If you hear the name Cassie Cayetano at the Portage YMCA, you may hesitate, not recognizing the name. Then you realize the person you see running around the YMCA with a smile on her face each day is Miss CC, and you’re happy to see her.
Cayetano has been at the Portage branch of the YMCA for the last 10 years, making her way up the different levels to her current position as the associate branch manager.
She started off her Y career within the before and after school program held at Meyers Elementary School after seeing a “Now Hiring” sign at the YMCA.
She went in, interviewed, and had the job before she even had a house in the city!
“I was searching for houses in 2007 and I drove past the Y and it said they were hiring,” she explained. “I had always been interested in helping with pre-school and kindergarten age children, so I applied and had an interview before I purchased my house! I had a job in Portage before I knew I was going to live in Portage!”
Cayetano was raised in Illinois outside of Chicago and didn’t move to Northwest Indiana until 2007. From, and while attending high school, she went straight into the workforce, with her first job being at a small pizza shop.
She was looking for houses in Lake County, when her real estate officer suggested she look in Porter County, which led her to her first home in Portage. Wanting a better life, schools, and environment for her three children, Portage became Cayetano’s new home.
At the Y, Cayetano first worked at the elementary school, taking care of the kids who stayed after or came early for care.
“I love developing the little minds,” she said. “You see when teaching them something they may not understand at first, then you see that light bulb moment and your heart fills. You are reaching that child and that is huge.”
Though Cayetano does not work specifically with kids now as the branch director, she is still able to see and experience those moments with kids, teens, and adults.
She sees older men and women, who may have lost their spouse, come in to enjoy worship. She sees pre-schoolers walk into the Y so shy and timid and by the end of the year, they are yelling, “Bye, I’ll see you tomorrow,” at the end of the day.
“I love seeing those summer camp kids who just moved to Portage and have no friends and by end of the summer they are talking with others who will be at the same school as them. So, they know they have a friend before school even starts. It is those little moments…”
Each day, Cayetano is the go to person for any concerns, questions, and new ideas. The other directors of programs report to her each day on progress and management issues. Programs at the Y include fitness classes, the pre-school, before and after care, sports, intervention programs, and art classes.
What she loves about the Portage YMCA is the strong commitment of staff and the feeling of family within the staff.
“There is commitment among all of the coworkers, when someone is getting married or someone is ill, we all come around together like a family. Yet, when our members have something, like a member’s wife recently passed away, we all came together asking, ‘Who is going to the funeral? Can we carpool there?” That commitment brings a strong family connection.”
Cayetano’s immediate family includes her boyfriend and three children. Two girls are at Ball State University and her son is at Portage High School.
Cayetano is big on family – immediate and those extended ones far away. Ancestry, looking at past family members and history lines, is a hobby Cayetano began and has learned a lot from.
“I learned one of my two-times great uncles was born on the ship from Germany to Illinois. So on the ship records, he is three months old and it says ‘born at sea,’” she said.
She has also been able to track down some family members she and her father had never known before, meeting them for the first time.
“I was able to meet my grandfather’s other children and family, which was pretty awesome.”
But like all families, arguments arise in the Cayetano household and they center around the rivalry between the Chicago Cubs and the Chicago White Sox.
“My boyfriend is a White Sox fan and I am true blue,” she said, laughing. “He likes that other team.”
Though she moved to Northwest Indiana and many relatives are still over the state line, Cayetano refers to Portage as her home where her family lives.
And, that home can be found on Willowcreek Avenue.
“I love Northwest Indiana because that’s where my family is now,” she said. “Not my blood family, but my Y family.”