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YMCA of Greater Nashua hosts fundraising Gala

LaBelle Winery offered an array of wines to attendees and taught participants a primer on wine-tasting.

AMHERST – Community members, sponsors and partners joined together to celebrate the YMCA of Greater Nashua’s Champions of Change Gala Friday night at Labelle Winery.

The event, the Y’s biggest fundraising event of the year, featured a VIP cocktail hour and was hosted by WMUR’s Cherise Leclerc and featured a “tasting how-to,” by Labelle’s Marie King.

The YMCA celebrated another triumph: the recent purchase of a sports facility located at 90 Northwest Blvd. in Nashua. Formerly the home of the Nashua Sports Academy, the new location, now known as the Westwood Park branch of the YMCA of Greater Nashua, will serve and impact the Amherst and Milford communities.

This new branch will feature basketball courts, batting cages, volleyball and a training turf area, among other amenities.

Elizbeth Covino, YMCA director of community relations, remarked that the night was so important, in thanks to two major contributors.

WMUR’s Cherise Leclerc emceed the YMCA’s biggest fundraising event of the year.

“We selected two honorees tonight,” she said. “Fidelity Investments is the first, and we thank them for their support of our Y-Achievers teen mentoring program, which they actually gave us seed money for six years ago. They’ve also supported our Summer Learning Loss Prevention program, which led to our Power Scholars Academy.”

Fidelity also has supported the Y Achievement Center, based at Hudson Memorial School. That program provides a trimester-long class to middle schoolers using positive psychology exercises to help students identify their own strengths and help one another.

The other honoree Friday night was the Nashua School District, for its collaboration with the Power Scholars Academy.

“Where our Summer Learning Loss program was just literacy, the Power Scholars Academy includes mathematics and reading,” said Covino. “We had 330 children enrolled in that.”

In her opening remarks, Leclerc thanked members of the YMCA staff and shared her own memories of the Y growing up in Hampden, Massachusetts.

Photos by GEORGE PELLETIER YMCA of Greater Nashua CEO Mike LaChance addresses the crowd at the organization’s ‘Champions of Change’ fundraising gala.

“The YMCA played such a role in my development,” she told the audience. “When we found out that there was a YMCA opening close to us, we were so excited because prior to that we didn’t really have a community center to connect and learn from each other. This was finally a meeting point for us.”

Leclerc also spoke about wanting to get more involved, speaking to her peers about positive body image and loving “the skin your in.”

“No one even stopped me,” she joked. “They all just wanted me to have that chance and paired me with students from Springfield College. We did this program for two summers and for me it was all about opportunity.”

YMCA of Greater Nashua CEO Mike LaChance also spoke, moving the crowd with his own story about the Y’s Livestrong program for those fighting cancer.

In a short video, the spotlight shined on Y member Dot McAffrey, who was part of the program and an inspiration not only to LaChance, but to anyone who had the pleasure to know her.

Photo by GEORGE PELLETIER Attendees of the YMCA of Greater Nashua’s biggest fundraiser of the year, the ‘Champions of Change Gala,’ mingle at LaBelle Winery in Amherst. Participants enjoyed a VIP cocktail hour and were privvy to a ‘tasting how-to’ taught by LaBelle Winery’s Marie King.

“This 12-week program, with a certified staff, provides strength, wellness, nutrition and education to individuals going through a difficult time in their life,” he said. “After implementing that program five years ago, we’ve served more than 500 people in that program. And it requires a note from a physician to ensure that the people in the program really belong in that program.”

LaChance said the program had everything it needed and was a pilot with just five people.

“In the time that the program was being put together, I was diagnosed,” he said, clearly choked with emotion.

“I told everyone I didn’t get cancer just so I could verify the program works, I can tell you that,” he jokingly added. “On day one, I couldn’t lift more than 10 pounds. I couldn’t balance on one foot for more than two seconds. I had no strength, no energy, nothing.”

Twelve weeks later, LaChance had a renewed outlook.

“It was an amazing transformation because of this program,” he said. “The assessments that our staff does from the very start to evaluate and customize a program for each of those individuals is vital. Because every diagnosis is different. The results of chemo and radiation is different for each person.

McAffrey and LaChance became great friends and she became the biggest advocate of the program, according to LaChance.

“She let you know that she was in that program,” he said. “If she found out she could get in front of an oncologist to share information about the program and to use them as a referral, she would do that.”

McAffrey also worked with Y staff to create marketing materials. And following her completion of the program, she then started to serve as a Y volunteer.

“She wanted to be right there by their side, as they went through the program,” said LaChance.

He honored her family, who were in attendance, adding, “She went through the program in 2013. And she lived another five years.”

LaChance closed his remarks by saying, “We can’t say that Livestrong is going to cure everybody, but if we can make you stronger and live a little more comfortably, that’s why we’re here.”