Blog: The Dow Bay Area Family YMCA steps up when the community needs it most

This blog is in the seventh in an occasional series written by local people and businesses as they navigate the COVID-19 pandemic. This week, Route Bay City features Joslyn Jamrog, membership and marketing director of the Dow Bay Area Family YMCA, 225 Washington Ave.

When I left my job at the Dow Bay Area Family YMCA for medical leave on March 5, the Y was at full throttle. We were on course to have another amazing year; welcoming more members, offering new programs, and strategizing on how to create more space for our growing community.

When I returned to work on April 5, our world (and our Y) looked very different. Most of us were working from home every day. Instead of weight loss challenges and volleyball, we were focused on providing virtual health and wellness programming for our community, childcare for essential workers, and making sure families in our community were fed.

Like you, I couldn’t believe this was happening. In its 135 years in Bay City, I don’t know of another time the Y had ever had to close, let alone for 6 months. I am still in awe of the Y’s response to the pandemic. We quickly adapted. With the financial help of SC Johnson, Bay Area Community Foundation, and United Way of Bay County, we shifted our focus to respond to the needs of the community. These partners recognized the Y as a leader in helping those affected and knew that their money was well spent supporting the work we did.

Jet’s Pizza, 1901 S. Euclid Ave., donated pizzas for us to distribute immediately to hungry kids. McDonald’s and Burger King donated milk to distribute. Hidden Harvest brought us fresh produce boxes to hand out as well. Through our YMCA Free Youth Food Program, we handed out free meals to any child under the age of 18.

During 2020, the Dow Bay Area Family Y coordinated donations in order to provide food for families in the community.We worked with 211 Northeast Michigan and, through the graciousness of Sunrise National Distributors, we were loaned a vehicle and delivered emergency food boxes to those who were homebound. In total during our closure, we served 62,025 free meals to children in our community and distributed 1,235 emergency food boxes to adults and families.

One woman, Naomi, received an emergency food box from the Y almost every week. Take a moment to learn her story. With her list of health problems stacked on top of the pandemic, she was unable to leave her building, even to get food.

We were closed, yet the Y and other organizations combined powers to make sure our neighbors, and their neighbors, were taken care of.

I heard recently that half of all non-profits won’t make it through the pandemic. As someone who knows what it’s like to get up and go to a job that directly impacts our neighbors, this is alarming to me.  As a non-profit organization, we rely mainly on donations, program fees, and membership dues to further our cause. Out of over 50 YMCAs in our state, we were one of two that decided not to charge membership dues while our facility was closed. Although we have experienced a large revenue loss because of this decision, we follow our Core Values of Honesty, Caring, Respect, and Responsibility in everything we do.

Every two weeks for nearly six months we would be given a slight glimmer of hope that maybe, just maybe, this would be the announcement we’d been waiting for, that we could finally open our doors again. We stayed closed for the duration of the executive orders, but were “open” in any way we could be.

Every time Gov. Gretchen Whitmer allowed a part of our organization to open, we did so without hesitating and, most importantly, we did it safely.  

We had almost 150 kids in childcare during our closure, taught swim lessons to 45 children, and began outdoor group exercise classes and free senior group exercise classes as soon as we could. Our summer sports camps attracted almost 200 little athletes. When our students went back to school remotely, we were here for them in the form of Remote Learning Support Programs.

During 2020, the Dow Bay Area Family Y coordinated donations in order to provide food for families in the community.We have proved, and continue to prove, that facilities like ours can operate safely.

As of Sept. 9, our facility is open under limited capacity. We have many levels of protection in place for our members so they feel safe: health screening questions at entrances, equipment is spread out, our showers and locker rooms are sanitized on the hour, reservations are required for basketball, pool use, and other activities so we can ensure capacity limits.

Our building has never been safer or cleaner. Our members are slowly returning to the Y as they gain confidence in us to keep them safe during their visit and as people attempt to get back to the activities they enjoyed before COVID-19.

Not charging our members was the right thing to do, but how do we recoup a portion of the $1.3 million we missed? We have some ideas. Enter the Mission: Forward campaign.

Mission: Forward is a fundraising campaign with a goal of raising $300,000. Started in October 2020, its purpose is to help keep our great programs operating as we know them. Programs such as our swim lessons and lifeguard classes, youth sports, full time childcare, and our food programming. We will move our mission forward to secure a safe, responsible, and emotionally supportive environment for all.

The Y has been in Bay City for 135 years, and my hope is that the Y continues to flourish and impact our community for my children, and their children, and their children. The Y did not waiver when the community needed it the most, and I invite anyone who would like to help preserve our legacy to do so through the Mission: Forward Campaign.  

Of course, I am biased. I’ve been at the Y for almost 8 years. My two daughters, self-proclaimed “Y-Brats,” went through YMCA childcare, preschool, and after-school programs. They’ve spent their summers here and learned to swim here. They made their first basket here in our YBA program. So, I invite you to hear what the YMCA has meant to others, like the Ruhland family  or how the Arsenault’s value youth sports programs for their son.  

Our hope is to focus on sustaining the YMCA and to drive the improvement of our community’s physical health, safety, and emotional well-being in the right direction.  Our doors are now open, but our work is never done. We know that healthy habits and lifestyles that the Y supports helps people fight off disease. Our community continues to need the YMCA. I believe in the Y, our mission, and our ability to thrive in this new environment and beyond.

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