United Way Agency Spotlight: Whatcom Family YMCA

Oct 1, 2020

Your United Way donation supports a collaborative network of local nonprofits doing critical work in our community. We thought you might like to hear more about how your dollars are hard at work. Today, we’re featuring the Whatcom Family YMCA, whose programs support a huge range of people in our community, from infants to seniors, with a variety services that have become even more important in light of COVID-19.

In addition to providing ongoing grant support to the YMCA through our Community Impact Fund, we are honored this year to be able to support them with funds from our Emergency Recovery Fund. How has the Y adapted its programs to serve our community during this challenging time? Here’s what they had to say. (Thanks to Allison Hegan for sharing this info with us!)

Agency Spotlight: YMCA

When the COVID-19 crisis hit, the YMCA was called upon to step up and meet critical, immediate needs in our community. From offering childcare to essential workers, to delivering food to remote parts of the county, to reaching out to seniors to reduce their isolation, our mission is more important than ever.

Stepping up and scaling back

Prior to COVID-19, the Y was one of the largest providers for licensed early learning, after-school enrichment, youth sports, camp, health and wellness, chronic disease prevention programs, and aquatics in our community. Like many organizations, we had to close our main facilities to prevent the spread of the virus. And while we re-opened our facility at a very reduced capacity on July 15, we will not reinstate many programs until it is safe.

By making tough choices, we have scaled back regular programs and staff so we can deliver the most vital services. We have pivoted our approach to serve under these extraordinary circumstances.

Caring for our community’s children 

At the request of our local school districts, PeaceHealth, and the Whatcom County Emergency Childcare Task Force, we opened childcare centers dedicated to serving families of essential workers such as medical providers, first responders, and grocery and drug store employees. During the shutdown, we served 160 infant through school-age children and their families. We held spots free of charge for parents whose children were not in care during this time, then re-opened this service and Camp Better Together to non-essential workers in June.

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“The fact the YMCA has been able to create a program for kids during this time is nothing short of a miracle. They have led the way as we face school closures to provide for kids of essential front line employees who have no choice but to go to work in these scary times. Thank you, YMCA!” –Parent of child in Camp Better Together

Supporting students and teens

As local schools turn to remote learning, families who can’t work from home face tough choices. The Y is responding by offering all-day care for school-aged children (K-5th grade), so students can be in a safe environment while participating in remote learning activities. To further assist children who may not have internet access at home to complete school work, we have launched Y-Fi, a program that offers free Wi-Fi onsite at our downtown location.

We also continue to serve at-risk teens in our successful Youth Institute technology and career-readiness program, along with supporting youth health and fitness in our Girls on the Run and Trailblazers outdoor running programs.

Feeding local families

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As the pandemic continues, we know that more of our neighbors are facing food insecurity. The YMCA has partnered with the Bellingham Food Bank, local school districts, the Opportunity Council, and Whatcom Unified Command to assist in the delivery of meals to all corners of the county.

Many people in our community do not have cars and, with limited bus service, find it difficult to get to a food bank. Typically, our vans are used to transport children and teens to programming, but today we are using them to deliver food boxes to some of the most remote parts of our county. We plan to continue this free service moving forward.

Improving health and decreasing isolation

During the shutdown, YMCA staff conducted one-on-one check-ins with our senior members and we continue to arrange small group conversations online to reduce isolation and depression. Nearly 100 seniors are now taking part in daily Zoom fitness classes with our local Y instructors. These seniors greatly enjoy the ability to see their friends on Zoom and catch up virtually after class ends.

We are also proud to be able to continue our LIVESTRONG health and wellness program for cancer survivors.

“LIVESTRONG is an instrumental program, and the Y has seamlessly brought it to life online. I count on logging on two times a week to keep myself in the best of health post cancer. Thank you for the flexibility and resourcefulness of your staff. They are teachers, mentors, encouraging cheerleaders, and they live their teachings.” –LIVESTRONG participant

A silver lining of this crisis is that it has forced us to think about new ways to serve a broader and more diverse community. As we go forward, we will continue to explore how can we adapt to widen our net of support.

Living United together

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Like many local organizations, the Whatcom Family YMCA is facing significant operational disruption. We have had to let go of many of our valued staff members. This has been a very difficult time for the people who have poured their hearts and souls into building strong programs and support. But although COVID-19 has changed our world, it has not changed the Y’s commitment to serve Whatcom County.

To sustain our current efforts and ensure our future, we must rely on community partnerships, donations, and government funding more than ever. United Way support is helping us serve our community with resilience and determination. We are truly humbled and grateful to be part of a network of nonprofits all working together to provide critical services in our community. THANK YOU!