Learning how to swim in the 1970s at the Long Island YMCA near Smithtown, New York wasn’t a typical rite of passage for The Y in Arnold member Matt Puglisi. Matt grew up on Long Island and remembers that earning swimming certification cards from the Y meant serious credibility among the neighborhood kids. He chuckles recalling how boys carried certification cards for each level of achievement (novice, intermediate, advanced) and for all swim strokes in their wallets as if they were a New York State driver’s license or a hundred dollar bill. Growing up in a place that was effectively surrounded by water, his recollections were, indeed, more than fond memories of childhood anecdotes. Swimming classes were taught in the waters of Long Island Sound at Sunken Meadow State Park; often swim instructors were also working as summer camp counselors at the Y. Learning to swim was a community event that also reflected on parents. Matt remembers even his friends’ moms seemed reassured of their good parenting if their kids could collect as many swim certifications as possible. Not unlike having a booklet of your child’s vaccination history from the doctor’s office, having a collection of swim certifications meant your child was safe to be out in the world and on the beaches of Long Island.
Safety, community, confidence, pride. Again and again these are the words that are often used when Y members describe the greatest benefits that the Y brings to them. Whether the story is from the 1950s, the 1970s or today, Matt’s happy memories of swimming lessons and the almighty certification cards are a good example of the Y’s enduring mission—To give every child a chance to appreciate what achievement feels like. Because positive, motivated, active kids are more likely to become confident, capable, caring adults who make community involvement a priority in their lives.