“Our mission statement is to put Christian principles into practice through programs that build healthy spirit, mind and body for all,” said Jorge Perez, president and CEO of YMCA of Greater Cincinnati, a WeTHRIVE! partner. “And it doesn’t say, except when there is a pandemic.”
In March, when traditional programs could not operate due to COVID-19, YMCA found different ways to care for its members and the broader community.
With schools and child care centers closing, area hospitals needed child care for the children of their employees. They turned to YMCA for help. The Y set up ten sites and cared for 538 children of essential healthcare workers.
Closing YMCA branches was particularly hard on older adults who consider the Y a home away from home. As of July, volunteers have made more than 7,000 phone calls to check up on senior YMCA members and taken them nearly 9,500 meals.
The need for food wasn’t limited to seniors. “We launched a partnership with several meal providers in the area and in the span of about six weeks we were engaged in distributing over 90,000 meals,” Jorge said. That number has grown to more than 100,000 as of last month.
When schools closed, YMCA called to check on students who would normally come to the Y’s afterschool program. They found that many kids needed help with homework, technology, and meals.
“We worked with the department of education to ask if we could use some of our afterschool dollars for students. At our highest point we were serving almost 4,000 children, making 10,000 points of contact with kids, serving nine school districts,” Jorge said.
Jorge says the live classes showed the emotional toll COVID-19 was taking on members. “One of our classes, we actually had to stop at the beginning because people were sobbing,” he said. “They had just missed each other, so we spent a little bit of time letting people say hello again.”
As YMCA branches are re-opening (details here), Jorge knows that people are still struggling. “That’s one of reasons why the YMCA upped its available scholarships,” he said. Free three-month memberships are available for non-members as well as former members who cancelled their membership for financial reasons.
When members expressed interest in praying together, YMCA created Spirit Moment sessions. This weekly program on Facebook attracts 33,000+ people.
The common theme in YMCA’s pandemic response is one that Jorge emphasizes: connection. “Social isolation is extremely damaging to our mental health and even to our physical health,” he said. “Social distancing does not mean you have to be alone.”
In reflecting on the past few months, Jorge said, “What we learned during this time frame is that our mission statement … needed to match our response. We took care of people’s spirits. We took care of people’s minds … and we took care of people’s bodies. We just did it in ways we’ve never done it before.”
YMCA recently announced that LIVE Virtual Group Exercise is now open to the community! The free classes include HIIT, Yoga, and Zumba. Go to MyY.org/Live to learn more. Passwords for all classes are “ymca”.