How I Joined “Team YMCA”

It was post-WWII Lawrence, MA. I was 8 and had just found out that I didn’t make the local little league team. I was in love with baseball, and not making that team was devastating. But looking back on it now, it was probably the best thing that could have ever happened to me.

Disappointed and with nothing else to do, some buddies told me about the YMCA north of town, about five miles from my home. They invited me to tag along one Saturday and I loved what I saw.

Appeals to my mother to go back to the YMCA were successful. She showed me how to ride the bus there, then home again. I went as often as I could, spending every Saturday with my buddies playing ping pong and gym games, and swimming. I went year-round to the YMCA until I was 14 years old, swimming on the YMCA Swim Team and working as a swim instructor. I worked my way through all the swim levels and earned my Red Cross certification for life saving.

It’s through this experience that I developed a new found confidence. With it, at 16, I took my first airplane ride alone to the World’s Fair in New York City. Before departure, I did not make a hotel reservation. Upon arrival, I looked for the YMCA that I knew was there and booked a room. I knew that I could count on the YMCA, wherever I went.

Little did I know that these YMCA experiences would later earn me my wife! Just shy of 18, I joined the U.S. Navy.  Stationed in Pocatello, Idaho, for schooling, I met a lovely young lady named Dixie, but standing between me and asking for her hand in marriage were a line of protective brothers: “We can’t just let anyone marry our sister.” I had to prove myself worthy by winning a swimming contest against her, an excellent swimmer who grew up attending the Pocatello YMCA. I’ve been with Dixie for 46 years now and thank the YMCA every day for teaching this kid from the projects to swim!

The YMCA put me on a path that I could not have imagined as an 8-year-old baseball player. My Y experiences gave me leadership skills, athletic talents, and confidence. Today, I’m proud to give back as a member of the Board of Directors for the Southern District YMCA and look forward to creating more great experiences for kids who might be “sitting on the sidelines” as we look to bring a YMCA facility to the Exeter area.

Joe Grillo
Senior Consultant and Expert Witness, IBEX Engineering Services, Inc.
Board Member, Southern District YMCA

2 thoughts on “How I Joined “Team YMCA”

  1. Great story, Joe. Camp Lincoln has been a very positive factor in my son’s life. He started as a camper at age 6, attended almost every summer as a camper until he was old enough to participate in the CIT program and has been a Counselor ever since. He is now 20 and still loves Camp Lincoln!

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