At the Y, we are focused on providing opportunities that have a lasting impact on the lives of our members, staff and volunteers. We also take pride in those who choose to give back as a result of their Y experiences. Within the Y’s Safety Around Water program, which provides free swim lessons to students from Joliet area schools, volunteer swim instructors Matthew Ruggiero and Cristal Ortiz are great examples of how the Y experience can come full circle.
Matthew, a junior at Lincoln-Way West High School, started taking swim lessons at the Smith Family YMCA when he was just five years old. At the age of 7, he joined the JETS Swim Team and swam in the program for seven years. For the last year, Matthew has worked as a lifeguard at the Y, and recently expressed an interest in becoming a volunteer swim instructor after a chance encounter with the YMCA’s Safety Around Water program.
“I was at the Y with a friend before work and we were asked to demonstrate dives for some of the students and I thought that was fun,” Matthew said.
Cristal, a student at Joliet Junior College, learned to swim in fifth grade when she had the opportunity to participate in the Y’s Safety Around Water program (then known as Project SOAR) while attending A.O. Marshall Elementary School. She first heard about opportunities to volunteer at the Y through a friend on social media. She has been a volunteer swim instructor in the Safety Around Water Program for over a year, drawing on her personal experiences to help teach students in her weekly lessons.
“I’ve lived in Joliet all my life and I’ve always loved the water and swimming. We would come to the Y on Tuesdays and Thursdays and I remember being excited about being able to go in the deep end,” she said. “Learning to swim is a lot of work, but it’s supposed to be fun. You have to make sure everyone feels comfortable and safe.”
Skills that Last a Lifetime
Both Matthew and Cristal agreed that their time volunteering at the YMCA has been incredibly rewarding.
“The students are always cool. I remember the first time that someone called me ‘Coach Matthew’ and it’s just the best feeling. I never thought I would hear that,” Matthew said. “I also feel like this has helped with my communication skills. I’m not the most talkative person and being around other people is helping, especially instructing a younger group of people.”
Cristal expressed similar feelings.
“It’s done a lot for my confidence. I’ve learned from the other instructors and become a better teacher, and even a better swimmer myself,” she said.
Matthew and Cristal also acknowledged the strong sense of community they feel each and every time they walk into the doors of the Smith Family YMCA.
“We’re a team and a family. All of us work together to help our students and our members,” Cristal said.
“Whether it was when I was with JETS or the people I work with at the Y now, everyone is relatable. We have definitely built a community,” Matthew said.
We thank Matthew and Cristal for volunteering at the Y and helping us in our mission to serve the community. If you would like to volunteer in our Safety Around Water program, or are interested in becoming a Y lifeguard, please contact:
Smith Family YMCA Aquatics Director
(815) 726-3939, ext. 417