It’s hard to believe we are already halfway through the year! The official first day of summer is quickly approaching, but Ys across Texas have already kicked it off with summer camp, sports programs, swim lessons, and so much more. Our goal as an organization is to give kids and families the best summer ever while strengthening their spirits, minds, and bodies.
Beyond the programs that we provide to the communities we serve, our team is dedicated to establishing connections and new partnerships. Across the state, we’ve seen some devastating weather impact several communities – from tornados to flooding there’s no doubt that Texas communities have been hit hard. Through the devastations, we’ve seen communities unite and work together to address current problems and prepare for future events. In Houston, the YMCA offered a safe haven for flood victims to pick up supplies, shower and utilize their facilities. In Tyler, El Paso and Austin, YMCAs have partnered with the American Red Cross to introduce the Pillowcase Project and emergency preparedness strategies to third through fifth graders. Through this partnership, six hundred Texas children were given practical steps and tools to share with their families in case a disaster strikes. As part of our commitment to youth development, we want to ensure that children and their families are equipped to encounter even the most unexpected and difficult circumstances.
As you read the stories in this newsletter, I hope you see the impact the Y is having across the state and the potential there is as we continue to expand community partnerships. From supporting additional military members and families with a new Armed Services YMCA to providing water safety classes in twenty apartment complexes in Fort Worth, the work Ys are doing in Texas is unique. Each community we serve is diverse and I feel privileged to be a part of an organization that is dedicated to meeting the needs of each person we come in contact with.
James P. Finck, Chair
Texas State Alliance of YMCAs
Ramon “Ray” Riojos came in just more than a year ago to join the YMCA and as he signed up, he began to tell Sara, a staff member, why he had decided to get a membership. Ray weighed in excess of 300 pounds and he and his wife, Bernice, had decided that they would focus on developing a healthier lifestyle and set a goal to run together in the Brownfield Firecracker Road Race.
Unfortunately, within weeks of making that decision, Bernice died of cancer.
Ray was devastated and pretty much had withdrawn in mourning. However, some family members and friends were members of the Y and kept encouraging him to come to the Y and work out, if only to get out of the house a few days a week.
They finally talked him into it and he came in that evening to join. As Sara listened to Ray’s story, she told him that she was a runner and enjoyed running in 5K races. She pointed out that the Running the Ropes race in a neighboring town was coming up. If Ray would agree to train with her, she would run that race with him so he could get a feel for it before the Firecracker rolled around. She also said she would run that race with him as well. Ray agreed and after a month or so of training the two headed up the road to compete in the Running the Ropes event.
In the meantime, Sara contacted the organizers of the Brownfield Firecracker Road Race and asked if the Y could put together a team of runners who would participate in support of Ray and also bring awareness to the struggles of local families who had been impacted by cancer.
Thus was born Team Bernice, and on the day of the race, fifteen Y members showed up at Coleman Park to run with Ray. It was a hot, humid day and Ray struggled as he ran. As team members completed their own race, many went back to line the course and cheer him on. Sara and another Y member found Ray and began running along with him to give him encouragement.
As the race wound down, word spread through the field about Team Bernice and why they were running. As medals were passed out, people began to come up and present Ray with their own medals in support of him and Team Bernice.
Since then Ray has continued to come to the Y and work out, although he still struggles. Sometimes he will go a week or so without showing up. However, if he is out too long members start calling him and Sara will check on him.
In May, several members of the Y’s Team Bernice ran in this year’s Running the Ropes event and Ray was with them. He shaved three minutes off his time from last year!
A program site managed by the YMCA of Plainview Texas, the YMCA of Brownfield has a wide selection of programs that range from a summertime feeding program for at-risk children to youth sports to senior adult fitness. Making a lifestyle change is hard enough to begin with – doing it after you’ve lost your spouse to cancer is even harder. Ray needed a gym, but in the end, he needed more than that. He needed strength beyond what he had within him and he needed a community to provide support. He found that community of support at the YMCA.
Texas YMCAs partnered with the City of Austin’s Active Transportation Division and StreetPlans Collaborative to conduct a Community Walk Audit to celebrate National Walking Day on April 6th. A Community Walk Audit is an effective tool for assessing the walking environment in neighborhoods. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation 2016 County Health Rankings listed Travis County as the 9th healthiest county in Texas. The Community Walk Audit builds upon existing strides of healthy living to promote wellness in a north Austin neighborhood.
“The Y is one of the leading nonprofit organizations committed to healthy living, supporting our neighbors and strengthening community,” said James Finck, CEO of the YMCA of Austin and Chair of the Texas State Alliance of YMCAs. “We are fortunate to have great community partners like the City of Austin who share our passion for people to be healthy, confident, connected, and secure. This Community Walk Audit is just one example of our collective commitment to improving lives in Texas.”
“We are very excited to partner with the YMCA on this event,” said Laura Dierenfield, Active Transportation Program Manager with the Austin Transportation Department. “Our goal is to help Austinites get the daily physical activity they need to be healthy by creating a safe and comfortable network for walking and bicycling.” The Community Walk Audit began with welcoming remarks from James Finck followed by an interactive activity. Afterwards, trained staff from the City of Austin provided a presentation on the essence of a community walk audit and then led a group of participants to conduct the audit in a north Austin neighborhood. After the audit, the group reconvened to share their learnings of the walk audit tool. The event concluded by discussing the vital role that liked minded organizations can play in potentially advancing environmental change.
For more information on how you can be involved with creating safer routes in your community, visit http://saferoutesinfo.org/
The Armed Services YMCA opens a new 54,000-square-foot wellness facility in Harker Heights. Ground was broken in 2014, marking the culmination of years of planning and fundraising for a new full family center that will serve an estimated 15,000 people and that’s designed to meet the specific needs of military families and children.
“We are celebrating our 50th anniversary in the greater Fort Hood area this year, and we could not be more excited to bring this facility to everyone during our celebratory year,” said John Marshall, Killeen Armed Services YMCA media relations director.
“We had this vision that started about nine years ago to get this going, and the whole time it’s been a push to benefit soldiers and our communities,” said Cindy Davis, Armed Services YMCA board member and fundraising chairwoman.
The idea for the facility started when Davis and Tony Mino, Armed Services YMCA executive director, encountered soldiers asking where the YMCA was. During both the Gulf War and soldier returns from Afghanistan, Davis said ASYMCA officials noticed soldiers were going to rehabilitation facilities, away from their families. A survey indicated a family center was a community need for soldiers, families and those receiving rehabilitation. With more ASYMCA board members in place than in prior years, ASYMCA officials researched partnerships and grants, and pushed city officials to support the project, Davis said.
The first off-post Armed Services YMCA will serve both military and civilian individuals age 6 months old to seniors from all area communities. “There’s something for all ages — swimming, exercise, fitness, cooking classes,” Davis said. “This building gives us the ability to do so much in one place and to interact with the community on so many levels and age brackets.”
Community partnerships are also an integral part of the opening of this new facility. Included in the multi-floor facility will be Seton Medical Center’s physical therapy rehabilitation area and the Killeen Independent School District will train its student athletes in the facility’s pool.
“The YMCA has three areas of focus that include youth development, social responsibility and healthy living”, Marshall said. “Joining the Y is more than just a membership — it is a part of a community organization whose roots run deep in the community,” he said.
For more information on the new facility and the impact the Armed Services YMCA is having in the community, visit http://www.asymca.net/.
YMCA of Tyler Texas’ Childcare Making a Difference in the Lives of Families: A Letter from Evan’s Parents
The following is a testimonial of how my son Evan has benefited from the YMCA. It all started back in 2009-2010. Despite his disabilities, my son Evan was growing yet the problem is he wasn’t getting around other kids besides the classroom in school. Evan is legally blind and has cerebral palsy. For an individual in Evan’s condition, he needs to be around other kids who play, laugh, fail, and simply do kid things. That is when the YMCA came in. My wife knew of an organization that not only provided the above examples, but also would have patience with Evan in a way that other organizations could not. When Evan goes to the YMCA, he not only can finally feel like he is a kid again, but he also gets around other adults who believe in him. We are deeply grateful for the YMCA and hope for the deepest of blessings on YMCA staff this year.
-John and Rhiannon Thomas
For information on childcare at the YMCA of Tyler Texas, click here.
The Texas State Alliance of YMCAs Collaborates with Community Partners to Empower Children to Prepare for Emergencies
The YMCA of El Paso, in partnership with Red Cross of El Paso and Southern New Mexico Chapter, is coordinating local efforts to implement The Pillowcase Project at the YMCA of El Paso’s summer camp. The Pillowcase Project is a national Red Cross program designed to teach youth and their families how to prepare for emergencies. The Pillowcase Project is sponsored by Disney and was inspired by the sight of local university students evacuating with their possessions in pillowcases after Hurricane Katrina.
“We are thrilled to offer The Pillowcase Project at our Y summer day camp. This project teaches emergency preparedness and safety in a way that is fun and interactive for our campers. It also supports our focus area of youth development. We believe that The Pillowcase Project will help our children feel confident and prepared to take action during an emergency. We are proud to partner with the Red Cross and the AmeriCorps Parents As Teachers program to support this initiative,” said Bill Coon, President/CEO of the YMA of El Paso.
During the program, children will personalize their pillowcases and are encouraged to take the pillowcases home to create an emergency kit. The Red Cross will lead the activity with support from the AmeriCorps Parents As Teachers to provide emergency preparedness education to participants. The Pillowcase Project curriculum has three core principles: Learn, Practice, and Share. Students will learn about hazards, how to prepare for emergencies, how to use coping skills to stay calm, and are encouraged to share their knowledge with friends and family. The program emphasizes the importance of developing an emergency communication plan, fire evacuation plan and emergency contact cards. The program teaches students how to create their own emergency supply kits by packing essential items in a pillowcase for easy transport during an emergency.
These activities are being conducted in partnership with Disney, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, YMCA of the USA and the Texas State Alliance of YMCAs. YMCAs in Texas were selected to implement The Pillowcase Project with the goal to evaluate effectiveness and determine best practices for Ys who may want to offer it across the nation.
As part of its commitment to youth development and being inclusive of all individuals, the YMCA of the Greater Houston Area recently opened the Cleary Family Playground – one of the largest adaptive playgrounds for children (at nearly 7,000 square feet) with physical and mental special needs. It is a one-of-a-kind, all-inclusive, barrier-free playground. Children who rely on wheelchairs and walkers will be fully accommodated on this playground that features ramps and extra-wide walkways, oversize swings and so much more. There are even tactile components to stimulate the minds of children with autism. Community donations, including primary donors Joe and Cathy Cleary, made the construction of the playground possible.
The playground is part of the Adaptive Sports Complex at Langham Creek Family YMCA in northwest Houston. No other adaptive playground-field combo exists in the region.
Like many children with autism, Quint Rule, 11, has struggled to express himself socially and break out of his shell. The complex is a safe haven for children such as Quint, who need sensory and social opportunities.
"Those interactions are a big thing for these kids. It's hard for them," said Jennifer Rule, his mother. "Interactions, speech, being physical - everyday things we take for granted, he struggles with," Rule said. "It's nice for him to have something like the field and playground."
Recently, Quint played in the complex's second competitive baseball game. He participates in the Miracle League, a national nonprofit organization that operates sports groups for children with disabilities ages 4-19. The Langham Creek Y has hosted Miracle League activities for sports such as baseball, flag football and basketball for four years.
To members on the Y's board, building the playground seemed necessary after constructing the baseball field, which doubles as grounds for some of the other adaptive sports the Y hosts. Before, safety hazards on a grass field hindered play for children with special needs.
"There is a lot more attention being brought to this population. We are seeing more and more inclusion. It's all about awareness for these individuals," Matt Thompson, the Langham Creek Family YMCA’s district executive director said. "The kiddos that play out here … they are just like everyone else. They want to have fun. They smile and go through the same struggles everyone else does. They just process things a bit differently."
For more information on the Adaptive Sports Complex or the Miracle League, click here.
As the coordinators of the Shift+ (Shift Positive) initiative and network, which consists of people and organizations in the Paso del Norte region committed to promoting effective and evidence-based alcohol prevention strategies, YMCA of Greater El Paso TX & Rio Grande Valley staff were thrilled to participate in the Alcohol Policy Conference this April in Washington, DC. The team led a 90-minute panel session that focused on how communities are successfully advocating for local policy improvements to reduce alcohol risk factors at the community level.
The team also participated in the 2016 Annual New Mexico Public Health Association Conference with brought together more than 400 researchers, practitioners, service providers, community members, legislators, and students from the U.S. and Mexico. Daniela Marquez (YMCA of El Paso staff) and Aileen Soto (former intern with Shift+) led a presentation titled “An Environmental Scan of Alcohol Retail Establishments And Billboard Alcohol Advertisement In El Paso TX: Informing Policy Through Local Data”, focused on the “4 P’s” (Product, Promotion, Price, Place) of Environmental Prevention. Their presentation detailed environmental scanning to examine risk factors in the retail alcohol environment, and mapped alcohol billboard advertisements in the community using GIS to examine additional risk factors that may contribute to underage drinking and binge drinking. According to Daniela Marquez, who interned with the YMCA of El Paso during a Health Promotion Practicum and is now a Project Coordinator with the YMCA and working towards her Master’s in Public Health: “At NMPHA, it was great to participate in a variety of presentations that promoted public health practices, policies, and systems changes that support health equity in our Paso del Norte Region. Students had the opportunity to network with potential employers and meet public health professionals from all over the region. And it was really gratifying that so many people are interested in what they can do to advocate for evidence-based policies that will keep kids, families, and communities safe and healthy”.
Community members in El Paso and Southern New Mexico are at various stages of adopting and implementing local Social Host Ordinances, which hold people accountable for providing an environment where underage drinking and related nuisances occur. El Paso is among several municipalities in Texas that are close to implementing a civil Social Host Ordinance, and a diverse network of community advocates support these policies. Bill Coon, CEO of the YMCA of El Paso, said “The Y has always been about creating healthier environments, and advocating for evidence-based policies that reduce alcohol-related harm is just another way that the Y can play a vital role in supporting healthy communities”. For more information on social host ordinance efforts in El Paso, click here.
Shift+ is an initiative of the Paso del Norte Health Foundation. For more information about the YMCA of El Paso, visit http://www.elpasoymca.org/. For more information about the Paso del Norte Health Foundation, visit http://www.pdnhf.org/.
Thanks to several donations and grants, the YMCA of Metropolitan Fort Worth has increased efforts to teach life-saving water safety skills this summer. Safety Around Water classes will be held at twenty apartment complexes with free sessions to teach children and adults in the apartments about staying safe around the pool. In addition, the YMCA held a free Water Safety Day on Memorial Day, opening all pools to the public and teaching water safety lessons at all eleven pools. The YMCA of Metropolitan Fort Worth also is partnering again with the Fort Worth Drowning Prevention Coalition to hold free classes at 2 YMCA pools this summer.
For more information on the YMCA of Metropolitan Fort Worth’s Water Safety and Drowning Prevention efforts, visit www.ymcafw.org
YMCA of Austin Launches Let’s Move! Outside with Mayor Steve Adler and the U.S. Department of the Interior
On May 26th, Mayor Steve Adler joined David Jayo, Senior Advisor to the Secretary, and James Finck, CEO of Austin Metro YMCA to announce that Austin had been selected as one of the 50 cities to participate in the national movement, Let’s Move! Outside. This community initiative is designed to help facilitate collaboration and increase participation in outdoor programs on public lands- from local parks to federal lands and waters.
“Many people in our urban neighborhoods don’t always have the chance to experience all that our public lands in and around the city have to offer,” James Finck, President & CEO of Austin Metro YMCA. “This initiative will help us bring together leaders in conservation, education, recreation and service to provide opportunities for children and families to have fun, deepen connections to the city’s natural and historic sites, develop important skills, and engage in activities where they can give back and strengthen our community.”
Austin is fortunate to have many organizations who are currently making an impact on the community through promoting a love for nature to youth and families. By creating a strong community network and fostering a collaborative effort, outdoor and environmental advocates will be able to maximize their reach and impact.
On July 1st, the YMCA of Austin will be hosting a community summit to create an Austin-based action plan to promote this national effort. Community leaders and advocates in youth development, conservation, recreation, stewardship and education are encouraged to attend. For more information and to register, click here.