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Kay’s Garden at Northwest Family YMCA grows more than flowers and vegetables; it’s a place where relationships blossom and connections bloom.

Keiron Adorno found that out firsthand. He was an intern this summer at Northwest before graduating from SUNY Brockport with a degree in exercise science. He was also part of school’s ROTC program.

“My grandfather was in the military, that kind of inspired me at a young age,” Keiron said. “I was introduced to ROTC at Brockport. I fell in love with the people and now I’m going to commission. It’s come full circle.”

During his internship, Keiron spent plenty of time in the garden. That’s where he met Steve Hanafan and Doug Lynch, both veterans. It’s also where he revealed something to Pam Clark, Healthy Living Coordinator at the Northwest Family YMCA.

“We were talking and shoveling mulch, and he told me, ‘you know, it’s always an honor for anybody in the military to be able to meet somebody that is a Congressional Medal of Honor recipient,’” Pam said. “And in the garden is where that all started coming about.”

Pam then reached out to member and graduate of the LIVESTRONG Program, Gary Beikirch. Gary is a Vietnam veteran. He also happens to be one of 71 living Medal of Honor recipients.

“I had no idea who Gary was when he was first in our program. There I was, giving him ‘marching orders’ on what you should be doing,” she said, laughing at the irony. “But it’s these kind of member engagements that I love, and especially why I love the Y.”

Pam arranged for “her Gary,” as she calls him, to come out to the branch one morning, and surprise Keiron.

“When I have a chance to talk with those in the military, or anyone, it’s another chance for me to feel perhaps I’m being significant and making a difference in someone’s life,” Gary said.

Gary brought a few things to give Keiron – a booklet that shares his story, his Challenge Coin and lots of advice on leading and serving. He also shared with him a little history of Congressional Medal of Honor, giving him an up-close look at his medal.

“One of the things that I’ve come to learn about what the Medal of Honor means is, it’s not about me it’s about others,” said Gary. “All of us just did what we are trained to do. It’s about everyone, including [Kei] that chooses to serve this country. That’s what it’s about. When I wear it, I wear it for God because it’s only by God’s grace that I survived.”

Gary was part of the Green Beret Special Forces A team. He was shot three times in Vietnam while trying to help the wounded. He was awarded the Medal of Honor in 1973.

“It is surreal,” Keiron said standing in front of Gary, talking with him about his experiences and hearing his thoughts on leading. “I thought this would be another day in the Wellness Center. To meet him is an honor and eye-opening experience. I think it’s something good to start off my career as an officer with his words in mind and I think it’ll have an impact on my soldiers one day.”

Keiron will be going to Fort Sam Houston. He wants to be part of the medical service, as Gary was, and become a trauma nurse. He will also be staying at the Northwest Y, working towards becoming a Certified Personal Trainer.

The YMCA of Greater Rochester is an affiliate member of the Armed Services YMCA. We are proud to support our military families, members and staff.