Growing up in a tough neighborhood in north Omaha near 16th and Fort Streets, Melissa Stephens often found sanctuary and inclusion at the local YMCA as a youngster.
Now a single mom of four and a business owner, Stephens says she values the community impact the Y makes.
It’s one of the many reasons she has sat on the board of directors for the Maple Street YMCA for the past three years and continues to be a champion for the organization.
“The Y gave me so much as a youth that it’s important to me to continue to support it in whatever ways I can,” says Stephens, who was an all-around athlete as a youth. “Growing up . . . we didn’t have a lot of money, but we always had opportunities at the Y.”
Mom to Hannah, 23, Max, 16, Sam, 15, and Jack, 13, Stephens says she spends a lot of her time accommodating the many athletic endeavors of her kids.
The boys played t-ball and basketball through the Y, and Hannah played softball at the Y. Now, Sam and Jack are more involved with wrestling, and Max is a top swimmer at the club level – but they haven’t forgotten where their athletic pursuits started.
As a young athlete, Stephens herself found athletic excitement at the Y playing softball, volleyball, soccer and basketball – often with her dad serving as coach. Now he coaches Sam and Jack in their wrestling pursuits.
Max also understands the importance of the Y in the community as a lifeguard at both the Butler-Gast YMCA and Maple Street YMCA locations.
“We definitely embrace the YMCA as a family and always have,” says Stephens, who credits help from her “amazing parents” for being able to juggle the intricate responsibilities of business owner and parent.
When she’s not driving the boys to practice or competitions, Stephens runs the Cordial Cherry at the Shops of Legacy in southwest Omaha.
The idea to market her signature array of chocolate-covered cherries as a business almost a decade ago came when the demand for her grandmother’s recipe evolved into more than a side business. She quit her teaching position to follow her dream full time – and she’s been living it ever since.
Stephens says the hard work and demands of her early athletic pursuits at the Y coupled with the long hours and dedication she gave in the classroom have more than prepared her for the highs and lows, the busy and not-so-busy times running her own business. In fact, the Y’s values of respect, responsibility, honesty and caring form a strong blueprint for success as an entrepreneur.
Stephens says she’s proud to still be connected to the Y because of everything it offers and teaches young people every day.
“The YMCA is transformational, especially for kids who don’t have access to participate in club sports,” says Stephens, who is working with the Y to develop a youth career-mentoring program, which is still in its infancy. “They provide good, life-enriching opportunities in our community. It’s great to see the Y doing so much good.”