Annually, the YMCA of Metropolitan Los Angeles honors employees and donors with service awards and recognition, usually in a large hotel ballroom downtown.
This year, the luncheon ceremony was held on October 14 under a large tent – with chandeliers – at Simon Meadow in Temescal Canyon.
Complete with valet parking, a bar and appetizers, this location leading into the Santa Monica Mountains, with the Pacific Ocean less than a mile away, exceeded expectations with its beauty and ease of service.
With the Y’s Pumpkin Path and Winding Way as a backdrop, Andrew Crowell, chairman of the Metro Y’s board of directors, welcomed everyone and noted, “We haven’t gathered in 21 months. But, we have not just persevered, we have thrived.”
He called the move to hold a large outdoor ceremony in Simon Meadow as “symbolic of how flexible we are as an organization. We pivot and adapt the needs of the community. As circumstances change, so do we.”
During Covid, the YMCA provided assistance to children who did not have WiFi, organized weekly food drives for communities and aided the homeless.
Longtime Palisades resident Cindy Simon was acknowledged as the “Patroness of the Palisades.” She told the almost 500 people gathered under a giant tent that “if you visited here almost 14 years ago, you would have seen dirt, a chain-link fence and a hillside laded with fallen branches.”
She noted that in 2007, when the Palisades Y was able to purchase the 4-acre Temecal property it had been leasing, Executive Director Carol Pfannkuche launched a fundraising drive and the property began undergoing a transformation.
Cindy and her husband Bill, who ran against Gray Davis in the 2002 gubernatorial election, made the major donation towards Simon Meadow.
“American Growers added irrigation and planted sycamore trees,” Simon said, and a permanent fence was built to enclose the property.
“Five years ago, Jim Kirtley [current Y executive director], who is always supportive of my ideas, allowed the creation of Winding Way,” said Simon, who explained how “we fill it with upcycled art.”
Simon said that last Sunday, she enjoyed listening to families who had come to the meadow to buy pumpkins. They all seemed to be delighted with the free and easy spirit of this area — “the four-acre jewel in the YMCA crown known as Simon Meadow.”
Next on the dais was Gigi Bostic, a youth participant in the Pali Y’s “Get Out, Get Moving” program that started during Covid as a way to get kids outdoors and away from screens.
Bostic said her family moved here about a year ago and she didn’t know anyone, so her mom made her come to the program.
“We played games and I had fun and I made friends,” she said. “I had joy that I hadn’t felt in a while. The Y isn’t just a great place, it’s a great world.”
The Waller Taylor Awards were handed out by Cristina Rose, a member of the Metro Y Board. “We closed down 26 facilities overnight [because of Covid mandates],” she said, and she noted this particular award is rarely given out, but this year two individuals would be honored: Mario Valenzuela and Lionnel Zaragoza.
Valenzuela, who started with the mid-Valley Y and is now the executive director of the Weingart Y in East L.A., was responsible for starting the Grab n’ Go during Covid that all Y’s have adopted. “Nobody in my community will go hungry,” he said. Valenzuela also served as the Y’s first president of equity.
Zaragoza started with the YMCA in 2000 and worked at the Palisades Y from 2001 to 2015 as the director of membership and healthy lifestyles. He is now the senior branch executive of the Metropolitan Y.
“Lionel was everywhere [during Covid],” Rose said. “He was on the streets talking to the homeless. He was in the offices of officials to clear regulations to reopen children services and the first to reopen Y’s to provide internet to children.”
Zaragoza would ask, “What can I do?” and Rose said that inspired other branches. He worked with a shower program for the homeless and ways to provide baby diapers.
“Your leadership has transcended boundaries,” Rose told the two men. “On behalf of the millions of Angelinos you have served, I add my thanks.”
After the Golden Book Awards, which were presented to various Y volunteers, the attendees recited the Ragger’s Creed: “I would be true/for there are those who trust me; I would be pure/for there are those who care; I would be strong/for there is much to suffer; I would be brave/for there is much to dare; I would be friend to all/the foe, the friendless; I would be giving/and forget the gift; I would be humble/for I know my weakness; I would look up/and laugh and love and lift.”
The “Rag” was written in 1914 by Thomas Caldwell, who wanted to reward positive character traits, such as promptness, cheerfulness, morals, trust and helpfulness.
The day’s program was printed on handmade recycled paper embedded with wildflower seeds and this message: “Plant, water, tend with love, and watch your flowers grow!”