The staff at the Lowe’s YMCA in Mooresville had an idea initiated by aquatics director Jenifer Clifford and an aquatics volunteer and former Marine, Joe Collins.
Director Erika Arnold and the rest of the staff joined in and the result is a first-responder and military appreciation luncheon called Celebrating Our Heroes. The inaugural event was held Oct. 17 in the gymnasium at the Lowes YMCA.
Along with Mooresville Mayor Miles Atkins, the group attending included a gamut of heroes. Retired military, including WWII Navy veteran, 89-year-old Don Hasely, a Mooresville resident, and many Marines; firefighters, both Mooresville and volunteer; emergency responders, sheriff’s office responders and policemen.
“This is really something they (the staff at the YMCA) don’t have to do,” Mooresville Chief of Police Carl Robbins. “First responders never will ask for recognition, but the fact that people are going out of their way to honor first responders is a wonderful gesture and to know that people do support us.”
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Robbins said, “Our Y here has been a part of the fabric of our community. It’s a gathering point. It’s an institution that is so well respected and when you say ‘YMCA,’ it’s synonymous with all the great values that people aspire to.”
The YMCA preschoolers almost stole the show with their enthusiastic Pledge of Allegiance, but the heroes joined in with them to kick off the event. Cameron Rinker, Lowe’s YMCA membership director, gave the blessing before the meal and commented, “What these folks do for us allows us to live the way we get to live in the United States. If it wasn’t for the people in this room and what they do, we wouldn’t have the freedom we have today.”
Mooresville fire and rescue firefighters – Captain Eric Pope, Mooresville firefighter Marc Baker, who is also a Lake Norman volunteer firefighter, engineer Joseph Campo and Thomas Watt, (also a former Marine) – were happy for a free lunch.
But Pope added, “We enjoy getting out and seeing the public we serve. When they invite us, we’re grateful. We have calls with the police and interact, but we don’t get to meet the veterans, and of course, we appreciate their service. When they invite us to something like this, it’s good for us to interact.”
Retired Marine veterans Luca Catrone, (1959-1966), Joe Vallone (1954-59) and Dick Camery (1960-80), attended. They are members of the Marine Corps League of Iredell County.
“The Y gives people a chance to socialize with other folks,” Camery said. “It gives the children a chance to exercise and hopefully get rid of some of the obesity today’s children have. We used to go out to play outside all the time and come home when the streetlights came on. Today’s kids have the Y.”
Mayor Atkins noted much of first responders’ and miliary’s work can be thankless, and this was a great opportunity to thank them. He added the Lowe’s YMCA “is stellar, but a lot of our vets don’t know about the resources here.”
Atkins said he recently told a group of veterans about the event and someone asked him, “Where’s the Y?” Events such as the heroes luncheon will just get bigger as word spreads and helps raise awareness of what the Y does for its community, he said.
Shaun Bock, the Y’s lead swim instructor, said, “I would just like to say that I am so grateful the Lowe’s YMCA was able to put this event together to showcase all the unsung heroes that keep our community and country safe. These heroes sacrifice their lives each and every day without asking for anything in return – this was our chance to truly thank them face to face.”