By Autumn Gates
For the past 16 years, Angel Cerritos has been involved with the YMCA. The opportunities it provided him as a youth paved the way for success in his current role as executive director of the Sky Family YMCA.
“My favorite aspect of my job is helping others and providing lifelong memories, knowing that we can help create opportunities for so many regardless of their abilities to pay for services,” said Cerritos.
Located in Bonita Springs at 27200 Kent Road, this nonprofit health and wellness facility promotes youth development, healthy living and social responsibility. About 45 percent of the facility’s users are Estero residents.
In June 2020, the Sky Family YMCA took on an exciting new opportunity as it partnered with the Village of Estero to operate Camp Estero (previously known as the Happehatchee Center), a five-acre nature facility offering environmental and wellness programs for both children and adults. The historic center was originally founded in 2006 by environmental activist Ellen Peterson, who sought to preserve the beauty along the Estero River while creating a community gathering place which promoted spiritual wellness. Today, Cerritos is working diligently alongside the Village of Estero to continue to carry out that mission.
As Executive Branch Director at the Sky Family YMCA, what do you envision accomplishing in 2021?
As we begin the new year, I envision continuing to expand the family programs offered at Camp Estero. Camp Estero provides such a wonderful outdoor experience for the community, and we want Estero residents to know that it is a place for them to enjoy.
What specific activities can residents enjoy at Camp Estero?
The community can benefit from yoga classes that are offered multiple times throughout the week, kayaking tours, environmental education for youth, family fun days, youth field trips, summer camps and more. The YMCA also provides team building destinations for businesses and opportunities for the community to rent space at Camp Estero to hold meetings and events.
How does the YMCA enrich the local community?
The services the YMCA offers provide youth development opportunities for kids. We believe that when children have positive role models and experiences that build character, our community benefits. We also offer health and wellness programs for adults which help support the mental, physical and spiritual health of the community.
What led you to work for the YMCA?
I was introduced to the YMCA as a high school student and worked as a part-time, after-school group leader. Through that experience, I had the opportunity to work with underprivileged students, seeing the potential they had, as well as being part of something greater than me. The YMCA is an inclusive organization and provides opportunities for so many regardless of financial status, religion and background, and that appealed to me. Furthermore, the organization invested in me as a leader, and for that I am eternally grateful. Through my role at the YMCA, I am able to pay it forward for the next generation of leaders.
How is the Sky Family YMCA working to preserve the legacy of Ellen Peterson?
Ellen Peterson was an advocate for the environment and spiritual wellness of Southwest Florida. Her legacy continues to live through the yoga programs the YMCA offers which provide opportunities for the community to reach health and wellness goals. We also offer environmental education, camps, field trips and other youth programs that teach children the importance of conservation.
What is being accomplished through partnership with the Village of Estero?
At the YMCA, we know that partnering with others can amplify the impact of our work and strengthen the community. The YMCA is thrilled to partner with the Village of Estero to offer more programs and services to the Estero community, especially during challenging times such as what we are experiencing now. Through our partnership, we were able to offer safe summer camp experiences in 2020 so working parents could provide for their families, and kids could have a productive and safe summer.
As planning for ‘Estero on the River’ develops, how do you see your role at Camp Estero expanding?
The development of Estero on the River will provide many new opportunities for the community. We look forward to the opportunity to offer additional activities such as other water programs, expand family engagement programs that promote health and wellness, and collaborate with other nonprofits to serve the community.
Check out the free Family Fun Day at Camp Estero on Feb. 13 for a mix of kayaking, yoga, crafts, snacks and more from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. View more Sky Family YMCA and Camp Estero events at www.swflymca.org.