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Honored Tampa Metro YMCA volunteers share stories of perseverance, service, community

By Joyce McKenzie, Times Correspondent

TAMPA — Cindy Moran credits the YMCA with saving her life.

"I was a person who was about 70 pounds overweight with asthma," said the Valrico resident, who in 2005 decided to join the Campo Family YMCA.

Three years later Moran had shed the excess pounds and essentially eliminated her serious breathing problem.

"That’s just my story, but the Y is full of stories," she said.

But perhaps what make Moran’s story unique is that her transformation gave birth to her wanting to give back to the organization that significantly helped improve her overall wellbeing.

She began by assisting with the center’s fundraising efforts and now serves as chairman of the Campo Family YMCA advisory board, a position she’s held for two years.

"Cindy is an excellent leader and is an inspiration to others. She walks the talk," said Dwight Kerr, development director for the North Brandon Family YMCA, the Spurlino Family YMCA in Gibsonton, and the Campo Family YMCA in Valrico, the largest YMCA facility in Hillsborough County with more than 15,000 members.

Jarred Williams, Campo’s new executive director, echoed Kerr’s sentiment, saying Moran confirmed all the positive things he’d heard about her when she provided input during his job interview.

"The Y means everything to me," said Moran, who was one of 15 of the Tampa Metropolitan Area YMCA members to receive the 2017 Volunteer of the Year award at the YMCA’s Regional Community Impact Dinner on Feb. 27.

Steve Ellis, another recipient of the award, serves on the advisory board of the Bob Sierra Family YMCA in Northdale — the center he, his wife and two sons frequent regularly — as well as on the governance board of the Tampa Metropolitan Area YMCA.

Bart Cape, the director at Northdale, describes Ellis, the manager of the Publix on Neptune Avenue in Tampa — as extremely passionate about the Y and as someone who’s very personable.

"It’s remarkable how he divides his time among so many commitments," Cape said.

And while Ellis admits his Y responsibilities can be time consuming, he said he gets much more in return than what he gives.

"I think the Y bridges an important gap among the hungry and the homeless," Ellis said. "It gives seniors a place they can go, and it teaches kids how to swim, something that’s very important because we live in an area where there’s water all around us.

"I think some folks forget it’s a charity and it never turns anybody away," Ellis said.

Michelle Elrod, a member of the Bob Gilbertson Central City Family YMCA in Tampa Heights, was also chosen as a Tampa Metropolitan Area YMCA 2017 Volunteer of the Year.

After she learned about the Y’s many volunteer opportunities at last year’s Community Impact Dinner, she decided to sign on to help out with the Veggie Van program that delivers fresh fruits and vegetables in targeted food desert communities, communities that lack easy access to healthy, affordable food.

Elrod’s role is to package individual bags filled with produce, which in turn are distributed bi-weekly to four sites within the Tampa Bay area.

"She’s just so full of energy and so devoted to the cause," said YMCA mobile food market director Elizabeth Roman, who nominated Elrod for the prestigious award.

"I am so thankful to have her, because without her we could not serve the number of families we serve, which amounts to between 250 and 300 families every time we go out."

Elrod, whose husband Travis serves on the South Tampa YMCA board, said she grew up in a family that was big on volunteering and both she and her husband have continued that mindset with the YMCA because of its impressive community involvement.

The mother of 6-year-old daughter Lindsey admitted while she’s currently limited in the amount of time she’s able to dedicate to volunteer efforts, she feels confident the family will continue to rank their service to the Y at the top of their priority list.

"We’re a Y family and I hope we will be for life," Elrod said.

Contact Joyce McKenzie at [email protected]