When you think of the YMCA, youth sports, after-school programs, and affordable exercise facilities and programs come to mind. Unarguably, these are great services that help the YMCA of Metropolitan Dallas achieve its mission of putting Christian values into practice through programs that build a healthy spirit, mind, and body for all. A nonprofit organization serving almost 200,000 people annually via programs, outreach, and events throughout Collin, Dallas, Denton, Ellis, Palo Pinto, and Rockwall counties, the YMCA of Metropolitan Dallas continually addresses key issues that face the community, from hunger to swimming pool safety—even providing kids with the opportunity to learn about programming.
“There are so many programs we offer that not everyone knows about,” says Curt Hazelbaker, President and CEO of the YMCA of Metropolitan Dallas. “We do an annual campaign every year to raise money to provide scholarships for people who need access to the YMCA and its services but can’t afford the full cost. We also subsidize programs and provide free programs. In fact, about 25% of the people we serve through the Y are on some sort of scholarship or subsidy. Our belief is no one should be turned away due to inability to pay. One of our greatest strengths–and weaknesses–is all that we do; it’s hard to tell everyone about the impact of the different lives we touch. We also know that not everyone who needs our services can get to one of our facilities, so we go where they are—schools, churches, other nonprofit partners, and into communities.”
Here are five programs local programs from the Dallas Y you may not know about, but should, that are deserving of attention and support.
1. Safety Around Water Program
The Y has partnered with Children’s Health to promote the Safety Around Water Program. This program takes YMCA lifeguard mobile teams to different apartment complexes around the Dallas area to teach basic water safety and assess a child’s ability to swim. The kids who participate receive a free swimsuit and spend time with lifeguards in the pool to test their swimming and safety knowledge. “Even if the kids don’t learn how to swim, they will learn how to get onto their backs and swim to the side of the pool if they fall in,” Hazelbaker says. “It seems like every week in the summer, we read or hear about a child drowning somewhere in North Texas. Often, we’ll hear about two drownings—the child and the parent who went in after them. Many times, the drownings occur in backyard pools, and a parent was within eight feet of the child when the drowning occurred. Our intent originally was for this to be a summer program, but we have expanded it to become a year-round program. During the cooler months, we partner with schools to get the kids to one of the Y’s 18 pools and use that time as their gym period where kids can learn life-saving skills. Often, we’ll have a few kids who are terrified of water, and by the end of the week, they are confident because they know exactly what to do if they fall in. It’s a confidence-building program where kids thrive.”
2. Catalyst Initiative
When local and county shelter-in-place orders went into effect at the beginning of the pandemic in early 2020, the YMCA of Metropolitan Dallas had to re-work its traditional programs that provided free services and programs to communities. The Catalyst Initiative was born and was so successful, that it’s still in effect today. The initiative provides food distribution to low-to-moderate income communities, pop-up supply distribution for necessary personal items and baby care, blood drives, and more. Because of the Catalyst Initiative, there are now feeding sites throughout the Dallas area where kids and seniors can come for a single-serve breakfast, lunch, or dinner; food distribution sites for families; a Baby Depot for diapers, baby food, and personal hygiene items; access sites for water, electricity, and Wi-Fi usage; free pop-up clinics and COVID-19 testing sites; and blood drives. “Our Park South YMCA feeds people every day,” Hazelbaker says. “Since the start of the pandemic, we have served 106,000 people 115,000 meals, and we have hosted 83 blood drives. We have provided household essential items to more than 25,000 people and have donated more than 10,000 books. We have also donated more than 100 pounds of clothing. It was clear this was an initiative that needed to continue to meet the needs of our community.”
3. Diabetes Prevention Program
According to the American Diabetes Association, 25.8 million Americans have been diagnosed with diabetes, and more than 85 million with pre-diabetes. The YMCA of Metropolitan Dallas takes Diabetes prevention seriously and strives to provide those who are at high risk with tips to become healthier. The Y’s Diabetes Prevention Program educates about the importance of nutrition, healthy eating habits, and exercise. The program is taught in an interactive classroom by a trained staff member. The goal is for participants to decrease their body weight by 7% and increase physical activity to at least 150 minutes per week. The 16-session course is conducted in a small group setting and held weekly for about six months, then monthly during the transition phase for another six months. Anyone diagnosed with pre-diabetes is eligible to enroll in the program.
4. Kamp K’aana
This is a summer camp where a teen can be a teen and become healthier—at no cost to their family. The Dallas Y recently completed its fourth Kamp K’aana, a two-week overnight camp held at Camp Grady Spruce for 10- to 14-year-olds who struggle to maintain a healthy weight. The camp hosted 21 teens this summer, teaching them how to adopt a healthy lifestyle all while having a great time with their peers. When campers return home, the Y reaches out to their families so they can continue their success along with their families. Most campers lose an average of 8.5 pounds at camp and have a BMI reduction of about 4%. Each day, campers receive three meals and one or two snacks designed by pediatric dieticians. The 1,800-calorie daily meal plan is delicious, balanced, and nutritious with an emphasis on high fiber and whole grains rather than sugar and fat. Campers are equipped with the tools they need to conquer their weight management issues while at the same time enjoying an experience that increases self-confidence and builds self-esteem. Kamp K’aana provides a positive, non-judgmental environment where kids can make lifelong friendships and feel comfortable relating to others with similar weight struggles. Daily sessions are provided with a wellness coach with interactive lessons on appropriate portion sizes, self-esteem, and smart food choices. “This summer, the kids collectively lost 146 pounds,” Hazelbaker says. “It’s amazing how much confidence they have once they return, and we know these are changes that can impact them for a lifetime. While at camp, the kids can take part in all the traditional camp activities, such as boating, horseback riding, canoeing, and archery. Here, kids aren’t ostracized if they can’t participate in an activity due to their weight.”
5. Mobile Y Unit
At the end of 2020, the YMCA of Metropolitan Dallas received a $10 million gift from author and philanthropist MacKenzie Scott. After considering how to best invest those resources, the Y determined one fitting beneficiary would be the Mobile Y Unit, which currently includes the Tech Hub and will soon feature a Rec Hub. The Tech Hub provides an on-the-go interactive learning environment for youth interested in STEM education, including labs in robotics, coding, and chemistry experiments among several other programs. The Tech Hub can also transform into a gaming center. It houses four PlayStation 5s, a VR station, and three Nintendo Switches and can fit up to 28 children who can view and play on seven 55” HD TVs—a hit with birthday parties throughout the Dallas area as well. The center also supports the Y’s participation in eSports, a video game competition among individuals and teams. By providing more accessibility to these unique classes, children and teens–specifically those in underserved communities—will have an opportunity to improve their problem-solving skills and teamwork capabilities, and expand their creative talents. “It’s a 24-foot-long trailer with 16 gaming stations on the inside and outside,” Hazelbaker says. “We take it throughout the community, and now several school districts are using it as part of their curriculum so kids can learn coding and programming. Our goal is to have it on the road six days a week in the summer and five days a week during the school year.”
The Y is one of the nation’s leading nonprofits strengthening communities through youth development, healthy living, and social responsibility. Founded in 1885, the YMCA of Metropolitan Dallas serves thousands of men, women, and children each year, regardless of age, income, or background. Anchored in communities across North Texas, the Dallas Y has the long-standing relationships and physical presence not just to promise, but to deliver, lasting personal and social change. The Y ensures all people have equitable access to the essentials needed to become thriving members of the community. Daily, the Y bridges and fills individual and community needs as a catalyst for impactful change. The YMCA makes accessible the support and opportunities that empower people and communities to learn, grow and thrive. The Dallas Y celebrates 135 years of building stronger communities.
To learn more about the YMCA Annual Campaign and other giving opportunities, visit https://www.ymcadallas.org/donate. To see how your company can become involved in volunteer and community outreach programs with the Dallas Y, visit https://www.ymcadallas.org/volunteer.