Mersades Wisner spent many hours at the YMCA as a child.
She remembers learning to swim at the Y and hanging out with friends and going on field trips at YMCA summer camps.
“They took us fishing, and I really liked that as a kid,” Mersades said. “Field trips were always the bomb!”
She also had a safe place to go during the school year at the Ys’ after-school program.
As she got older, Mersades started volunteering at the Y for events like the Duck Run, and when she turned 15, she got her first job at the YMCA as a summer camp counselor and child watch associate.
Although she could have picked a lot of places to work, Mersades picked the Y.
“I’ve always been welcome here,” she said.
And even after a tragic car accident left Mersades paralyzed from the waist down, she found a home again at the Don Sjogren Community YMCA.
After graduating from Holdrege High School in 2018, Mersades moved to Kansas. She planned to take a year off from school to work and experience life.
Mersades said she loves family gatherings, and there was no way she was going to miss Thanksgiving with her family back in Holdrege. So, after finishing her overnight shift at the Cracker Barrel in Topeka, she got in her car and headed toward Holdrege on Thanksgiving morning.
After about an hour on the road, a car crossed the center lane around a curve and struck Mersades nearly head-on. While her car was still in the road, Mersades was struck by another vehicle. She was air flighted to a hospital in Kansas City, and it was uncertain whether she would even live through the first days after the accident.
Luckily, Mersades pulled through. She spent a month in ICU and another five months in a rehabilitation hospital and then a rehab clinic. She described her recovery as “horrible” as she would get sick any time she ate or tried to simply sit up. Her spinal cord injury left her paralyzed and in a wheelchair.
She moved back home to Holdrege in June 2019. That same month, she started work again as a camp counselor at the Don Sjogren Community YMCA.
“It felt good to work again,” Mersades said. “I missed working with kids.”
Mersades continued to work at the YMCA over the winter in the after-school program and then helped welcome kids back to the YMCA summer camp this summer after the long COVID-19 shut down. Mersades helped teach and guide 66 kids in summer camp this year.
“I just love kids,” Mersades said. “I like the way they think and react to stuff. I like seeing how their brains work.”
The kids often have questions about her wheelchair and aren’t afraid to ask her how she sleeps or how she drives and other random questions.
“I don’t mind talking about it,” Mersades said. “They just want to know how I do things. They want to know why my legs don’t work. They are just curious about it, and I love to answer their questions.”
Mersades plans to continue working at the Y as a counselor in the after-school program this year, and members will soon see her greeting them at the front desk as well.