Ivy Weeks/The Tifton Gazette YMCA Kickoff

An emotional story from a woman touched by the Tiftarea YMCA was the highlight of the not-for-profit agency’s annual fundraiser kickoff held Thursday in Tifton City Council chambers in the Myon.

Misty Montgomery, YMCA director, introduced Kelly Shoniker, who said speaking in public was difficult for her but she believed the message was important and needed to be told.

“I no longer see the blackness but the light,” Shoniker said. “The Y is a fundamental program for our community.”

Shoniker was a social worker five years ago. She said she loved her work, was assertive, confident and a leader.

“There wasn’t anything I felt I could not accomplish,” she said.

Then, Shoniker said she experienced a major bout of depression, anxiety, agoraphobia and additional health problems after being involved in three car wrecks during the span of four years. She became terrified of being in cars, even though the accidents weren’t her fault.

“I never expected these labels would be attached to me and who I would become,” Shoniker said.

Shoniker said she was housebound for months and insulated herself from the world. In late 2006, with “divine intervention,” she began medication and is continuing therapy.

“For two years, I never shared what was happening with anyone,” Shoniker said. “I was miserable and uncomfortable in my own skin.”

Shoniker said her children were involved in sports activities at the YMCA but she had not attended events with them for some time when she called the facility and asked if she could work on the treadmill for therapy.

“They opened the door and told me to come as often as I could,” Shoniker said. “Short of holding my hand, they accompanied me to yoga class.”

Shoniker said getting back out into the world has been difficult and the staff at the YMCA have been invaluable to her recovery.

“I have returned to be a scorer and timekeeper at hockey games,” Shoniker said. “I’m asking the community to open their hearts and continue to support the YMCA.”

Montgomery recounted the activities offered to families at the YMCA, including a successful swim team; a fitness center; aerobics center; and the Stafford Aquatic Center. The facility is also home to flag football, baseball, swim lessons, summer day camps and sports camps. In addition, the YMCA offers free memberships to some families that can’t afford to join on their own. The “gifts” are made possible by gifts from individuals and businesses in the community.

“There are several non-profit and charitable organizations that need your money and we understand that,” Montgomery said. “The good thing about the YMCA fundraiser is it stays here and doesn’t go anywhere else.”

She encouraged members of the community to join, volunteer and donate what they could to the YMCA.

The goal for the 2008 Tiftarea YMCA campaign is to raise $50,000 by the end of March. Ginger Wisham 2008 campaign chairman, said people and businesses interested in making a donation should call the Tiftarea YMCA at 391-9622 or talk with any fundraising team member.

“Once the story is told, people will realize how great the YMCA is for the community,” Wisham said.

Those who attended the kickoff of the campaign were given balloons that were released in the courtyard of the Myon.

To contact senior reporter Angie Thompson, call 382-4321.

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