By Helen Archontou, MSW, LSW
Chief Executive Officer, YWCA Bergen County
When it comes to health and fitness for women and girls, YWCA Bergen County has a history of being ahead of the curve. We offered physical education classes for girls from the moment our doors opened in 1920—decades before the passage of Title IX. Our current facility was built in 1951 with fitness in mind, and the addition of an Olympic-sized pool in 1954 was coupled with the launch of our nationally-recognized American Red Cross Certified Aquatics Program. Today, it takes two pools to meet the community’s demand for swim instruction. We’ve even added a successful satellite swim program in the City of Englewood, NJ.
Swimming may not be the first “sport” you think of on National Women & Girls in Sports Day. But don’t tell that to the thousands of girls who’ve taken swim lessons at our YWCA. For many of them, what began as something their parents insisted they learn literally became “an investment in their futures,” igniting a passion for a sport they went on to play competitively. For others, it led to an unexpected and rewarding career.
Lisa Prins is one of these girls. A YWCA lifeguard and swim instructor, she is one of three young women currently on staff who grew up in our pools. “I was four or five years old when I first started Little Dipper swim lessons,” she says. “I’m told that I was an overenthusiastic student who sometimes took my instructor under the water when I jumped in!”
Lisa took lessons at the YW until age 12, and returned several years later to train as a lifeguard. “There was a summer camp where I wanted to be a counselor — but they really needed lifeguards, not camp counselors! I was always a strong swimmer and decided it was a great way to get a summer job.” Lisa returned to the YW in 2009, this time as a lifeguard and swim instructor.
Our swimming program is known for its one-on-one focus. Classes are small and the environment is welcoming — perfect for instilling self-confidence along with a healthy respect for the water. Lisa encourages her students to do their best, challenging them to improve their strokes and increase their stamina the same way her teachers did. “Learning to swim is an incredibly important life skill — it can save your life or someone else’s.” She also is a lifeguard during the adult Aqua-Fitness program and has enjoyed seeing members’ health and fitness improve over time. “It’s so important to feel empowered in the water—whether you’re four years old or 74.”
Empowering girls to live active, healthy lives is something Lisa and our entire aquatics team does every day. Whether it’s gaining confidence during swim lessons; practicing teamwork as members of our Synchronized Swim team; or understanding goal setting while swim-team training in our Junior Swim Clinic, our YWCA strives to provide a safe and supportive space in which girls can learn, connect and own their power.
Helen Archontou has served as Chief Executive Officer of YWCA Bergen County since July 2011, and her focus is on guiding the organization towards living its name and its mission. This involves partnering with others in the community to broaden the YWCA’s scope of services, as well as developing mission-based initiatives aimed at empowering women and eliminating racism.
YWCA Bergen County is based in Ridgewood, NJ and serves the community at sites throughout the county. To learn more about all of our empowerment programs for women, girls and families, visit www.ywcaberngecounty.org.