April 5, 2016
by Steve Wallace, CEO
In my last column, I discussed the YMCA's rich history, charitable philosophy, and commitment to serving the people of the greater Androscoggin area.
But how does a nonprofit organization like the Y, which has existed for nearly 150 years, stay relevant in the face of rapidly changing health and community needs?
Every piece of research and data tells us that we need places like the Y now more than ever. The Community Health Needs Assessment commissioned by Central Maine Medical Center and St. Mary's Regional Medical Center in 2012 found that Androscoggin County's physical activity rate was lower than state average and that, unsurprisingly, our obesity rates were higher.
Our friends and neighbors are also more likely to have heart disease, asthma, diabetes and certain cancers.
Social risk factors are cause for concern, as well, with above-average teen birth rates and substance abuse. What's more, high rates of poverty are leaving many of our children struggling with an ever-widening academic achievement gap.
In response, the Y has invested significant staff time and training into addressing these issues. In the last year, we've launched an Active Older Adults program to help seniors get active and build critical social networks. These include our Living Fit classes, Pickleball and Lunch & Learns.
Our Weigh to Go program gives adults a place to learn healthy habits and lose weight in a supportive group environment. This is in addition to our dozens of group exercise classes, where members develop a deep sense of camaraderie and community.
Prevention is critical, and that's why we've strengthened our youth programs. In our early childhood education programs, we follow a Success-by-Six model, which helps our littlest members make the mental and social connections that are the foundation for academic, professional and personal success. For our school-age students, we are investing in technology and activities to complement the work of our partners in the local schools.
Thousands of area youth and teens participate in sports, like our historic Biddy Basketball program, field hockey, gymnastics, swim team and more. Our summer camp programs build character and confidence.
But the Y cannot -- and should not -- do this work alone.
We -- the Y and our community -- are stronger today thanks to our many partnerships with local businesses and fellow nonprofits. Our Diabetes Prevention Program, which is free to those at risk, is the direct result of our partnership with St. Mary's Regional Medical Center. Our Weigh to Go program engages nutritionists from Central Maine Medical Center and local physicians.
When the City of Lewiston was forced to suspend gymnastics in 2014, the Y stepped in to run the program, ensuring that 300 girls continued to have the chance to train and compete. Throughout our youth sports, dozens of community members serve as volunteer coaches and sponsors.
The Health Needs Assessment reminds us that “Despite some significant community health needs, Androscoggin County has a strong community spirit.” Powerful things are happening today because we are working together to make a change.
This column was originally published on Feb. 12, 2016, in the Lewiston Leader and Auburn Highlights.