Monday, October 24, 2011

Is the YMCA really Haunted?!

The Buzz thinks so... check it out for an upcoming article celebrating Halloween this week. Michael Kleen, author of Haunting Illinois, also suspects a haunting in the Y basement (which comes as no surprise to any who have frequented our underground halls). See the Daily Illini article here.

According to

"Perhaps the oddest campus haunting involves the Native American who roams the basement of the University YMCA building on South Wright Street. Decades ago, the basement was decorated with a very large painting of a Native American chief. It had been placed in the student lounge and cafeteria and little was thought about it... until nighttime visitors started to notice something very strange. According to their stories, after all of the lights had been turned out for the night, the chief would somehow leave the painting and wander about the building. Hard to believe? I would have to agree with that, but those who claim to have seen the Indian walking around in the dimly lit corridors just might argue with us!"

A New Ghost?

One Y Staff member suggests that the ghost of Fred Bailey possesses a portrait that still hangs in the Program Office on the first floor. He swears Bailey's eyes follow him around the room, no doubt watching to be sure the program staff are performing efficiently.

Let's be honest... most of the guys adorning our walls seem fairly jolly and beneficent. Take Sir George Williams as shown above.

Who really haunts the Y?

There are some people who may not yet be ghosts, but haunt the Y all the same. Kasey Umland, Program Director, can often be found here after hours, waiting for students to visit with her. Dedicated students and staff are here all hours, but all their creeping around and hanging out is the kind of work that keeps the place alive and makes positive change in the local community.

But who knows... maybe when our Y alum pass on they'll come back to grace our halls at night with a happy presence.

Check out our Y Archives Collections on Flickr for more historic photos of the Y.

Oh, and Happy Halloween!

HALLOWEEN PARTY ON 10/28  starting at 8pm. Costume contest starting at 10:30.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

A belated reflection on the 'Naked* Bike Ride'

I have to admit that my initial reaction when a student group tells me about their plan to do an event with "naked" or "underwear" in the title is usually a deep breath and a question such as, "So when you say naked . . . ?"  So when Amnesty first told me about their plans to host an annual Naked* Bike Ride, I had to get past my initial questions about legality and alumni concerns before I was able to really "get" what the event was all about.

That said, this is not the first YMCA student program event to encourage taking it off for a good cause.  For the last 3 years, Invisible Conflicts has hosted the IC Run. Students are sponsored by family and friends to run laps around the quad in costumes or underwear in freezing temperatures to raise funds for the school fees of children orphaned by the civil war in Uganda.

Yet, I still struggled to connect the ideas of nudity, bike riding and human rights.  That is, until Chrissy Ruiz, event organizer, explained it.  Chrissy talked about the fact that in the U.S. we all have the freedom to show a little skin, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, class, or any other identity.  In many areas around the globe, the same activity can result in arrest, torture, and even death.  At the event, participants were encouraged to give the clothes "off their backs" and all the funds and clothing donated went to benefit local shelters. 

At the event, itself, most participants chose to cover up some of their body, opting for underwear over nudity, but as Chrissy explained, nudity isn't the point.  The event was about awareness and appreciation for the freedom we enjoy and about inciting action to protect those around the globe who are persecuted.  Amnesty also talked the importance of healthy body image, of comfort with one's self, and of ending our reliance on oil. (Resource exploitation is often linked to human rights abuses.)

For me, as naked as I wanted to be was a t-shirt and jeans, but that didn't stop me from participating in and appreciating that sometimes less is more, and in the case of the Naked* Bike Ride, less clothes meant a greater awareness of the struggles of women and other underrepresented groups across the globe.

Read the Daily Illini article

See pictures from the event here

*as you want to be

Lots of Articles in the Daily Illini

The University YMCA and Y Student Groups got a lot of coverage recently in the Daily Illini!

Here are some great articles...

The Green Observer article

Congo Week article

Waveland Art @ the Y Exhibition article

SECS and Red Bison project article

and don't forget

Amnesty's Naked Bike Ride article

Sunday, October 16, 2011

'Waveland: A Meditation' Exhibition Opens

More photographs from the exhibition are available on Flickr.
Location, Space, Identity

Valerie Oliveiro is up front - she's not from Waveland, Mississippi. It's not who she is.

A year and a half ago, she'd never even heard of the small town that was the actual ground zero for both Hurricane Katrina and the BP oil spill.
She considers herself a tourist in some ways.  But residents of Waveland reminded her that many people know the Gulf only as tourists, "and that's ok." It was part of the local economy and mindset about the town.

When she began the project a year and a half ago, she had two words in mind - location and space.

Originally, she wanted to work with these concepts in Lousiana, but on the way through Mississippi, she heard about Waveland for the first time on the radio, and later from a friend who worked relief in Baton Rouge.

Her friend used to steal Red Cross supplies and take them to Waveland, returning to Baton Rouge before dawn.

Val felt drawn to Waveland, so she stopped in for a visit.

Why Waveland?

The story of New Orleans is part of our national story now. Americans have heard about issues of governmental irresponsibility, the horrors of the stadium, the hubris of levies, and questions around what "Nature" is telling us by ravaging our manmade cities.

Racial inequality was able to rise in public awareness as media displayed how the poorest neighborhoods in New Orleans with majority black populations were the hardest hit. Katrina is legendary.

But Waveland is a smaller town, and Val speculates that demographics plays a part in the media silence around its suffering.

She found that the mostly white, middle class folks of Waveland wouldn't have wanted to be in the spotlight, even if it was available to them. The people of Waveland are private. The guilt they felt prevented them from wanting their loss recognized in the same way as New Orleans' Ninth Ward, for instance. Val says, "There's a silence around the cultural disaster there."

The BP oil spill was a cataclysmic insult added to injury. Rebuilding from a category 5 hurricane is a slow process anyway, but those who have made it through any of the economic turmoil have to create their livelihoods and homes in a new way.

"People build their houses on 26' stilts now," Val says. "They look down on you from their porches and wonder what you're doing."

Valerie Oliveiro presents her work.
The Photographs

The reality of who has returned and who hasn't (and many haven't) is written all over the landscape. "It's how we organize the land we own," Val says. And this is what she captured in 10 carefully selected photographs, which she describes as "meditationally, a distillation replicated several times."

Many of the long-exposure photographs were taken between the hours of midnight and dawn. Her meditation on this landscape goes far to accomplish the same as her friend who delivered stolen first aid supplies... a secretive redistribution of healing to a place that was brutalized and then ignored.

Val tells the audience gathered at the Y's Murphy gallery that if you google Waveland, you see photos of sandy beaches and tourist attractions... and then you see utter devastation. The juxtaposition is almost too stark. She wants to add her photographs to this story, which is why she considers them to be relevant even years after media coverage has dissipated. Continuing the story in this way is her message about recovery and loss.

Her photographs are so quiet. You can peer into them and find details or find yourself there in the South, soaking up darkness. They make you feel an empty loneliness. But true to the title of the exhibition, the emptiness is spacious and meditative.

When the layers and meanings of place are stripped bare, when the devastation is untold or forgotten, the most powerful message in her photographs is "This place exists."

Prints are available on Valerie Oliveiro's website: 

Exhibition description and more about Art @ the Y:

Friday, October 14, 2011

Fall Newsletter: Letter from Mike

Dear Friends,

Fall is always a time of new beginnings here at the University YMCA, so we thought it would be a great time to unveil our new newsletter, produced by our now not-so-new Communications Director, Jenni Kotting.  We also recently launched our new user-friendly website at and encourage you to visit and learn about all of the exciting things happening at the Y.

But with all the different activities that take place here at the Y, one thing remains constant - the students at the core of our mission.  Each fall we are reminded of this as our building comes to life with the influx of both new and returning students.  For nearly 140 years, the University Y has had a profound impact on the students who pass through our doors.  Two recent events underscored the impact of the University Y today.

On a warm Saturday afternoon in August, Murphy Lounge was filled with students and their families as we celebrated the 2011-12 Fred Bailey Scholars and Leaders.  As I listened to the remarkable accomplishments and personal commitment these 30 student leaders, I reflected upon the hundreds of prior recipients and the millions of dollars in scholarships that have been awarded to assist students reach their full potential. This year we are expanding this support to include leadership training workshops and informal opportunities to meet with local community leaders to learn first hand about the challenges, frustrations and rewards of working for change.

And two weeks ago on a Friday night, over 70 student leaders from our twelve student programs spent the evening at the Y participating in a revamped orientation program organized by the Y Student Board.  For those present it was an evening of fun, information and fellowship as they shared the work they do, learned about the staff and resources available to them at the Y and socialized with one another.  Spending time with these students makes me both hopeful and confident about the future.

A testament to the impact the University Y has on our students is the generosity with which they continue to support the Y once they leave.  This summer, we were fortunate to receive two bequests from Y alum who remembered us in their will. The Board of Governors is currently discussing how best to use these funds but one thing is certain - their gifts will be used to continue the great leadership development and social justice work we have done for generations.  I am proud to be a part of such a historic, yet vibrant institution and ask that you join me in continuing the legacy of the University YMCA with a gift today.

Mike Doyle
Executive Director
University YMCA

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Daily Terror: Cluster Bombs (exhibit opening at Y)

In response to the tremendous human toll that cluster munitions have inflicted in Laos and many other parts of the world, the University YMCA and First Mennonite Church of Urbana are sponsoring an exhibition entitled Daily Terror. Titus Peachy's presentation will discuss the impact of cluster bomb munitions on civilian populations as well as the work of MCC and others to advocate for their elimination.

Produced by the Mennonite Central Committee of the Mennonite Church USA and Canada, this display presents stories and graphic images of devastation and pain that cluster bombs inflict upon civilian populations decades after their deployment in a conflict.  The project also presents the advocacy work and on-the-ground ordnance clearing efforts that Mennonite Central Committee and other non governmental agencies have engaged in for many years.

Titus Peachy is the Director of Peace Education for the Mennonite Central Committee. Titus registered as a conscientious objector and performed alternative service in Vietnam from 1970-1973. He and his wife Linda worked with MCC in Laos from 1980-1985. Titus later returned to Laos to help coordinate the Cluster
Bomb Removal Project. The MCC Peace Education Program engages in a broad range of peace advocacy as well as coordinating with other peace
organizations and those engaged in cluster bomb and mine clearance work.

Visitors to the exhibit will have the opportunity to join the postcard campaign in support of the Cluster Munitions Civilian Protection Act. 

Daily Terror is a free event and will be on view at the University YMCA from October 23 until October 28, 2011 (9am-9pm daily).

Please note: Titus Peachey can be heard on WILL's Keepin' the Faith hosted by Steve Shoemaker on Sunday, October 23, 5:00pm.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

'Waveland' Captures the Ground Zero of Hurricane Katrina and the BP Oil Spill

Exhibition Opening

Friday, October 14, 7:00-9:00 pm

Valerie Oliveiro, Artist -

Ambient, avant world music by Jason Finkelmann
Artist talk at 8:00, focus performance following
Murphy Gallery @ the Y

Free and open to the public.

Preview the photographs on Valerie Oliveiro's website:

Waveland, Mississippi was actual ground zero for Hurricane Katrina. It was the worst hit beach on the Mississippi gulf coast from the BP oil spill. Historically, natural and human forces have tried to claim it. This exhibition presents Valerie Oliviero's landscape photographs, part of her continuing study of transition and intervention in space.

Oliveiro is Singapore-born, self taught photographer. She is now the resident photographer at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, and before that she was a freelance Production Manager and Stage Manager for 14 years. She received an MFA (Yale School of Drama) in Stage Management and has worked with international artists in performing arts venues and festivals all around the world. Her photos have appeared in the New York Times, American Theatre Magazine and Time Out.

This exhibition will be open at the University YMCA from October 14 - December 23, 2011 (Monday through Friday, 9:00am - 5:00pm each day). Free and open to the public.

For more information:

University YMCA, 1001 South Wright Street, Champaign

Exhibition sponsored by: Art @ the Y, an initiative of the University YMCA.

Contact: Ann Rasmus,, 217-337-1500

Friday, October 7, 2011

Native Plants Growing Strong After Volunteer Work Day

The rainy days last week may have seemed dreary, but here at the Y we couldn't have been happier! The ground was soaked each day - just the thing for our baby native grasses and perennials at the Y's west side parking lot! They're sure to grow big and strong thanks to our student volunteers.

Students from SECS and Red Bison.
Photos available on Flickr for download.
On September 25, 2011, volunteers from Students for Environmental ConcernS and Red Bison spend several hours at the University YMCA. They planted over 300 native plugs from the Grand Prairie Friends along the West Side parking lot.

Student volunteer digs in native plant plugs.
Photos available on Flickr for download.
These tall grasses, wild onions, and flowering perennials will be wild and beautiful in a year or two. Refer to the last post, "It's going to be WILD..." for details about the planting plan and list of plants used.

The student volunteers from SECS and Red Bison also powered through some much needed property maintenance. They moved load after load of gravelly soil along the edge of the building to prevent water from seeping down.

When the planting was done, volunteers transitioned into pruning and weeding the front side of the building and the native shaded beds along Chalmers.

The Y is grateful for their expert handling of the native plants, overgrown shrubs, and wheelbarrows full of dirt!

Without our student groups, the Y's exterior couldn't be nearly as environmentally friendly, well-maintained, and welcoming.

Special thanks to SECS, Red Bison, and Grand Prairie Friends for their help. Extra thanks to Valerie Sivicek for her leadership and plant knowledge.