By Taylor Short
Killeen Daily Herald
COPPERAS COVE – When Armed Forces YMCA director Doreen Vasseur gives a tour of the facility, presenting the locker rooms, gym and kitchen, she does so proudly as if it was her home.
Since taking the helm in June, Vasseur has tried to create an atmosphere where people can enjoy not only the multitude of activities available, but spend quality time with those they love.
Because – child or adult, military or civilian – it's her goal to make every visitor feel like family.
Vasseur walks through the building into dressing rooms and the kitchen as she describes improvements she hopes to make, including showers and new activities.
"Hopefully soon, we're going to start a dance clinic and classes for adults and kids: hip-hop, ballet, stuff like that," she said. "But right now we're out to see if anyone is interested and hip-hop seems to be the popular one, so we're really excited about that."
Originally from Quincy, Mass., Vasseur's husband joined the military and they moved to Copperas Cove, where they decided to stay and raise their two daughters as they completed college.
With 12 years of work in the Copperas Cove Independent School District, 18 years of early childhood study and 31 years working with children, it's no wonder why many youngsters who frequent the YMCA call her "mom."
"I love my job here at the Y because I get to see a lot of the kids that I got to see at the school," she said. "I get to see them here, all grown up. I get the best of both worlds."
Surveying the full-size gym, Vasseur talks about the Amateur Athletic Union that uses it for games before explaining that the 8-year-old facility wasn't full of exercise equipment until a month after she arrived.
"We've been excited because the weight room is something that we had tried to do a couple times. We had tried to do it over here in this little room, but we decided to expand and make it bigger," she said.
Two years ago, the facility was re-dubbed a family center and began including adult fitness activities like yoga, Zumba and child care while parents exercised. They also offer a personal trainer to assist those looking to learn more about effective exercise regimens.
As the name implies, Vasseur is also dedicated to military families in the area, grilling burgers and hot dogs for troops during homecomings and offering discounts for their service.
"We have our adopted units that we work with and we do special things. On Dec. 12, we had two Christmas parties. One had 200 and the other had 600 military and their families," she said. "We brought Christmas gifts for the kids, Santa Claus came, and we had hot chocolate and cookies and all that stuff."
Entering the children's room, Vasseur points out the two flat screen televisions, Nintendo Wii, PlayStation 2 and a foosball table sitting in the corner.
"I wanted to make it kid-friendly and do a lot for the kids, like the lock-ins. We just had one last Friday night and we had 55 kids and that's the most we've ever had," she said. "After every home game, we have the fifth-quarter dances and that has grown to 101 kids, and we have dads that come in and play basketball with their kids here and know that it's a safe place."
Part of the Boys and Girls Clubs of America in the past, the Armed Service YMCA Family Center is now its own entity. Vasseur spreads the word about the facility and its function at Rotary International and Optimist International meetings, among other places.
"We've been out, standing in Walmart for a couple of hours, handing out free things. That's the biggest obstacle: just letting people know that we're here and the things that we do," she said.
Her efforts have made a difference in the attendance of parties and classes and now Vasseur hopes to draw more people with a grand opening at the end of the month. Everyone is welcome, but she enjoys seeing the faces of "her kids" the most.
"And the kids, when they come in with a smile on their face, a lot of them call me mom and people always ask me, 'How many kids do you really have?'"
Contact Taylor Short at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7476.