YMCA open in new normal

Published 5:42 pm Tuesday, August 11, 2020

At the Luter Family YMCA, things look and feel like a normal fitness and community center.

In the cardio and weight training area, bodies flex and treadmills whirr. Inside the indoor pool complex, a water aerobics class is making waves while a lone swimmer glides through a lane across the pool. And outside, summer camp kids are playing a game on the tennis court on a muggy day.

But the new normal of the COVID-19 pandemic has forced the YMCA to rethink how it provides services to members and the community. The organization has adapted and made changes.

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“The response has been extremely positive,” said Scott Liebold, who is chairman of the local Y’s board of directors. “The staff here is phenomenal. They go out of their way to make sure that if a member comes in and has a question or concern, it’s addressed. This is all new, and people undoubtedly will have questions.”

When the pandemic forced the Y to close, staff and volunteers continued to work behind the scenes to meet important needs, said Kathy Peterson, the YMCA’s branch director. One of the first issues was creating a plan to provide child care for those with essential jobs who were expected to work through the pandemic.

They’re also offering a socially distanced version of summer camp for the same reason — as well as giving kids an opportunity to be active and socially engaged and healthy during a stressful time. To enhance safety, check-in for camp is paperless, parents don’t have to come inside the building to drop their kids off, and all campers receive a temperature check before starting their day.

The Luter Family YMCA reopened June 5. Peterson said staff were paid for the time the facility was closed and in program areas that were operational, such as group exercise and child care. They’re also offering membership holds and assistance for people whose financial situation has been affected by the pandemic.

For adults who are part of the center, “we really had to adapt our building to be able to still give members an opportunity to work out and reduce stress. Everything that we did was based on how we could reduce capacity but stay safe and clean,” Peterson said.

Cardio and weight machines have been rearranged, and signage is posted reminding people to allow for 10 feet of space during exercise, which exceeds the recommended 6 feet for regular social distancing. Staff also use hospital grade cleaner after each machine is used, and the facilities are cleaned every 30 minutes.

Fitness classes look different too. Online reservations allow for smaller groups in the largest available spaces in order to facilitate distance between participants. Some classes are also being streamed online. Peterson said all of the changes have been well received.

Peterson also said there was a special effort to reach the Y’s older members during the shutdown.

“We made hundreds and hundreds of calls, just checking on members and making sure that they were doing OK, if they needed support or someone to talk to, and that kind of thing.”

In the aftermath of Tropical Storm Isaias, lots of people came to the Y to charge their smartphones, use the internet or get a shower because their power and hot water were off.

“I think that our facility is such a gathering place that really it is the third place,” Peterson said. “People have home, people have work and then they have the Y.” One of the greatest challenges during the shutdown, she said, was relational — a lack of opportunities to engage socially with other people.

Liebold echoed that sentiment. “The Y is so community-oriented that if we close our doors, there are so many things that won’t happen and won’t be available to families that really need support,” he said.

Traci Snyder, the Y’s membership experience director, said everyone she speaks with is happy to have the opportunity to come back to the YMCA.

“We’ve missed them as much as they’ve missed us,” Snyder said.