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November 13, 2003

YMCA teaches valuable lessons

From: Derby Valley Gazette, CT - Nov 13, 2003

By DEREK DiFRONZO, Valley View

Whether they're teaching young people sign language or providing swimming lessons for adults, the employees and volunteers at the Valley YMCA put a great deal of effort into improving lives.

Last Wednesday, I had a chance to sit down with Bobby Cisero, a YMCA volunteer, who teaches sign language once a week to a group of Shelton students.

The students from Sunnyside and Lafayette elementary schools visit the YMCA each week as part of an after-school swimming program.

Cisero, a 39-year-old Bridgeport resident, began volunteering at the Valley YMCA in September. Before that, he spent a great deal of time helping out at the Monroe YMCA.

I was surprised to discover that although he is deaf and clearly has a disadvantage when it comes to communicating with the children, Cisero offered to teach any of them who were interested how to use sign language.

Matt Nemeth, YMCA childcare director, said he thought it was a great idea. "[Cisero] is a ridiculously hard worker," he said. "He's taken his disability and turned it into something very positive."

Nemeth said they don't force any of the children to participate in the lessons, but sometimes, parents have specific requests for their children to get involved.

During 45-minute sessions, Cisero works with about six children each week. He began by teaching them the letters of the alphabet and then worked up to some simple words and phrases.

According to Nemeth, the children seem to really enjoy the lessons, and they like Cisero as their teacher.

In addition to volunteering at the YMCA, Cisero works at Skate Tyme in Monroe, where he helps organize birthday parties for children. He also recently obtained a volunteer position working with the art teacher and gym teacher at Sunnyside School.

Interviewing Cisero was less difficult than I had imagined. It was my first experience having a conversation with a lip-reader, and I was a bit uneasy at first. Nemeth stood by to fill in any of the communication gaps, but there weren't many.

"I like this place," Cisero said. "I like working with the kids. It makes me feel good."

Nemeth said he would like other schools in the area to use the YMCA's after-school program, especially now with the new sign language lessons.

In the spring, during a step-aerobics classes at the YMCA, 34-year-old Bozena Bzdzikot received some advice from her instructor.

Her instructor told her that she should use the pool at the YMCA because swimming is a great way to get a full exercise. There was only one problem - Bzdzikot didn't know how to swim.

Growing up in Poland, Bzdzikot never had the opportunity to swim. Six years ago, she moved to Ansonia - across the street from the YMCA. Suddenly, the opportunity presented itself.

"For me, swimming was a goal in life," she said. "Nobody believed I could do it." However, determined to realize a dream she once had about swimming in the middle of the ocean, Bzdzikot took on the challenge.

She began working with Liz Davis, YMCA aquatics coordinator, once a week. Davis said she gives private classes regularly, but in most cases, the students are either children or adults who already know how to swim and just need some work with their strokes. Bzdzikot is the only adult Davis has taught who started from scratch.

Bzdzikot started slowly, but as the weeks passed, she began to pick up the necessary skills.

"When she started out, she couldn't blow bubbles, she couldn't go under water, she couldn't float," Davis said. "Now, she can do all of it without my help."

Davis said Bzdzikot had to wear a float belt in the beginning, but she doesn't need it anymore.

Bzdzikot said she is still somewhat afraid of the water, but the important thing is that she can swim.

"I know that if I can swim, I can do many other things in life," she said. "You have to push yourself and find someone to help you."

Bzdzikot said her next goal is to learn how to scuba dive.

The YMCA has a dedicated staff and a wonderful group of volunteers that make these educational and recreational programs possible.

Both the Shelton students and Bzdzikot have been able to benefit from the knowledge and experience of others.

The process will be effective in opening many doors for them in the future, and that is the YMCA's greatest contribution.

This column reflects the opinion of Editor Derek DiFronzo and does not necessarily represent the views of Hometown Publications.

©The Valley Gazette 2003