“Volunteers don’t necessarily have the time, they just have the heart.” – Elizabeth Andrew
Since 2011, YMCA of the Rockies Snow Mountain Ranch has hosted Camp Ray-Ray, an inspiring, hopeful and loving place that started in 1994 by “Angels Unaware,” a non-profit organization whose mission is to provide support and encouragement for children living with or affected by HIV/AIDS. The camp is named after Angel Raymond Peña who died from AIDS at the age of four.
Don Hanes first got the call about volunteering for Camp Ray-Ray in 1996. “At the time, HIV/AIDS was considered a ‘dirty’ word and very few people knew much it,” he says. “The more I learned, the more I realized I didn’t need to be afraid.”
From Helpless to Hopeful
Hanes believes that if you choose hope you can accomplish anything. While he hasn’t walked in the shoes of many of the kids and families who have touched his life at Camp Ray-Ray over the years, he’s no stranger to overcoming struggles of his own.
Since walking through the doors of the Indianola YMCA in February 2018, Hanes is a different person. “I was literally walking dead,” he recalls. “The stress of being caretaker to my wife during her battle with cancer as well as for another friend had really taken a toll. I did nothing but eat and was out of shape and over 300 pounds.”
Thanks to Silver Sneakers, he started a journey to improve his health and overcome the pain of hip surgery.
“I quickly learned that exercise on the machines was too strenuous, but then saw people exercising in the water,” Hanes says. “I tried Arlene’s class in the recreation pool and liked it so much I decided to try another one in the competition pool.”
After his water classes each day, Hanes heads upstairs and walks 3 miles on the treadmill and has slowly added weight machines back to his routine. He’s lost weight and feels mentally and physically stronger than ever.
Today, at 75, Hanes drives school bus for the SEW district when needed. Known as “The Bear” at Camp Ray-Ray, he looks forward to camp every summer.
“It’s like going to a family reunion,” he smiles. “They are people who need love and understanding just like anyone else and many of them didn’t do anything to get where they are. I may never know the influence I’ve had on people until years later, but making the investment today is worth it.”