The YMCA, no matter the location, is often aflutter with mild chaos. Organized chaos, that is. There are people doing a workout in the cardio room, swimming laps in the pool and stretching out in a nearby group exercise class. And there are kids being picked up from day care, bouncing before swimming lessons and dribbling on the basketball court.
But all of that came to a screeching halt when local and national YMCA locations were forced to shut their doors in mid-March as a response to the rising cases of COVID-19.
“Up until March of 2020, the YMCA was having a very good year,” says Pamela Curran, executive vice president and the chief operating officer of the YMCA of Metropolitan Washington. “We had recently completed a much-needed $18 million renovation of our branches, membership was up, donations were up, our youth development programs were thriving and we were identifying possible locations for a new YMCA.”
When news came that all locations would have to shut their doors for an unforeseeable amount of time, as hard as it was to turn away members, says Curran, the toughest part was furloughing 80% of the organization’s staff.
“Though our buildings never completely define us, much of what the Y offers takes place within our buildings, so for a moment we collectively froze,” says Curran. “But the Y staff and volunteers immediately pivoted to fill the space in our communities that allowed the Y to impact in a different way. We actually made a pledge that we would re-emerge even stronger than before the pandemic.”
The organization hit the ground running, launching virtual YMCA programs and partnering with other organizations in the community. The YMCA pursued grants of more than $387,000, allowing them to deliver food to local families who needed assistance most.
Since then, the Y has been able to donate over 87,000 pounds of meals and produce to local families in need. And further, the locations offered emergency child care at four locations in the DMV, hosted blood drives at branches (where over 400 donations were made) and the team made hundreds of “wellness calls” to seniors each day to “see how they were doing and sometimes just to be the friendly voice on the other end of the phone,” says Curran.
The list goes on, as it often does for the YMCA’s offerings. The social service branch offered more than 1,000 tele-therapy sessions for children and teens as schools remained closed, and provided thousands of masks and “fun kits” for children in the community.
But aside from all of the adaptation and good news, Curran says it’s a “somber summer,” at local YMCA locations this year.
“We live for our thousands of children that attend our traditional and overnight summer camps and our Stem Thingamajig Convention,” says Curran. “Per CDC and state guidelines, our summer camps will be much smaller, but with the same focus on enrichment and safety.”
Speaking of safety, Curran says the YMCA has taken the “cautious” approach to reopening, and has slowed the process down to ensure safety for members (ranging in ages from infant to elderly).
“We have moved much of the equipment to account for social distancing and have created one-way patterns throughout the Y,” says Curran. “We are limited as to the number of members that we can serve within the Y, so we have created many outdoor air venues for popular classes and programs. We are very fortunate to have pools at many of our locations that the members are enjoying, though reservations are required, and the experience in the pool is very different. And we have invested in enhanced cleaning equipment, including infrared lighting and enhanced-cleaning protocols.”
Looking ahead, as restrictions continue to be lifted across Virginia and the United States, the organization will continue to seek ways to bolster the community during these uncertain times, whether in-person or from afar.
The YMCA continues to innovate, evaluate and respond to members, says Curran. But until things get a little safer, the organization remains hopeful and determined in its impact.
“The truly amazing, positive and unintended consequence of this pivot to a more virtual world and exclusive community-based delivery service (since our fitness centers and pools were not allowed to open) is that our members noticed and continued to support the Y through their generosity and contributions,” says Curran. “YMCA members are amazing and sent many emails and donations saying that even though they could not come to the Y yet, they were so proud of our support in the community and they wanted to continue to give.”
For more on how the community has been impacted by COVID-19, subscribe to our weekly newsletters.