When Elena Dinkin began working at the YMCA eight years ago, she thought she had found something to keep her busy and active now that her two daughters were grown. She immediately realized the job was more of a calling and quickly became the YMCA’s Active Older Adult (AOA) Director. She has a real gift for listening to the needs of the AOA members and creating or identifying a solution. She is a true friend to all of them and values their need to live their fullest lives. Clearly, working at the YMCA is not a job to Elena, it is a way of life.
The YMCA of Greater Houston serves more than 30,000 active older adults in programs across the Houston Greater Metropolitan Area.
In her role at the Y, Elena promotes unique programs for the senior population, hosts daily activities, special events, organizes trips for her members, and works hard to make sure each member feels at home at the Y.
One of her programs, called “Be a Kid for a Day,” takes seniors to the YMCA’s Camp Cullen in Trinity, Texas to participate in camp activities, including everyone’s favorite, zip lining!
A native Houstonian, Elena has always felt more comfortable around older adults. She is constantly bringing in resources from the community to educate the seniors in her care. She finds out what they need - exercise, social companionship, intellectual stimulation, gardening - and knocks herself out to get that resource to them in a fun way. Yes, some of these activities are part of her job description, but much of Elena’s work is personally inspired.
“Her events are the best attended I have ever seen,” says Lharissa Jacobs, a co-worker and daughter of one of the seniors Elena works with at the Y. “Without a champion like Elena, a lot of these active older adults would be isolated and alone.”
Elena has a background in medical social work. It is not unusual for her to really delve into the mindset of seniors and their unique needs.
For one AOA member, not only did Elena welcome and invite him into the bridge group at the YMCA, but she organized an entire speaker series and let the member tell his story of escaping Nazi Germany. She filled the room, as she always does, promoting the speaker event and honoring the member with a beautiful introduction. The member is now obsessed with bridge group and never misses a game day. Elena frequently texts messages and sends photos to the member’s daughter, Lharissa, so that she knows her father is happy and making new friends.
Elena Dinkin enjoys making a difference in the lives of seniors and knows that her work has meaning: “I care about our members and look at each opportunity individually to see how I may make a difference in their lives. It is so hard to believe that the work I love can be recognized in such a way to potentially give back to the YMCA with a monetary gift.”