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the alfano family of four poses for a picture at the northwest family ymca

The Alfano family is well acquainted with the Northwest Family YMCA.

The heads of the family, Dana, 44, and Joe, 45, have experienced deafness throughout the majority of their lives. Dana was born with deafness, while Joe's hearing was impacted once he contracted pneumonia as a two-year-old. The couple has two daughters; Charlotte, 5, and Isabella, 4. Although Isabella was born with typical hearing capabilities, Charlotte has also dealt with disabilities like her parents. She has mild autism, which has resulted in her being nonverbal.

Thanks to much-improved auditory functions through hearing aids, Joe can speak. However, this often presents a unique challenge of having to be the one to speak for his family.

“It’s a big responsibility. Being able to speak makes me have to be the one to speak at drive-throughs, or in general, speaking on behalf of the family,” said Joe. “It can make it difficult for Dana to interpret conversations that may be going on too.”

The family often uses a transcriber app to work through these challenges. But they have also been learning sign language together, which has been beneficial for both Charlotte and Isabella. When Isabella wants to share a story from school with her parents, now she can now do so because of her ability to sign. And Charlotte is now learning the alphabet in sign language, which she loves, and is helping her to be able to communicate.

Dana is very much a product of the YMCA; her mother, Denise Reiter, served as the YMCA of Sandusky County's CEO for over 20 years, working in total for nearly five decades at the YMCA. Having grown up at the Y, Dana wanted her daughters to be afforded the same childhood experiences she received.  
“I had a lot of experience with the Y. I remembered taking swim lessons there, overnight camp, and being in childcare as a kid,” said Dana.   

Dana Alfano plays with her daughter at the Northwest Family YMCA

Knowing how accommodating the YMCA was for her as a child with deafness learning to swim, Dana pushed for Charlotte to receive similar one-to-one care, signing her up for Diverse Abilities Swim Lessons. She commended the Northwest Family Branch for taking such good care of Charlotte with her swim lessons, and Isabella when she was a part of the Partial Day Preschool program. With all of these positive experiences, Dana and Joe are now exploring opportunities for Isabella at YMCA Camp Northpoint this summer.

“The staff here has been great to me. They know us well, and when Isabella was in preschool here, they requested an interpreter for her for field trips,” said Dana, whose family became YMCA members in August 2021 just before Isabella began the preschool program. “The YMCA has been helpful, they’ve made us so happy, and we feel comfortable being here.”

While not as engrained as his wife, Joe loves the Y so much. Looking back on how things have been over the last two years, he’s thankful for the experience he and his girls have received.

“The YMCA has helped a lot, I don’t know where to start,” said Joe. “We do everything together as a family here. If it wasn’t for the Northwest YMCA’s preschool program, she probably would not have been able to go.”