The YMCA Austin has always been focused on improving individual and community well-being with the following mission:
- Leverage the excitement and passion around recreational and competitive programming to create a healthy outlet for children to gain new skills, develop a sense of team and connect with positive role models
- Bridge the gap in the delivery of swim lessons and water safety education in the U.S.—especially in underserved communities
- Work with community leaders to make the healthy choice an easy choice in all places where people live, work, learn and play
- Create a space where families can find respite from social, economic and educational challenges while learning how to overcome them
- Strengthen the alliance between traditional health care and community-based prevention strategies in order to help individuals prevent, delay or live better with chronic conditions
- Provide opportunities for every family to build stronger bonds, achieve greater work-life balance and become more engaged within their communities
- Address critical gaps in health education
If the recent experience at the YMCA of Austin is any indication, shelter-in-place mandates and social distancing practices are no match for the human drive to form communities. Across metropolitan Austin, new YMCA virtual communities are springing up after the recent call by local, county and state authorities to close facilities and maintain social distancing.
Popular Y exercise instructors are leading Facebook Live classes for groups of 100 or more at a time. Y Youth leaders are conducting virtual storytimes, sports clinics and crafting activities for families. Senior groups are organizing “socials” using free teleconferencing services, while Y staff members are calling those older adults who are shut in and isolated just to talk and ensure their wellbeing.
Meanwhile, Y members are streaming literally thousands of pre-recorded exercise classes in an effort to keep active and relieve the stress and anxiety that comes from an unprecedented situation like that posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The Y is a relationship organization bringing people together – large numbers, from all backgrounds and circumstances creating personal connections,” said James Finck, YMCA of Austin President & CEO. “That doesn’t stop just because we have to close our doors. We’ll mobilize every resource we have to connect with people any way we can.”
A quick sampling of virtual offerings includes:
- Yoga classes hosted by Y instructor Scott Roskilly
- Senior exercise class hosted by Renee Deeter
- Easter Chalk Bunny art activity hosted by Mayra Arredondo
- Storytime with Suzi Ziegenbein (reading to her donkeys!)
- Kids’ DIY fitness game led by Matt Dove
Finck emphasizes that, as a volunteer-led nonprofit, the Y exists to serve all members of the community, and he invites anyone looking to maintain their health or connect with others to participate. The YMCA of Austin home page, www.AustinYMCA.org, has been reconfigured to serve as a one-stop resource with streaming exercise classes, information and classes tailored for seniors, activities for kids and families, kids’ educational resources, spiritual & emotional support, nutrition resources and tips, links to community information as well as ways people can volunteer and give back.
Back in the physical realm, the Extend-A-Care YMCA is offering child care for essential workers at the Southwest Family, East Communities and Hays Communities YMCAs. Y staffers are offering the service daily from 7am to 7pm. Information is available here.
Throughout its history, from the Civil War to both World Wars to our current crisis, the Y has adapted to provide vital community services. Additionally, like so many other organizations, Finck says the Y’s resources are being stretched their limit, and donations are greatly needed.
“The virtual experience is part of what the Y has always done,” Finck said. “We’ve stepped up in hard times and continued to serve. We’ve been here for more than 60 years, and we need to make sure we’re here to serve those who need us most in the years to come.”
Supporters can make contributions at www.AustinYMCA.org/donate.