Month of Caring

When we think of Westerville, a vibrant historic city comes to mind. While the City is growing and thriving, it is easy to forget that we still have neighbors in need. The beauty of this time of year is that we are reminded we have the power to help those in need in our community.

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Two Westerville organizations supporting residents in need during the holiday season you probably know well: Westerville Area Resource Ministry (W.A.R.M.) and Caring & Sharing.

“This is our busiest time of the year. The need is greater during the holidays and donations for our 500 client families will help for months to come. Every little bit counts,” said Claire Rockwell, Westerville Area Resource Ministry.

Parks and Recreation’s Month of Caring at the Westerville Community Center runs through December 21 benefiting both W.A.R.M. and Caring & Sharing. Anyone can participate.

“This program is one we love to put on every year. We want it to be easy for our patrons to drop-off donations before they work out or take a class at the Community Center. It is amazing to see how quickly the donation box fills up day after day,” said Lyn Kiger, Westerville Parks and Recreation Supervisor.

But the season of giving doesn’t stop with the Parks and Recreation Department. Every department within the City of Westerville participated in the annual food drive for Westerville Caring & Sharing.

City employees have collected 140,101 lbs of food since 1996. Linda Weir, Westerville Fire Division’s Administrative Secretary, helped start the internal initiative almost two decades ago.

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“This food drive has grown tremendously over the past 19 years. We have a friendly competition among the departments to see who can collect the most donations. Each year, our city employees continue to step up for a good cause,” said Linda Weir.

This year was no different. Three city trucks pulled up to Caring & Sharing’s donation site on Thursday, December 11 to drop off all kinds of grocery staples and toys for the kids.

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“This is my favorite part of the year, you can see the difference you are going to make in Westerville, in the lives of local families,” said Linda.

Westerville Caring & Sharing is an all-volunteer organization and uses a temporary site during the holidays to distribute to more than 300 families.

“We start with this huge empty building. The space is graciously donated for us to use and within a few days it is packed with toys, food, and volunteers. We wouldn’t be able to have this impact without the volunteers,” said Westerville Caring & Sharing volunteer Mary Pugh.

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Because it is mainly Westerville residents helping others in Westerville, the organization keeps all the families confidential.

“People are shy to ask for help, and it is important for them to keep their dignity. We go to great lengths to show families that they can come to us if they need it and they have no reason to feel embarrassed,” said Mary.

As Westerville Caring & Sharing helpers prepared for the big distribution day on December 15, volunteers from the Westerville Service Department unloaded 10,274 lbs of donations with smiles, jokes and a great attitude.

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Many of the departments go above and beyond the citywide food drive, hosting other holiday fundraisers in the community to give back. For more ways to donate or details on our Month of Caring, visit the City website at westerville.org.

Education & Exploration

Like a Fish

As you watch Andrea Kontras glide through the water, it is apparent she is in her element. With every turn and stroke, she gains strength and momentum while swimming at the Westerville Community Center.

“My body feels better in the water, my passion is swimming,” said Andrea, 36, a Special Olympics Swimmer.

Andrea has been in the pool more than 25 years, most of it training competitively. She reached the pinnacle of her swimming career this past summer, becoming the first person from Westerville to go to the Special Olympics USA Games for swimming.

Andrea was chosen to represent Ohio after her stellar performance at the 2012 Ohio Special Olympics, where she won two gold medals.

“I was so excited to go to nationals. I even had a countdown going,” she said.

During the USA Games last June in Princeton, New Jersey, Andrea took home medals in four swimming events: Silver in the 100-yard Freestyle and the 4X25-yard Medley Relay and Bronze in the 50-yard Backstroke and 50-yard Freestyle.

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Andrea’s face lit up when she talked about the whole national experience. “It was so much fun and the medals are awesome. I feel proud that all the hard-work paid off,” she said.

Her coaches are extremely proud of her as well.

“This was such an amazing opportunity for Andrea. She got to practice at a higher level and work with different coaches in a new environment. We couldn’t be happier for her,” said Special Olympics Coach Lauren Jennings.

Since the big games, Andrea has been full speed ahead at practice. Her next competition is just around the corner, on November 1 for the Regional Aquatics Qualifier in Upper Arlington.

“Nationals really gave her confidence. Andrea came back with extra determination and focus; and she is faster now,” said Coach Jennings.

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Andrea has always been tenacious about swimming. When she was just 10-years-old she wanted to try out for the Hilliard Special Olympics Swim Team.

“You had to swim from one end of the pool to the other without touching the wall. During the competition they put me in an end lane,” she said. “I nearly drowned, doggie-paddling and everything. But I finished and got fourth place.”

From that moment on, Andrea began to develop her love for swimming. She started competing in many kinds of races, although her favorite events are the Freestyle and the Backstroke. She even set a personal record at nationals at 2:17 for the 100-yard Freestyle.

“When I’m swimming fast, I feel like fish. It keeps me strong, healthy and active,” she said.

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Andrea has put in some serious hours at the Community Center over last few months with both Parks and Recreation staff and her Special Olympics team supporting her along the way.

“Her dedication to the sport has been inspiring, and other swimmers have taken notice of Andrea in the lap pool. It is great to see all her training pay off,” said Westerville Parks and Recreation Facilities Supervisor J.R. Fourqurean.

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“I really like swimming here. I was getting in 1800 meters a week over the summer,” said Andrea.

Her dreams haven’t stopped with nationals either. The next stop: the July 2015 Special Olympics World Summer Games in Los Angeles.

There is no doubt with her spirit, Andrea could go global. We wish you the best of luck in your future competitions Andrea!

For more information on Westerville Special Olympics, visit westervillespecialolympics.org

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Parks & Facilities

Climb On

Every year, we scrub, wax and shine the Community Center during the annual maintenance period. You might see some of the more visual improvements like a fresh coat of paint, but there are other differences you may not notice at first.

Our Zenith Climbing Wall just got a face lift with a brand new arrangement of its handholds.

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During our summer tune-up, the grips are taken down and cleaned and the rock wall is vacuumed; then the paths that a climber can take up to the top are re-routed. This may sound like a simple process, but it takes quite a bit of planning and the right person for the task. The Climbing Wall Guide making it all happen is Katie Bondy. She teaches classes at the Community Center and also trains the climbing wall staff. Katie has a special love for the climbing wall that shines through in her work for the city.

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She first took up climbing when she was just 7-years-old, and quickly found it was something that not only challenged, but empowered her. Katie has spina bifida, scoliosis and leg length discrepancy that prevent her from being able to run, but not climb. “It didn’t matter that I needed to stay off my left leg, I was able to use my upper body strength to climb even though that is not the traditional way,” said Katie. ” I don’t go for speed and focus on power and technique instead.”

This type of exercise is good for her body as well. “If I’m not active then I can’t walk. I have to maintain a certain weight to keep pressure off my back and stay loose in my lower body so my legs don’t tighten up.”

Climbing continually pushes her, and she is in better shape now climbing five days a week then when she was playing college lacrosse. “There are moves you have to do where you need both of your feet, and I have to be creative to figure out how to climb using three limbs. I love the challenge of climbing, it gives me something to own and be proud of.”

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Her passion makes her an asset to the Parks and Recreation team. “I came into the department wanting to work the climbing wall. It is a place where I can teach kids and adults something new and really see the outcome of their effort,” said Katie.

Katie tells a story of one teaching opportunity that has stuck with her this summer. “About a month ago, I saw a little girl with spina bifida. She wanted to climb the wall, and the answer was simple to me. Why not let her climb? She was so excited that someone told her she could do something, and did not judge her. She was with her grandma and I asked how bad her the curve of her spine was, and I was informed that she will have to have surgery. I told her to never let anyone tell you that you can not do something because you’re different. Always try to prove them wrong. She tried to make it up the wall and got about eight feet off the ground. So, because this little girl had a special place in my heart, I climbed with her. Even though she did not make it to the top, I was only one handhold away. The smile on her face made my week.” After that day, the little girl has continued to come back to the Community Center several times a week to climb. She hasn’t reached the top yet, but is getting close.

And it is not just Katie’s attitude that makes her a hit on the climbing wall, her strategical approach comes through in her work. Her method was different this year as she constructed all four climbing levels. It was based on handhold styles. For example, the first wall is tailored toward beginners and the style of the handhold is shaped like a cup, which is easier to grip. As handholds get smaller, they require strength in different muscles and force climbers to use the natural formation of the rocks as the route becomes more advanced.

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As she began restructuring the climbing wall for a new year, you could see her mind creating a design. “I think of it is as a dance, a kind of art form. I want it to feel good as you’re climbing. I have to incorporate moves that everyone can do factoring in wing-span and skill level.” Katie even spelled out the words REC and TOP on the rock wall with handhold letters to make it more playful.

She is excited for people to try out the new course. “Everyone should try it at least once! It is cool to say that you beat the wall, conquered your fears. You will feel that excitement; it is fun!” 

And there are plenty of opportunities at Community Center to climb. Parks and Recreation is offering a climbing class just for adults for the first time this fall.  For more information on our open climb hours and programs, click on the highlighted links. So go ahead and climb on!

Healthy Active Lifestyle