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YMCA moves to be more inclusive

BY HEATHER COX - hcox@h-ponline.com

The Parkview Huntington Family YMCA has recently launched a program to make its facility a more inclusive, accessible place to be, as part of celebrating the 10th birthday in its current facility.

“Membership for All” is targeted toward individuals or families who receive assistance through programs such as SNAP, TANF, HIP, CHIP, Social Security Disability or Medicaid. Those who qualify can be granted a 50 percent subsidy toward a YMCA membership and additional help if that doesn’t help them out enough.

CEO and Executive Director, Ben Davis, said this program is effective immediately and they have already received a few applicants who heard about the program through various organizations and churches.

The process to apply was purposefully kept simple, Davis said. To enroll, anyone can bring in proof of participation in any of the above mentioned social assistance programs, which can be done in a determination letter or by stopping at the Division of Family Resources on Etna Avenue, where they can print a proof of enrollment.

There is no joiner’s fee or enrollment fee to begin participation in “Membership for All.”

The idea behind this program is that the YMCA wants everyone to be included and feel welcome because spending time with family and being healthy should not be exclusive.

“Recreation, family time and wellness shouldn’t be just for some people,” Davis said. “These are basic needs that the YMCA is uniquely situated in our community to help all individuals and families achieve. And, physical activity has shown to boost mental and emotional well-being as well.”

There were several factors which led to the decision to create this program. One being a realization that they could be serving and reaching more individuals and families, specifically those in lower and middle income households.

“We worked with the YMCA national office (Y-USA) to conduct a demographic study of our members which confirmed that we could make our Y more accessible to those with financial need,” Davis explained.

Davis added that they had also become more aware of national reports that shared information on the state of the American family. He said that even though unemployment may be low, it’s still hard for working middle-class families to be able to afford some basic needs.

“And even though a full-priced YMCA membership is a great value for what you get – and our Y is priced lower than most in the area – it still can feel like a luxury if you’re struggling to pay for gas and groceries,” Davis said.

The United Way Community Needs survey also showed that people’s top goals are to have a healthy and happy family, but more than 50 percent said finances can be an obstacle.

Another factor in making this initiative possible was the amount of philanthropic support the YMCA has received recently from various businesses, individuals, foundations and others.

“The way we interpret this is that our donors see that the YMCA has been a good steward of the gifts they have given, and therefore continue to support us. Being a mission-based, non-profit organization, when donations are up, we reinvest 100 percent of those funds back into the organization and the people we serve.”

As a result of these factors, Davis said their leadership staff, board of directors and community volunteers have spent the last few months having discussions on how they can improve their facility.

Not only are they implementing “Membership for All,” they are also launching a “Thanking Those Who Serve” initiative. Davis said this will include a discount off the monthly/annual YMCA membership rates for first responders, clergy and active military and veterans.

Neither program is not limited for new members. Current members can also participate proving they qualify.

“Our hope is that by removing price barriers and making it easier to afford the YMCA, we will see a continued movement toward improved health and physical activity for all – especially among those who need it the most,” Davis said.