Community members share how the Rochester YMCA changed their lives

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(ABC 6 News) – As January comes to a close, so does an invaluable community resource. The Rochester YMCA announced its closing earlier this month. Jan. 31 will be its last day.

"It was in the spring of 2017. I discovered a lump in my breast," said Bonnie Rivera, a cancer survivor. "I was then diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer. Which rocked my world."

Rivera went through almost a full year of chemotherapy, surgeries and radiation. She made it through with the support of her family.

"But it really takes it out of you."

That’s when Rivera found Livestrong — a program at the YMCA completely free to survivors, and to anyone bring treated for cancer. The program includes guided athletic training with a group of other survivors. Rivera believes the program changed her life.

"I’m not just a survivor. I am thriving after cancer. The Y was such a huge part of my recovery," she said. "I am in better shape now, and better health now than I was before my cancer diagnosis."

YMCA Livestrong was one of the only programs in Rochester that offered physical and mental recovery pathways.

"I don’t know how they’re going to fill [the gap] now that the Y is leaving."

Vice President of Operations, Mike Lavin, says the building is oversized and inefficient. The pandemic exasperated these issues — making the cost to run the facility too expensive.

"We’re just going to meet people where they’re at," Lavin said.

While the athletic center will be gone, Lavin says they won’t leave the community. They will continue to run the Early Childhood Learning Center and offer outreach as well as youth social services. However, many feel they’re losing a second home.

Donyale Johnson has been coming to the Rochester YMCA since the 90s.

"It was the only place for us to play basketball back in the day," Johnson said.

He now coaches youth basketball, not with any program or for reimbursement, but just because basketball changed his life as a young person. Some men he played basketball with years ago came back this month for one last game.

"Lifetime achievements and lifetime friendships and stuff like that. It teaches how to interact with people," he said.

He wants to pass that knowledge on to younger generations.

"We have to find something for them to do. Because there’s no telling where their life can go without a place like this to come to," Johnson added.

His teammates are now working together to find a new space to host youth basketball games. They are asking the community for help. Johnson is devastated to lose the YMCA, but he isn’t giving up hope.

"Not everything lasts forever. So you have to keep coming up with ways and coming up with things to do for the kids and the community."