Y Story: Diana Geller
When Diana Geller thinks back on her time at the YMCA-YWCA of the National Capital Region, she starts to tear-up, “The Y just had such a profound impact on my life - it is really emotional for me.”
Living in Montreal, Diana’s mother moved her and her siblings to Ottawa when she was just 5 years old. “My mom had finally made the decision to leave my father, whom she described as ‘difficult’ to live with. My father was a Holocaust survivor and I believe my mother, siblings, and I experienced intergenerational trauma as a result of his horrendous experiences in Poland and Germany during World War II.”
The Y became part of Diana’s life when she was just 13 years old. It was a time of transition; her mother had just become a single parent and was reliant on social assistance to take care of her family. The new home they were creating happened to be within walking distance of what is now the Taggart family Y.
“Within a month of moving, my mom went to the Y and negotiated free memberships for myself and my siblings. I volunteered two hours a week at the Y throughout all of my high school life and in turn, I was able to take the Junior Leaders in Training Program, attend years of camp, and join swimming and first aid lessons.”
“In a nutshell, the Y gave me the opportunity to gain skills that helped lift me out of poverty, and has allowed me to become a person who can give back to the community. The Y gave me confidence through building athletic and coaching skills, the chance to obtain both swimming and canoeing certifications, and even leadership skills when I taught younger kids during my time as a camp counsellor. Attending Camp at the Y was the highlight of my high-school years. Not only did I create life-long memories and learn new skills, it was the friends I made – it was a group of my peers who didn’t know or care that I was the ‘disadvantaged kid’. I felt included.”
Upon graduating from high school Diana earned her engineering degree, followed by her Bachelors of Education. After 30 years of teaching high school math and science, combined with volunteering and coaching approximately 35 teams and clubs, Diana has had the opportunity to work with children and youth from diverse backgrounds. She has witnessed first-hand the ways kids deal with what life has to throw at them.
“I think children and youth need to be physically and mentally active in order to grow and reach their potential. It helps them build resilience to weather life’s storms, and to build confidence. They need strong and positive role models who exemplify values that, above all else, value people over possessions. I believe children and youth grow through doing, and experience. This is why the Y is so important. It provides experiences: encouraging working together, and opportunities to be physically active across a wide range of sports. Most importantly, the Y tries to include any child who turns to them for experiences and opportunities.”
Recently Diana sat down and reflected on her experience at the Y, and it moved her to become part of the Y’s monthly giving program and furthermore, to include a legacy gift to the organization in her will. When asked what motivated her to make this decision she shared,
“I truly believe that the Y was the single most important factor in my life that allowed me to move from growing up below the poverty line, from some very traumatic family circumstances, to becoming a part of the middle class. I have been able to have a family and have financial stability and security, as well as a rewarding career teaching kids. I hope that I can help some other disadvantaged youth to have the opportunity to move out of their disadvantaged life circumstance.
“I think the Y embodies what can be described as the best of Canadian values: giving opportunities, valuing the importance of physical activity, and not caring about a person’s race, circumstances, gender, or sexual orientation. I whole-heartedly believe in the organization’s importance within Canadian society. It has stood the test of time, it stretches internationally, and it has a holistic view of what is important for healthy communities.
Diana, thank you for sharing what a positive influence the Y has had on your life, thank you for devoting your life to mentoring the hundreds of kids who have passed through your classroom over the past thirty years - but most importantly, thank you for giving kids the opportunity to experience positive and life-changing programs at the Y, creating moments that would otherwise be out of reach.