Local YMCAs respond and reinvent to address the needs for Houston’s most vulnerable communities
HOUSTON (April 21, 2020)
For more than 130 years, the YMCA of Greater Houston has served communities large and small, working tirelessly in order to provide for more people each day, and responding to the needs of the community that need it most. While the doors to locations may have been closed due to COVID-19, the YMCA of Greater Houston continues serving and strengthening its communities, demonstrating the Y always has been and continues being more than just a gym. The nonprofit is offering child care for essential workers; operating more than 20 food distributions sites; providing virtual exercise and education classes, teen programs, senior programs, international services and more.
With the recent announcement by Gov. Abbott and Mayor Turner of a phased approach to opening businesses in Texas, the YMCA of Greater Houston is working diligently on a plan to safely reopen its locations as soon as possible without inserting any risk on members or staff. In the meantime, the devoted and passionate Y staff are dedicated to respond and reinvent the way the Y serves the Houston community.
“We want Houston to know that our hearts remain open, and our legacy of service will continue to meet the needs of our community,” states Steve Ives, President and CEO, YMCA of Greater Houston. “We are operating as frontline responders and participating in food distributions and other critical services to those in need. Through our own passionate, enthusiastic team’s time and efforts in combination with valuable partnerships, we are able to continue providing essential services to the most vulnerable among us.”
Child Care for Essential Personnel
The YMCA of Greater Houston currently has 12 sites designated for essential personnel child care, including an on-site location with the Houston Food Bank. The YMCA sites previously housed fitness and wellness classes, camps, before and after school programs along with much more. Since the pandemic began, the 12 YMCA locations have been transformed for all-day care, staffed with certified and loving staff, and enrichment activities such as arts, crafts, games, literacy, STEAM projects and more. The enormous square footage allows for safe social distancing. YMCA has partnered with St. Luke’s Health, Kelsey-Seybold and Houston Food Bank to provide child care for their essential staff. Breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks are all provided by the Houston Food Bank. In addition, there are also seven sites for preschoolers, which have also been modified to specifically serve essential workers.
The YMCA Food Pantries began assisting with food distribution in the beginning stages of COVID-19, quickly growing in number and spread geographically. To date, the YMCA has facilitated in providing 400,000 pounds of food per week and serving over 110,000 individuals through food distributions. 2 “I’ve been so impressed with our staff’s ability to pivot quickly with enthusiasm and passion,” continues Steve Ives, President and CEO, YMCA of Greater Houston. “People who were aquatics directors and teaching swimming just a few weeks ago are now stepping up and volunteering for food distributions and fulfilling other needed roles.”
Wanting to address the growing need and the rapidly increasing food insecurity rates in the community, the YMCA has collaborated with organizations such as the Houston Food Bank, Montgomery County Food Bank, Brighter Bites and Interfaith Ministries to feed Houstonians. From these partnerships, the YMCA is able to lead critical food and supply distribution to thousands of families at over 20 distribution sites throughout the city. The Y continues to add distribution sites and partnerships in order to ensure Houston’s most vulnerable communities are fed.
The YMCA of Greater Houston launched the Y360 virtual platform, in conjunction with other YMCAs across the country, that includes virtual workouts to keep members active and connected. In one week alone, more than 20,000 members participated in virtual workouts through Y360, and live and on-demand YouTube workouts. Additionally, in order for children to continue learning during school closures, the YMCA is providing virtual education resources, including e-book libraries from around the web.
Virtual experiences are also being ramped up for teens, so they have a healthy place to connect with friends and meet new friends. This age group of middle school and high school students can participate in virtual power hour chats and town halls through the Y Teen L.I.F.E. program where Houston mentors will surprise teens with visits and words of wisdom. The YMCA is also offering other fun activities through the program, including a virtual prom, teen mental health guidance, games and karaoke nights, and cooking classes. The YMCA’s goal to continuing the teen’s program is to ensure they feel seen, heard and loved through regular conversations and check-ins, during a time that can feel extremely isolating.
The YMCA of Greater Houston’s efforts continue with various programs and services for Houston’s senior citizens. The Y’s board members are personally checking in on the city’s most vulnerable population by calling seniors for wellness checks and provide words of encouragement during quarantine isolation. Virtual exercise classes specifically for this age group are also provided so they remain active and work to boost their immunity. Local organizations have also partnered with the Trotter Family YMCA and the Weekley Family YMCA to provide more than 1,000 carefully crafted comfort cards to local, active senior adult members with a goal of delivering 5,000. What started as a small project allowing girls of the National Charity League Memorial Chapter to earn hours, the creation and distribution of beautiful, heartfelt comfort cards, quickly multiplied by word-of-mouth and the support of a variety of National Charity League chapters and members, Spring Branch ISD students, and many others within the Memorial community.
3 Since 1970, the YMCA of Greater Houston has led refugee resettlement efforts and assisted 40,000 refugees and immigrants with their International Services division. The Y is continuing to support the new Americans and victims of human trafficking by providing direct assistance, rent subsidy, a variety of education programs, access to multiple food pantries, housing, supplies, employment and legal services, and YMCA social workers on staff to assist as needed. In addition, a Refugee Scholarship Program is another resource the YMCA’s International Services has been able to provide for full-time higher education students who have a status as a refugee, special immigrant visa, asylee or victim of trafficking.
Funds that are currently being raised are allocated directly toward the work the Y is doing in the community. YMCA of Greater Houston members are staying with the nonprofit, as many are making financial contributions to support the Y’s continued work within the community. The effects of COVID19 have had an immediate impact on the YMCA of Greater Houston, as it has on many others. As an organization, the Y has swiftly and successfully changed its focus to addressing critical needs in the Houston community by launching a “Respond and Reinvent Campaign.” To learn more about the YMCA of Greater Houston’s Respond and Reinvent Campaign, please visit: https://donate.ymcahouston.org/campaign/respond-and-reinvent-campaign/c281044.
About YMCA of Greater Houston
Founded in 1886, today the Y remains committed to the health of more than half a million people in Greater Houston who learn, grow and thrive through programs and services at our 25 centers. Strengthening community is our cause. Together, we connect active, engaged Greater Houston Area residents to build a better us.