YMCA honors Marysville 'Volunteers of the Year'

Marysville and North County YMCA Senior Program Director Jackie Woodwell, center, is flanked by her recommendations for Volunteer of the Year, Everett Community College graduate student William Johnsen, left, and Cedarcrest Middle School graduate Michael
Marysville and North County YMCA Senior Program Director Jackie Woodwell, center, is flanked by her recommendations for Volunteer of the Year, Everett Community College graduate student William Johnsen, left, and Cedarcrest Middle School graduate Michael 'Mac' Griffiths, right.
— image credit: Kirk Boxleitner

MARYSVILLE — The YMCA of Snohomish County recently honored its outstanding policy, program and youth volunteers for 2008-2009, which included three volunteers at the Marysville and North County YMCA.

Michael "Mac" Griffiths, a 15-year-old who just graduated from Cedarcrest Middle School, was named the Youth Volunteer of the Year for the local YMCA, while William Johnsen, a graduate student at Everett Community College, was named the local YMCA's Program Volunteer of the Year. City of Marysville Parks and Recreation Director Jim Ballew was named the Policy Volunteer of the Year for the Marysville and North County YMCA.

Jackie Woodwell, senior program director for the local YMCA, was effusive in her praise for Griffiths, Johnsen and Ballew. She recommended all three as Volunteers of the Year, citing both the amount of time they've spent and the "quality" of their efforts, as well as their support of the YMCA's programs on behalf of education, families and the surrounding community as a whole.

"They care a lot about the world at large, and the world that's right around them," Woodwell said. "They're people of amazing character."

Woodwell described Griffiths as "amazingly, incredibly dedicated" to his volunteer work, not only in his willingness to do whatever is asked of him, but also in his proactive initiative in helping out even when he's not asked. She noted that he attends extra staff training targeted toward ensuring the safety of children at the YMCA, and added, "Our kids really love him and look up to him. He's an outstanding role model and an all-around outstanding young man."

Griffiths began working at the local YMCA last summer, and continued to volunteer on half-days and days off during the school year, but he first caught the bug for spending time at the YMCA when he was a small child himself. His responsibilities range from supervising the children, and helping them wash their hands, to playing and talking with them. He's also mentored children through his church and school, and he credits such work with sparking his interest in becoming an elementary school teacher.

"You learn a lot of patience," Griffiths said. "Because a lot of these kids come from different backgrounds, you also learn about different countries and cultures."

Woodwell spoke highly of the ways in which Johnsen has shared his creativity with children at the YMCA through art programs, and deemed his commitment "above and beyond," especially since he's currently pursuing his second college degree. She cited his "heart" as making a difference in the lives of the children he's worked with.

Johnsen's first volunteer work for the YMCA was in 2006 through Windermere, where his parents work. Although his volunteering had become less frequent by last fall, due to school commitments, he still enjoys walking with the children at the YMCA, drawing with them, playing games with them, and encouraging their interests.

"I try to show them the impact that having a college education has had on my life," said Johnsen, whose bachelor's degree is in digital arts. "I try to teach the kids that they're people too. I try not to tell them what they should be interested in, but I do try to tell them more about whatever it is that they are interested in, whether it's art, science or sports."

As for Ballew, Woodwell touted his ability to rally YMCA staff, volunteers and investors alike. Ballew serves as a board member for the Marysville and North County YMCA, and Woodwell considers his work "instrumental" in helping to coordinate the Marysville Healthy Communities Project.

Ballew sees his work with the YMCA and with Parks and Recreation as linked, in that they both focus heavily on serving the needs of young people. He believes the partnership between the two organizations is mutually beneficial, especially during times of limited resources, and he cited the record-breaking turnout at this year's Healthy Communities Challenge Day as an example of what community organizations can accomplish by teaming up. To that end, he explained that he strives to ensure that the services offered by the YMCA and Parks and Recreation compliment one another, rather than competing with each other.

"We are the ones we've been waiting for," Ballew said, of the community's need to invest in its own members' health and quality of life.

The named honorees are considered among the best of more than 2,400 volunteers who provide valuable assistance with policies, programs and activities. Policy volunteers lead various boards and committees, while program and youth volunteers serve in such activities as youth sports, teen programs, mentoring activities, child care and special events.

"Volunteers are truly the heart and soul of our YMCA," said Scott Washburn, president and CEO of the YMCA of Snohomish County. "Once a year, we have the opportunity to honor the many people who help make our work possible. This year, we were pleased to recognize and celebrate our youth volunteers, as these are the future leaders of our community. However, we want all our volunteers to know how much we appreciate their work in support of our mission."

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