Karen and Matt Hamel relocated to Chesapeake after experiencing first-hand the horror of 9/11 in New York City. Matt worked in the banking industry, in a building attached to the World Trade Center. On the morning of 9/11, he sat in his office waiting to evacuate and witnessed hundreds of people jumping from the top floors of the Twin Towers—some hugging, some holding hands. Thankfully, Matt made it to safety. But the images of 9/11 stuck with him, and he wanted to "pay [it] back for surviving," said his wife Karen. He joined the Navy Reserves, which led him, his wife and his two young children to Chesapeake.
Shortly after the birth of their third child, Matt left for Iraq for eight months. "This is when the Y literally became my lifeline," said Karen. Karen came to the Greenbrier Family YMCA nearly every day during his deployment to work out, to get out of the house, or to simply shower. "Trying to shower at home with a 5 year old, a 1 year old, and an infant always led me to come out to an unrolled roll of toilet paper stuffed in the toilet or my infant son in a tiara and lipstick," Karen joked. But the support Karen received from the Y during those months was no joking matter. "During his deployment, everyone at the Y, both staff and members, checked on me often. Everyone offered help if I needed it and were genuine in their offers. Military spouses kept me upbeat with their deployment anecdotes and the YMCA pool served as my little tropical oasis away from home…we made a great network of friends—all relationships we initiated and cultivated at the Y."
The Y supported Karen and her young children during this difficult time until Matt safely returned home. Now a family of six, the Hamels continue to frequent the Y, enjoying a variety of family-friendly programs such as Stay & Play, the Interactive Zone, swim lessons, youth sports, and Parents Night Out. Karen is especially grateful to have the Y in their lives: "I consider myself lucky to have the Y as part of my village fulfilling its mission to build the people in my family and community to be the best that they can be."