I don’t know a single person who hasn’t heard of the YMCA. Unfortunately, I also only know a handful of people who actually use it. Which is a shame. Whether you are military or a civilian, the YMCA is a fantastic resource for your mental, physical, and (if you so choose) spiritual well-being.
The YMCA began in London, England during the industrialization of the city. Young men were moving to the city in droves looking for work. Often times the city was a dangerous place and many young men needed emotional and physical shelter from their surroundings. The YMCA was created as a place for these young workers to receive a hot meal, a place to sleep and bible study among peers with similar values. Eventually, the outreach included non Evangelicals with the mission being to provide hope and help to all men in need. The idea caught on like wildfire and within just a few years there were hundreds of Y locations in many countries.
The YMCA has held a close relationship with the military since the very beginning. From sending bibles and New Testaments to the soldiers on the front (I don’t know a single military member who doesn’t have one of those camouflage pocket bibles) to operating military canteens (the forerunner to the post exchange aka PX), the YMCA has played an integral part in military wartime and peacetime efforts. Nowadays, you can even find an Armed Forces YMCA on most military installations. These provide story hours, preschool program for some enlisted personnel, mommy and me play hours for young families and so much more. All for free!
I began my journey with the YMCA a few years ago when I started taking my then 9 month old son to swim lessons. These were basically just water acclimation classes where we played with our babies in the water. I wasn’t a member at the time, it just happened to be the only place in the area that offered what I was looking for. As he got older he moved on to other swim lessons that ranged from pool safety and etiquette to the perfection of various strokes. They have been fantastic lessons with caring and patient instructors and I highly recommend looking into it if you are looking for a place to start swim instruction for your little ones.
When my second son made his appearance I knew that I wanted him to also do swim classes. At this point I was at the Y several times a week! One day one of the swim instructors pulled me aside and asked me why I wasn’t a member. I honestly hadn’t thought about it. The on post gym was free (though I had to pay for childcare) so I never really thought about it. Once I crunched the numbers, I realized I would be SAVING money by using the Y. Swim lessons became significantly discounted and there was free childcare. This also made swim lessons easier because I could put one in care while I was with the other at the pool. My husband and I both also benefitted from the wide variety of group fitness classes that were offered. From Spin to Zumba, we found ourselves at the Y almost everyday!
There were so many benefits beyond their clean facility, wide selection of group fitness classes, and thorough well planned swim lessons. There were fun runs, field days breakfast with Santa, Easter Egg Hunts… the list goes on and on. At some point, the Y stopped being a gym and started being a community. The staff members and volunteers were so welcoming that at some point they stopped being “the front desk girl” or “the member accounts rep” and started becoming our babysitters or members of our friend circle. As a military family, we are prewired to jump in and “bloom where we are planted”. For many people it remained just a gym and a great one at that. But for those who want more, the Y provides…. and then some.
There are so many additional benefits, as well. For those of retirement age, they are a Silver Sneakers partner. Which means proof of medicare (or other large insurance) gets you a free membership. I love seeing my older gals shaking it at Zumba! Some have even become like surrogate grandmothers to my boys. The Y also offers lectures on a variety of subjects, from religious education and weight loss to financial stability and investment. I really can’t express enough how the Y can touch every part of your life if you let it. It also allows you to visit their other locations which is huge for us military families. When we are in New York or New Mexico visiting family we can go to the local Y without missing a beat!
So… have you been to your Y lately? If not, go soon. Your first visit is free!