Shrewsbury woman honored by YMCA

By Bonnie Adams, Government Editor

(l to r) Jeannette Cardozo, a Zumba instructor at the YMCA of Central Massachusetts Boroughs Family Branch in Westborough and her student, Maria Kocia.

Westborough – On any given day, there are hundreds of people at the YMCA of Central Massachusetts Boroughs Family Branch in Westborough enjoying the various programs. But it is a pretty safe bet that no one is enjoying themself more than Maria Kocia. And thanks to her enthusiasm and dedication as a volunteer for the organization, she was recently named as the recipient of the Diversity and Inclusion Award at the 147th Annual YMCA of Central Massachusetts Recognition Event held in Worcester Nov. 3.

This Shrewsbury resident has faced a number of developmental challenges in her 20 years. But she has never let that keep her from the activities she loves, such as sports, office work and helping others, according to her parents Andrzej (Andy) and Alexsandra (Alex).

Since Maria graduated from Shrewsbury High School last year, the YMCA has played an important part in the family's life, Alex said. As a volunteer, Maria assists in various capacities, including working at the front desk where she scans member cards, reads books to kids in the Children Watch room, and does light office work. She also helps with tasks at the Greendale Family Branch in Worcester.

Elizabeth Moquin, the director of Membership and Community Relations at the Boroughs branch said, “She is such a delight at the desk and members have even asked if she could work more hours as she greets everyone with such a warm smile and cheery hello. We always say that our goal is to make the YMCA the best part of everyone's day and Maria does that each time she puts on her YMCA nametag.”

Maria loves to participate in many classes at the YMCA including karate (where she recently earned her purple belt), water fitness and rock climbing.

“But Zumba is my favorite,” she said. “My mom and I do it together.”

For her 20th birthday, Maria and her family organized a Zumba party for close to 100 of her friends. Moquin said the event not only was a huge success, it also served as a benefit for the YMCA.

“In lieu of traditional birthday gifts, the Kocias asked guests to make a donation to our “Strong Kids Campaign,” which provides scholarship assistance for families in need. So many YMCA families directly benefited from the generosity of the Kocias and their friends,” she said.

Because the YMCA has been an important part of their lives, Andy and Alex are now corporators as well.

“They offer outstanding programs and many classes for no extra charge,” Andy said, “They have great instructors. Those instructors have made such an impact on Maria's life.”

“This is a wonderful place. We couldn's imagine life without it,” Alex added.

Maria and her mother also volunteer at Baypath Humane Society in Hopkinton one morning a week.

“I love pets, especially big dogs!” Maria said. “They don's scare me.”

Recently she has started volunteering for a Worcester law firm, doing tasks such as assembling marketing packages and filing.

“Maria is very organized,” her father said. “She likes to put things in order.”

Maria and her family are also very involved in the Shrewsbury Special Olympics program. She has played bocce, soccer and basketball.

“I also do rhythmic gymnastics and bowl,” she noted.

Singing and acting in local plays are two other interests.

Andy and Alex acknowledge that life is now busier than ever, but for them, it is worth it to see their daughter thrive.

“She doesn's give up easily,” Andy said. “She's a hard worker.”

Community Advocate Staff: