Pandemic can’t stop YMCA
Depending on the time of the year, between 20,000 and 26,000 Niagara residents are using the facilities at the YMCA’s five health, fitness and aquatic centres in Port Colborne, Niagara Falls, Welland, Grimsby and St. Catharines.
But with the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic, all the centres were forced to close. Instead of fretting and worrying about the future of the charitable organization, the YMCA has stepped up in a big way to provide online physical and mental health services to help its members and others get through these tough times.
“As we were starting to understand we were looking at having a shutdown of facilities, a number of staff started to rally and began to record some homegrown videos just to provide people with a few ideas for staying healthy at home,” said Cathyann White, the regional vice president of the YMCAs of Niagara and Oakville.
Thankfully, the local YMCAs are part of a collective of YMCAs across Canada and they have been able to take advantage of that collective might to provide a plethora of online options.
People who join the Y are invited to participate in an orientation program called YThrive. The program helps develops goals for the new members and directs them to the right stream to achieve those goals.
The streams include: Grow (low-impact workouts for children and youth); Begin (beginner’s workout centred around functional movements); Balance (full-body workout for those with some exercise experience); Boost (intermediate level endurance workout for those looking for something more challenging); Gold (low-impact workouts for people with reduced mobility); Core (workouts targeting abdominals and postural muscles); and, Flex (resistance training for those who have established exercise habits and are looking to get stronger).
“As a collective, we started filming those streams so they could be applied online,” White said. “That content was very quickly filmed and put together, and we renovated our website to make it easy for people to access.”
To access the workouts, those interested should visit the (https://ymca.ca), There are three circles on the home page, titled YThrive, YPlay and YWell. YThrive contains all the previously mentioned YThrive content, YPlay features activities for families and YWell has content which aims at keeping minds healthy and strong.
This week, the Y launched the YMCA Gym Class. It’s a physical education program for all students and families and is recommended for children in Kindergarten to Grade 3.
“They are gym classes that you would find in school for kids but they are meant to be done at home,” White said.
The Y’s online resources are ever evolving.
“We are continuing to build and expand the channels and populate them with new material,” she said.
It is obvious a tremendous amount of work has been completed in a short amount of time.
“Various Ys have different staffs that are still working and they are able to participate in producing and filming content,” White said. “We have some health and fitness staff who continue to work to oversee the branches and they have been filming which is phenomenal.”
Much of the content can also be found on the YMCA’s following social media platforms: @Facebook.com/YMCANiagara; @Twitter.com/YMCANiagara; and, @Instagram.com/ymcaniagara.
Click rates on the Y’s website have increased 200 per cent and all of its social media channels are very lively. On social media, the organization usually posts a family activity first thing in the morning, then adds an exercise video midway through the day followed by yoga and meditation posts in the evening.
“It has been a phenomenal experience and a way of working with people that will continue past this,” White said. “People we know can’t wait to get back in the community face-to-face but this is another way to support activity and the YMCA through this period when we can’t be together.”
The YMCA has also been phoning its members to check on their well-being.
“It started with older adults who we were worried about and who we would normally see regularly,” White said. “We are finding that those calls are really well-received. Sometimes I call people and get to chatting with them and they call me back on my cell phone to chat a little more.”
Members contacted are mentioning how hard it is to be isolated and to not be able to follow through with daily routines such as going to the Y.
“We have been connecting them to these virtual channels and it had been positively received,” she said. “People are grateful to have some additional ideas to flush out their exercise programs.”
The Niagara YMCAs have close to 700 full- and part-time employees, and like every business, charity and other facet of society, it’s concerned about what happens when the pandemic finally ends.
“As a charitable organization, we don’t run with big surpluses and, in fact, we are providing financial assistance to people who can’t afford fees,” White said. “We are working in many cases with the most vulnerable in our community and this is devastating for a charity like the Y because we are not taking in any fees or revenues of any kind right now.”
“How we are going to restart, what things look like, what things will we be allowed to do from a public health perspective and where we re-begin, those are complex prospects.”
White and the YMCA are gratified that many people are reaching out and offering assistance.
“People have been making donations to us because they know we have been here for more than a century and they want to make sure we are here when this is all over.”
Donations to the YMCA in Niagara can be made at https://secure.e2rm.com/registrant/donate.aspx?eventid=182492&langpref=en-CA&SPID=19730438