The Westchester Family YMCA’s pool may be closed, and its workout equipment may be put away on racks, but if you think of the Y as just a gym, you’d be missing out on a large piece of what has made the organization an important part of the community for more than 60 years.
“The Y is so much more than a swim and gym,” said Gregg Goldfarb, Volunteer Chair of the Y’s Board of Managers. “We believe in programs that impact families and change lives.”
When the Y, like many businesses and organizations, was forced to close in mid-March due to the COVID pandemic, its leadership and volunteers quickly got to work planning on how they could address the needs of its members and neighborhood.
“When there is a crisis, you can’t waste it,” said Goldfarb. “There is a greater need than ever, in ways we wish weren’t necessary, and it’s the kind of thing that has energized the board. Instead of doing less during this time, we said we are going to do more.”
One of the first programs the Y launched was an unsheltered neighbors outreach program that allowed them to provide services like showers, hygiene kits, clothing and food to those in need. The Y is now supporting 200 weekly visits and has received more than 6,000 visits since launching.
Other successful initiatives the Y has facilitated during this time include weekly blood drives in partnership with the Red Cross resulting in more than 12,000 potential lives saved; check-ins and support for their senior members and grocery distribution events, as well as COVID-safe family activities like a drive through Healthy Kids Day, Fly by the Y Movie Night and a Halloween CARnival. The Y also recently partnered with the Inglewood Unified School District to provide care, connectivity and homework help to more than 75 students whose parents needed to return to work.
Members of the Y’s Teens and Government Program are staying busy with a highly successful webinar series called “Finding Common Ground” and have hosted panel discussions on important topics like modern policing and homelessness that have been viewed more than 36,000 times. Their upcoming virtual events will tackle issues like uniting the country, education and immigration.
“The Y has always aligned its programs with what we interpret as critical community needs, and the needs have absolutely shifted during the pandemic,” said Westchester Family YMCA Executive Director John Loussararian. “It has been encouraging and exciting to see the board’s courage and willingness to see what the Y can do to help to address these issues.”
These shifting priorities have led to the creation of a Reimagining Y Taskforce to help forecast the organization’s next three to five years.
“The Reimagining Y Taskforce is looking at the community’s needs and thinking about how we can change and expand our resources so we can bring services to the area that aren’t currently available,” said longtime Y member and new board member John Sharpe. “We are definitely a fantastic facility because we work with and help a lot of people in the community, but we also have a lot of opportunity for growth.”
Some of the plans that have already come out of the taskforce include helping bridge the digital divide by expanding the Y’s WiFi coverage to reach the parking lot. And next month, the Y plans to launch a community pantry. The pantry will be located on the Y’s property and be filled with food items that are free for anyone in need to take.
With all of its new programming, the Y has been able to engage people looking to help like never before.
“Volunteerism is way up. We have people that have never engaged or been involved with the Y that are now feeling compelled to get
involved,” said Loussararian. “People we’ve never met have reached out and said, ‘I love what you’re doing. How can I help?’ They’ve donated food, clothing and made monetary contributions towards our efforts. The community supporting the work that we’re doing has really helped keep my tank full.”
But with all the ups over the last nine months, there’s also been some downs. Programs are running on shoestring operations as most of the Y’s staff has been furloughed. With the workout portion of the facility closed, membership is down to just 30 percent of what it was pre-pandemic.
“More than ever, I hope our members realize that when you join the Y, you are joining more than a gym. You’re joining a nonprofit that serves the community. Fitness is one aspect of that, but it’s not how we define ourselves,” said Loussararian.
Echoes Goldfarb, “If you look at us as only a swim and gym, you might think of putting your membership on hold. But if you think of us as a service organization supporting your community, then people want to help.”
Loussararian hopes that by spreading the word about the Y’s efforts, coupled with membership dues being seen as tax deductible with the gym temporarily closed, people will be inspired to reinstate their memberships or join for the first time.
“While our doors are closed, our hearts are open, which has been driving our initiatives,” said Loussararian.
For Goldfarb, who grew up going to the Y with his father, where he participated in the Guides Program, Youth and Government and team sports, and was excited to share a similar experience with his own kids, the chance to help lead the Y during this challenging time is exciting.
“We took this crisis as a springboard to be as imaginative as we could be,” said Goldfarb. “We have a great board who really care about the community and Westchester has tons of people that love their community as well. Sometimes all you need to do is get the word out about what you’re doing to spark someone’s interest and have them ask, ‘How can I help contribute?’”
For those that are looking to donate, Loussararian says donations may be dropped off at the Y Monday to Friday 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Below is a list of items that are frequently needed
- Adult clothing
- Non-perishable food items (preferable healthy items)
- Fruits with a longer shelf life (i.e. oranges, bananas, apples, etc.)
- Bottled water
- Hygiene products (travel sized preferable)
- Backpacks, duffle bags, etc.
For more information on contributing items for the community food pantry, please contact John Sharpe at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted January 2021.