With its doors closed, here's how the Ann Arbor YMCA has innovated to serve in new ways

On the morning of March 13, Ann Arbor YMCA President and CEO Toni Kayumi received a call notifying her that the Y had been exposed to an individual with COVID-19. She immediately made the decision to shut down the facility, and four months later, the Y still hasn't opened its doors at 400 W. Washington St. in Ann Arbor.


"It has been a huge challenge, and we've had to learn how to serve our members in a creative way," Kayumi says.


Not only have nearly all local Y facilities been shut down, but regular income sources have been disrupted for the Y. Some members have continued to pay their membership fees, but grants from the United Way of Washtenaw County, Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation, and others have been vital for the Y to both offer new programming and adapt existing programming to virtual or socially-distant modes during the pandemic.


During Michigan's "Stay Home, Stay Safe" executive order, the Y kept its Glacier Hills Child Development Center open to children of medical first responders, staying open 60 hours a week to help accommodate working parents' schedules.


The Y has also participated in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farmers to Families Food Box program since June and will continue to distribute boxes of produce to Washtenaw County families in need until August. Kayumi says about 1,400 25-pound boxes are distributed in a two-day period every week at several locations throughout Washtenaw County. Distribution locations are updated on the Ann Arbor YMCA Facebook page weekly.


This year's Safety Around Water (SAW) program and summer camps have also been adjusted to keep families and staff safe. Families have the option to learn and play in their own homes with a self-paced curriculum and activities for SAW and the Y's "camp-in-a-box." For parents who need child care, the Y has limited in-person camps where children will spend time outside or at a safe distance and avoid using communal items, such as craft supplies.


"We normally encourage sharing for the kids at these things, but given the safety guidelines, we want to keep everyone as safe as we can," Kayumi says.


Kayumi says there's been high demand for these activities, but some sessions still have openings available.


For fitness programming, the Y has made the most of virtual platforms and transitioned to virtual exercise classes. During the stay-home order, the Y offered free virtual group exercise and has continued to offer virtual classes in exercise, language, and more to its members. In the first round of virtual group exercise, Kayumi says the Y saw over 800 unique individuals and 2,000 registrations for spring classes.


Although many gyms and fitness centers have been anxious to reopen, Kayumi says the Y will wait until Gov. Whitmer opens up fitness facilities. Once opened, things still won't be quite normal. Kayumi says indoor group exercise and Child Watch (unscheduled child care, offered while a parent or guardian exercises) will not resume after the Y opens its doors to minimize risk.


"We'll continue virtual group exercise even after we open," Kayumi says. "We'll offer outdoor group exercise instead. A number of seniors have asked us to keep virtual group exercise until a vaccine is readily available."


Before entering the facility's lobby, members will also have to check in, answer health screening questions, and have their temperature taken. Areas throughout the Y will have capacity limits to ensure members can safely stay six feet apart.


The reopening date for fitness centers has been repeatedly pushed back, but Kayumi says the Y is ready to safely open its doors to members once the governor approves it. As the pandemic progresses, Kayumi says the Y will continue to put its members first and evaluate programs and facilities to find ways to better provide.


"We're here to serve," Kayumi says. "We're always looking to collaborate with other organizations and find ways to serve this community better."


For more Concentrate coverage of our community's response to the COVID-19 crisis, click here.


Emily Benda is a freelance writer based in Ann Arbor. You can contact her at emily@emilybenda.com.


Photo courtesy of Ann Arbor YMCA.

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