The City of Austin Mayor’s Fitness Council recognized the YMCA of Austin with a “Moving the Needle” Award in a virtual ceremony with Mayor Steve Adler on Friday, September 17. The Y received the award for Community Engagement during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, adapting its services to meet rapidly evolving community needs.
The YMCA of Austin has played an integral part in assisting communities across Travis, Hays and Bastrop Counties throughout the coronavirus pandemic. We have provided health and wellness activities for tens of thousands of neighbors, helped feed those experiencing hunger, cared for children of essential workers, provided a safe and healthy outdoor space for youth to be this summer, and provided in-person virtual learning support for students as the school year got underway.
When our facilities closed in March, we turned on a dime and created the “Virtual YMCA” literally overnight, producing a wealth of content available free of charge to the entire community. We rolled out Facebook Live programming with live exercise classes and recorded three dozen videos for on-demand content within a span of days. We also launched a library of free on-demand programming, including Y360, the popular Les Mills classes, Studio Sweat On-Demand, and Silver Sneakers. Within a week of lockdown, we launched our “Virtual Y Live” programs powered by Zoom, and the community really responded because they missed that sense of connection. Our senior fitness classes were especially popular. We also turned to our Y staff to become ‘content creators.’ Our Extend-A-Care YMCA team were standouts, producing literally hundreds of segments from STEM to Arts & Crafts to Cooking to inspirational messages. Literally thousands of people connected with us virtually every day from mid-Marcy to our reopening in June.
As schools closed and essential workers grappled with child care needs, we responded by opening up emergency child care sites at three Y facilities. We also offered financial assistance so that parents did not have to worry about the cost, or about who was watching their children while they were on the front lines protecting us.
As seniors faced isolation during the lockdown, we made thousands of check-in calls and organized virtual gatherings, sometimes just social hours over a cup of coffee. We created ‘call center’ teams among our Y staff, with each assigned to call and talk with our older adult members, who number in the thousands. Time and again, we heard that having someone to talk with made all the difference in a person’s day.
As families faced food insecurity, the YMCA of Austin partnered with Brighter Bites and the Central Texas Food Bank to deliver boxes of produce and meals for kids at three Y locations. Our YMCA responded to this need by handing out 300,000 pounds of produce and 40,000 meals to the families and children at our East Communities and North Austin YMCAs.
During the summer, our YMCA was able to serve over 1,000 youth in summer camps in person. This was, by far, the toughest summer we have ever had. But we were able to provide a safe and healthy place for children to be outside, make friends, and in some cases have the best summer ever.
After the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis set off waves of social unrest across the nation, the Y partnered with Austin Health Commons to host a series of virtual Racial Healing Circles.
When city and state leaders eased restrictions and allowed Y branches to reopen, we put in place strict social distancing and safety measures that enabled members to come together once again to practice healthy habits and spend quality time with friends and family.
As schools reopened in our service area, we partnered with local districts to offer full-day care and support for virtual learning while parents went to work. By providing these spaces for our families, we helped meet a community need that had never been there before. Now, as students return to schools for in-person learning, we’re providing traditional afterschool child care.
We offered all of these services even as our expenses skyrocketed due to the need for PPE, cleaning supplies, additional space and staff. At the same time, we faced a decline in program revenue that we normally depend on to sustain our community-based services. We knew we couldn’t pass all of these costs along to families, especially those in need. But true to our history, the Y found a way because we’re a community anchor that is here for good. We are proud to have stepped forward to serve our neighbors during this time of need and will continue to do so as long as that need remains.