Campaign. 


---Throughout my life, the YMCA has always found a way to support and advance me.

Because the Y was a safe space, I learned to play and love soccer, with this love, I trained and ended up playing college soccer at the D1 level.

Because the Y was a belonging space, I made lifelong friends and mentors at the YMCA, and last August, 3 out of 6 bridesmaids in my wedding were those that I met at the YMCA. And, one of my camp counselors, who encouraged me to refine my skills in soccer, attended my wedding as well. Because the Y was a professional space, through volunteering and my “first real job,” I understood the meaning of hardwork, and in law school, I received one of the top awards in my graduating class, and now, I work as an IP attorney in Kansas City for a boutique law firm. I leverage the professional skills I learned the Y every day as an attorney.

Now as a giving back space, I look forward supporting the Greater Omaha YMCA as I can now and in future.

I know that for many, the Y has been or is a safe space, a belonging space, a professional space, or a giving back space as it was and is for me. And that is the intangible impact of the Y.”


Denise captured what it means to be a part of this special place called the Y. We are here for good. To learn more about our cause and our commitment to the community, visit us at


Tera Thomas, Vice President of Advancement

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Tera Thomas serves as the YMCA of Greater Omaha's Vice President of Advancement and has had a career within the YMCA in multiple states for over 18 years. Since 2003, she has helped to strengthen communities in Omaha, Iowa, Colorado and Kansas. She has held a variety of operational and association support roles and is very passionate about ensuring everyone has access to YMCA programs and services regardless of their background.