When you think of the YMCA, its emphasis on exercise and healthy living is probably the first thing that comes to mind. Though that is a huge part of what the South Sound YMCA offers, it’s also so much more. The YMCA sees itself as a cause, one that strengthens our community beyond building muscles.

Jennifer Willms, Director of Development at the YMCA says, “We are more than brick and mortar, gym and swim. The Y is about families. It’s the heart of what we do. We are a place for families to come and find respite, if you will. Families are able to participate in programs and build stronger bonds. Achieve a better work-life balance so that their whole lives run better.”

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Day camps, before and after school care, aquatics and family events are all part of the South Sound YMCA’s mission to help kids and empower families. Photo courtesy: South Sound YMCA

For many families, the YMCA offers a safe place for children to learn and grow. At the South Puget Sound Campus Child Care Center, the YMCA provides early learning opportunities for one-to-five-year-olds. Seasonal day camps at both the downtown and Briggs YMCA branches, along with before and after school care at 29 sites across Thurston County (serving over 1500 kids per day), offer an enriching environment for kids when school is not in session. These programs are particularly helpful for working families.

The YMCA’s youth development programs help teach kids about self-reliance and healthy lifestyles and provide positive youth-adult relationships that are important to child-development.

Willms explains the YMCA’s new Power Scholars Academy, which launched as a pilot program this past summer in partnership with the North Thurston and Olympia School Districts and Building Educator Leaders for Life.

South Sound YMCA
The pride felt by Power Scholars Academy graduates carries right into the next school year, boosting achievement for learners. Photo courtesy: South Sound YMCA

“The program is designed to prevent and decrease summer learning loss in second through fifth grade. Kids that are at or below the poverty level are less apt to be able to do things in the summer that help with retention. They might not have the opportunity to go to museums, camps or libraries because parents are often at work. The Power Scholars Program is half summer camp, half summer school. We create small group learning experiences that are rigorous and hands on. Field trips and service projects make learning fun and engaging.”

Health and wellness programs for people of all ages are also an important aspect of the YMCA’s programming. Willms is particularly proud of LIVESTRONG, a program for “Cancer survivors who are in or near remission and looking to find their ‘new normal.’ Participants are able to establish relationships with folks that have experienced the same things they have. They can get back to their workout routine and boost their nutrition. It can be refreshing and healing to be around other survivors, without having to explain what they’ve gone through.”

The YMCA’s focus on social responsibility makes it a great place to give back through engaged volunteerism. They rely on volunteers to serve as coaches for the youth sports league, members of the Board of Directors and class and program instructors. Volunteers are also integral to the YMCA’s fundraising efforts as well as in advocating for local and statewide policies and initiatives that promote health and wellness.

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Joe Michel is a volunteer and member of the Y and believes the dollars donated to the YMCA can create real change for local families. Photo courtesy: South Sound YMCA

Joe Michel has been a YMCA member and volunteer for the past eight years. In addition to attending senior fitness classes with his wife three days per week, Joe volunteers on Saturday mornings teaching adult swim lessons. “I like to see the satisfaction of those that receive the benefits of my teaching,” says Joe, who is also a board member at the downtown branch.

Joe believes in the YMCA because of “the wide number of programs that it has to offer. The impact from that can be great to the person that comes to the Y to participate and also to the community – it has lasting impacts. Where else can you go to find programs with all those benefits. I don’t think there’s any other place than the Y that can do that.”

Each year, the South Sound YMCA and a team of dedicated volunteers, including Joe, run a campaign to raise funds for programs, scholarships, and financial assistance. This year, they are aiming to raise $365,000, ninety-five percent of which goes directly to programs and financial assistance. Funds are spread between both branches and diverted to programs with the greatest need. Scholarships and financial assistance make it possible for families with limited incomes to participate in YMCA programs.

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The YMCA’s Harvest Festival is just one of the free and open family events hosted by the organization each year. Photo courtesy: South Sound YMCA

“The Y is a place for everybody,” explains Willms. “We never turn anyone away for lack of ability to pay for any of our programs. We have families who are at or below poverty level who are able to send kids to summer camp or do swim lessons. And, donations to the campaign help support everyone in the community.”

In 2016, 54 students participated in Power Scholars, costing the YMCA $900 per student. The program is funded through school districts support, small grants and community donations. In 2017, they hope to grow enrollment to 200 students making donations this year more critical than ever.

Joe is dedicated to fundraising for the YMCA because “it builds the fund for those who would otherwise not be able to enroll in these programs. They can ask the Y for help. Particularly for our youth, it gives them the opportunity to be taught the good things in life. To those that donate, they should get a good feeling, just like I do, knowing that their money is well spent.”

Learn more about the South Sound YMCA’s programs and make a contribution to the annual campaign here.

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