Welcoming All at the YMCA

Last updated: September 7, 2023, at 2:42 p.m. PT

Originally published: September 7, 2023, at 2:42 p.m. PT

"Y logo - Welcome" with "hello" written in many languages in the background. Three images are set in circle frames: a headshot of Erwin, a childhood photo with friends, and Erwin as a child in Hawaii

Erwin Vidallon Headshot

By Erwin Vidallon 

Chief Financial Officer, YMCA of Greater Seattle.  

I'm a numbers guy. Finding and crunching numbers is what I do. But it can't be all about the dollars and cents. There's an actual balance to managing finance, so we can put the money where it really counts. And we can lead with our hearts. I found my purpose, my "Y," through two words: "for all."   

There is this hope that, at the Y, we never have to turn anyone away. It's this drive and mission to make every single person's life better. And I cannot think of a single thing more valuable than to be caring, generous, and welcoming.  

In the Filipino culture, welcoming is second nature. It's part of who we are. When a neighbor comes by, you pull up a chair. You make room for them at your table. No matter what. Even if you have to reach into the very back of the pantry to grab the last can of spam you've been saving, you need to feed them as a way to welcome their visit. You're going to sacrifice what you've been saving, and you'll worry about finding more later. But for right now, you're pulling up a chair because that's a member of your community. And you are going to welcome them into your home.  

Hawaii Childhood Photo

I immigrated to the United States with my family when I was seven years old. I was worried about how I would fit into this new culture. And unlike my siblings, I had yet to reach the grade level in the Philippines where you learned English. I vividly remember what it was like to walk around as a new kid, especially in a new country where you have no friends. You can't speak the language. So, your opportunities to connect are limited. I was so grateful to find that when I started first grade in Hawaii, I participated in a class that was specifically designed so I could learn English, which I attended on top of my regular classes. And I remember how it felt to have this class of kids reach out to me and bring me into their group. It was such a good feeling to start school that way and be accepted into my new community.  

Erwin with childhood friends

Now, my siblings lovingly joke that I am the most Americanized out of all of us. But I think back to that initial welcome into a new culture and am extremely grateful for my welcoming experience. I was able to find a place in American culture and, at the same time, hold onto my Filipino roots.  

I hold these values now at the Y. The idea of serving your community is at my core. I watched my mom, a nurse, who literally welcomed strangers into our homes and cared for our larger community's elders. She was all about taking care of people and instilled in me that it is our obligation to help others with an open hand. The work was within our household, and we just became part of her world. Her generosity and care-taker mentality led me to become a public servant.  

I think that working for the YMCA of Greater Seattle ended up being a culmination of my professional career in one organization. I've worked in a state psychiatric hospital. I served veterans and their families through programs, such as skilled nursing facilities transition and homeless programs, among others. And I also worked in Parks and Recreation. It just so happens that the Y is one organization that provides all the experiences that I've gone through in my professional career. It's this holistic approach to community building. And I feel I have found my space and continued commitment to serve the public. Everywhere I look, I see a team dedicated to others. They know that every moment you reach out, give, sacrifice, you gain more as a collective.  

I aspire for every member of our community to share that sense of responsibility toward one another—a responsibility rooted in compassion. We should prioritize the well-being and fair treatment of others and strive to ensure that we make space for each other in every aspect of our lives.  

That's the beauty of Welcoming Week. It's a two-way street. We are embracing each other's cultures. We aren't trying to force anyone to be anything other than who they are. And at the YMCA of Greater Seattle, we believe that belonging begins with all of us. We are for all.  

So, whether you're being welcomed like I was all those years ago, or you're pulling up a chair to add one more friend to our collective community table, cheers to the biggest, brightest Welcoming Week yet. This is the most important kind of growth this numbers guy can see. Thank you again for being an active, caring participant in our Y community.