Ann Arbor YMCA strives to create a healthy mind, body and spirit for all
The Ann Arbor YMCA is a long-standing non-profit organization serving its communities for over 160 years.
For many people, the “Y” is synonymous with basketball courts and swimming pools. And while fitness is an important aspect of what we do, there’s so much more to it. Our three main focus areas are youth development, healthy living and social responsibility. We provide services in these areas to all of Washtenaw County and southern Livingston County. Our particular association also emphasizes diversity, equity and inclusion as well as global innovation. We have grown and changed, and we will continue to do so as the needs of our community change.
Over the past few years, our team has worked to expand our global services, with a greater focus on mental health and our programming around youth development and social accountability. These services are becoming increasingly important due to the great financial needs we see in our community and the trauma our youth have experienced over the past two years which has tested their social and emotional development and outcomes. school.
When COVID-19 first arrived in Washtenaw County in March 2020, our YMCA was one of the first sites to be exposed. Like many organizations, we have closed our doors for what we thought would be a short time. Yet, due to government regulations and safety measures, our facility at 400W Washington will not reopen for another six months.
We have pivoted quickly to serve our community in innovative ways. During the lockdown, we were able to offer free group exercise classes to the entire community, thanks to funding we received from United Way and the Ann Arbor Community Foundation. It was important to us to help keep our communities as healthy as possible and to keep them connected to others.
We have also worked to provide learning opportunities for children and adolescents at home. Teachers from our Child Development Centers led virtual arts and crafts, STEM projects and reading activities. Our teens have engaged in their action and advocacy programs, entrepreneurship courses and online Youth Volunteer Corps. Today, we continue to offer virtual programs for the convenience and safety of our members, although we offer daily in-person engagement.
While our building was closed, we had the opportunity to collaborate with the USDA Farmers to Families food box program. From May through October 2020, we gave out free 25-pound product boxes to the community weekly at 15 different locations in Washtenaw County. There was such a need for fresh food that families often lined up long before the distribution. Helping to complement the great work that others were doing was meaningful to me and my staff. This allowed us to meet and serve our community where they were.
Since fall 2020 we have remained open. Our membership has not returned to pre-COVID-19 numbers, but is slowly increasing. We were extremely fortunate to have members who continued to pay their monthly dues while our building was closed. These donations, and others, helped us keep our staff employed, which was of great importance to our Board of Directors and our management team. You must first be accountable to your staff, otherwise how can you tell the community that you are a socially responsible organization? How can you serve the community?
When it comes to social responsibility, making sure the Y is for everyone is a priority for us. We know that in all communities, there are people who are underrepresented, who are marginalized and who do not receive the services necessary for their development. Our organization works collaboratively with government, with other non-profit organizations and educational institutions to address the intergenerational poverty and academic gaps that exist and to work to change systems that create unfair inequalities.
This includes providing a scholarship to those facing economic hardship. We offer discounted rates on membership, childcare, summer camp registration, programming and services. We also create specific programs for individuals and communities who might otherwise not feel welcome, such as our Embodying Gender Through Voice and Movement workshop and a range of LGBTQ+ offerings.
A commitment to social responsibility requires us to take a stand on issues of social justice. At the start of COVID-19, when there were a lot of hateful messages directed at the Asian community, as if they were responsible for it, we put in place marketing materials to counter this misinformation. Our social justice work has called on us to demonstrate together as staff at Black Lives Matter rallies and to offer public support and advocacy to our African American community.
As a leader of color, I believe having people of color in leadership roles is extremely important to enable representation and cultural competency. There are fabulous white allies out there who are doing great work on diversity, equity and inclusion, but it’s important to have people of color in all roles in an organization, many of whom are more intentionally focused on equity issues. Nationally, the leadership of the YMCA movement still does not match the demographics of the communities we serve. It is important that we make concerted efforts to overcome this.
For me, my team and everyone in our community, the past two years have been exhausting. It is a challenge to continue to serve when you have a small staff and need to find the people who want to look after the welfare of others in person. It is difficult to maintain morale and to be able to adequately reward staff for their perseverance, loyalty and passion for service at a time when revenues are reduced.
These are challenges that many nonprofit leaders face, in addition to remaining creative and able to navigate their way to meet the needs of the community as they constantly change and the rules change. We look for opportunities to stay relevant and continue to serve the community in a way that is driven by their voice.
I am encouraged that the YMCA often serves as a bridge builder. There is so much dissension in our communities among the people. We hope that the programs and services we provide and our commitment to inclusion can enable people of different opinions and backgrounds to come together, feel welcome, and find common ground and compassion. for each other.
Toni Kayumi is CEO of the Ann Arbor YMCA. This entry is part of our Non-profit journal project, an initiative inviting nonprofit leaders in Metro Detroit to share their thoughts via journal entries on how COVID-19, increased awareness of racial injustice and inequality, issues of change climate and more affect their work – and how they respond. This series is made possible through the generous support of our partners, the Michigan Nonprofit Association and Co.act Detroit.