Finding refuge at the Y

At a time when Brooke Ellender didn’t have a roof over her head, the Eugene Family YMCA became her refuge. It has since turned into her home away from home—a place where she connects with friends, relieves stress and physical pain and feels welcome.

Four years ago, Brooke moved from California to the Willamette Valley for alcohol addiction treatment. She ended up homeless and living in a tent—without a car, a job or hope.

Desperately needing a shower on a cold October day, she decided to use some of her disability money for a Y membership.

“Because of my addiction, I always felt like an outcast,” she says. “At the Y, I feel welcome. The attitude here is so uplifting.”

Brooke quickly realized that daily exercise was key to her successful recovery. Dedicating herself to working out 5 days a week reduced pain in her hips and back and decreased her severe social anxiety. She released tension by playing racquetball. Boot Camp, PiYo and yoga classes helped her overcome some of her social anxiety.

Over time, she saw that her Y membership offered much more than a hot shower.

“I really feel like I belong here,” she says. “Everyone remembers my name and some of them feel like close family.”

After a few months at the Y building confidence and mental strength, Brooke was able to secure hotel housing and within a year she moved to a small studio apartment. In July 2017, Brooke married her boyfriend and several Y staff celebrated with her at the wedding. She and her husband now live in a two-bedroom townhouse with Brooke’s 17-year-old daughter who joined them from California.

She still comes to the Y several times a week.

“No one judges me and I’m not on display,” she says. “I blend in, but I’m not forgotten.  I feel welcomed and I know that I am a part of the Y family.”


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