The YMCA has fantastic name recognition, thanks to the Village People. But Mainers are often surprised by how much the YMCA does.

“People sometimes think of the Y as a place to swim or work out, but it’s so much more than that,” said Jenna Klein Jonsson, incoming board chair and chief volunteer officer of the YMCA of Southern Maine.

At an emotional three-hour celebration dinner at Holiday Inn by the Bay on Nov. 12, the scope of the regional YMCA’s impact was evident. Y programs in Southern Maine are for everybody from preschoolers learning to read to stroke victims working on rehabilitation. There are programs for immigrants, veterans, cancer patients and men in need of transitional housing.

Amber Lombardi told her story of coming to Maine two years ago as a single mom, finally finding decent work and then worrying about affording summer care for her children, Harry and Olive. She turned to the Y for help.

“From the second I walked in, they made me feel equal, and they welcomed my children in,” Lombardi said. “My kids found moral guidance, cultural diversity, even swimming lessons. The YMCA filled the gaps that I worried about as a single parent. … We all need a little bit of help sometimes, and that’s OK.”

“Tonight is about gratitude and being able to say thank you to our members, donors, staff members and people from other nonprofits,” Jonsson said.

From a field of nine nominees, the award for staff excellence went to Cathy Flanagan, who is stepping down after 16 years of devoting her summers to Camp Pineland, a day camp at the YMCA’s New Gloucester branch.

Patty Erickson was recognized as she stepped down after eight years as treasurer of the board of directors. During those years, the Y doubled its annual campaign and moved from a $5 million organization to an $11 million organization.

“This doesn’t just mean we’re bigger,” said Helen Brena, chief executive officer of the YMCA of Southern Maine. “It means we’re making a bigger impact.”

Its four branches – in Biddeford, Freeport, Portland and New Gloucester – served 9,947 youths last fiscal year.

“The Y fulfills a gap in community services for kids,” said state Sen. Dave Woodsome, R-Waterboro.

“We pride ourselves on helping everyone, regardless of financial situation,” said outgoing board chair Bill Whitmore.

The annual celebration recognized three other cause-driven organizations whose efforts complement YMCA values.

The youth development award went to Maine Boys to Men, a Yarmouth-based nonprofit helping boys become respectful, nonviolent men.

The award for healthy living went to Shalom House, based in Portland, for providing services and housing for adults living with severe mental illness.

The social responsibility award went to York County Community Action Corporation, which alleviates the effects of poverty by providing health care, food, transportation and heating assistance.

Amy Paradysz is a freelance writer based in Scarborough. She can be reached at [email protected]