Child Swimmer Captures Hearts and Inspires at the East L.A. YMCA

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As 8-year old YMCA member David Ruiz took to the pool for a recent swim meet, parents and competitors were cheering for him to win. The story and courage of one family has inspired and strengthened the sense of local YMCA community as the Weingart East Los Angeles YMCA prepares to host its 6th Annual Heart of the Family Luncheon fundraiser.

For many years, the Ruiz family has exemplified volunteerism, devoting many hours each week to help the Weingart East Los Angeles (WELA) YMCA conduct its programs, ready to step in when extra hands are needed. When Hilda Ruiz was diagnosed with cancer, the family remained involved with the YMCA, as this mother told them that cancer would not defeat her. As she recovered, YMCA family and friendship ties grew stronger as Hilda continued to assist the swimming program and she knew her young son, David, lived for his time in the pool and swim meets.

As Hilda’s health improved though, her young son was diagnosed with cancer as well. David recently underwent treatment that required a period of induced coma. As the doctor explained this, David wanted to know if Tuesday’s treatment would allow him to swim on Saturday at his YMCA. The doctor defined the likelihood as improbable, but possible, and David accepted that. As he woke on Thursday, he pled his case with his parents and physician, and the doctor agreed to let him swim once and told his young patient he would be on hand there. Everyone had been following the story of the 8-year old, and Ruiz approached the pool with his surgical mask on. Families cried and cheered as David removed his mask and dove into the water. Upon completing his swim, he replaced his mask and told his physician and parents, “See? It was no big deal.”

The courage and resilience displayed by the Ruiz family through their challenges has not gone unnoticed among YMCA members who, despite the low-income demographic of the area, have stepped forward to help them. The Ruiz family credits their second home, the East L.A. YMCA, for helping them focus on wellness, and feel connected to their community.

Mrs. Ruiz explains, “For us, our Weingart East L.A. YMCA has been a place where we gather with family and friends. Staff members are our extended family and we have met many new friends there over the years. As my 8-year old son and I battled cancer these years and our family suffered severe financial loss, the one consistent element in our lives has been the YMCA, a shelter my children needed to live a normal life away from hospitals and clinics. It was the place where my son David learned to swim at the age of 3 and the place he continues to look forward to going back to after his cancer treatments. Knowing the swim team needs him and misses him gives him something positive to focus on in difficult times.”

Victor Dominguez, Executive Director of the East Los Angeles YMCA said, “This branch stands out as a center of wellness and as a local gathering place for families. Our YMCA offers a broad array of youth programs that develop leadership skills, encourage individuals to work toward goals, and reinforce character and values such as respect, responsibility, honor, and friendship.”

Programs are funded thanks to events like the upcoming Dia de Los Muertos-themed Weingart East Los Angeles YMCA 6th Annual Heart of the Family Luncheon on Thursday, October 28, 2010 from 11A to 2P. The WELA YMCA will host this event at the Music Center, Performing Arts Center of Los Angeles County located within the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion at 135 North Grand Ave. This year’s honorees include Heart of the Family recipient Hector Barreto and Heart of the Community Awardee, ABC 7 “Vista L.A.” show.

Appointed by President George W. Bush, Barreto served as the 21st Administrator of Small Business Administration and is an active member of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, which was founded by his father Hector Barreto Sr. He has also served as Chairman of the Board for the Latin Business Association and becomes the 6th recipient of the Heart of the Family award.

Producers, directors, and on air personalities, Danny Romero and Jovana Lara will be on hand to receive the Heart of the Community award in recognition of their weekly Sunday morning broadcast that showcases Southern California’s Latino community.

Dignitaries attending the Weingart East Los Angeles YMCA 6th Annual Heart of the Family Luncheon include Congresswoman Judy Chu, Assembly Speaker John Perez, and Councilmember Jose Huizar, a former recipient of the award.

As to the meaning of the East L.A. YMCA, Hilda Ruiz sums it up this way: “It is the place where I give back to others and help whenever possible because at every stage of my own cancer, no matter what condition I was in, I was always needed and welcomed. So, the YMCA to me represents life and hope. Our YMCA gives meaning to the lives of those that think there is none. It gives value to those that think that life is worthless. And it gives meaning to those that do not know what to do with their lives. Our YMCA teaches everyone to give and receive life. It is not a place to exercise...it is our local heart of the family, a place where you learn how to live and how to pass that learning on."

For tickets, sponsorship opportunities, and information regarding the Weingart East Los Angeles YMCA, contact Executive Director, Victor Dominguez, at 323-260-7005 or victordominguez(at)ymcala(dot)org.

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