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Community Partner: Greater Valley YMCA

Staff of the Greater Lehigh Valley YMCA gather for a community event.

By David Fagerstrom, President & CEO

Tell us about your organization and its mission.

The Greater Valley YMCA has six branches, located in Allentown, Bethlehem, Catasauqua, Easton, Nazareth, and Pen Argyl. Collectively, we are committed to strengthening the community by positively changing lives every day. The public sometimes looks at the YMCA and defines us by our buildings, but we are much more than that.

The Greater Valley YMCA is a volunteer-led, nonprofit community organization focused on helping people, which over time, positively changes the community for the better. The formal mission of the YMCA is, “to put Christian principles into practice through programs that build a healthy spirit, mind, and body for all.” That is a hefty statement, so the Y breaks down our work into three areas: healthy living, youth development, and social responsibility.

To advance healthy living, the Y is committed to improving people’s overall health and well-being. We define youth development as helping youth understand and reach their potential. And the Y takes on social responsibility though partnering to provide aid for Lehigh Valley’s most vulnerable populations.

Enes Kanter plays basketball with kids at the Bethlehem YMCAWhat is the role of your organization?

The Y accomplishes our goals in healthy living, youth development, and social responsibility in various ways.  

Of course, most people know that the Y is a membership organization that helps people get and stay healthy. We increase people’s health and well-being by providing all sorts of fitness programs, which promote physical and mental wellness, reduce risk for disease, or perhaps help individuals reclaim their health. Increasingly, the Y is partnering with the insurance and healthcare industries to help people and families take advantage of what the Y has to offer. Most notably, the Silver Sneakers program is an insurance-based program through which seniors can receive no-cost memberships to the YMCA to stay vibrant and independent.

With regard to youth development, first and foremost the Y is the largest provider of childcare in the United States, and here in the valley that is no different. We offer full- and part-time preschool childcare throughout the valley, before- and after-school care through partnerships with numerous school districts, summer day camp programs, youth programming, swimming lessons, and youth sports. Every day, more than 1,000 children participate in licensed, curriculum-based childcare services here in the Lehigh Valley.

With regard to social responsibility, the Y has offered, and continues to offer, scholarships to anyone who cannot afford to participate (or join) the Y. In other words, someone comes into the Y who can’t afford a service; the Y works with them to determine a fee they can afford. In 2019, that subsidized amount exceeded $1,200,000 here in the valley. In addition, the Y has provided low-income housing for decades. For example, for well over 20 years, the Bethlehem YMCA has owned and operated an entire building of permanent housing for low-income persons.

In the last decade, the Greater Valley YMCA has taken on numerous additional roles, responding to some of our society’s most pressing needs. We’ve been developing innovative, community-based solutions. These programs fill gaps in the community where some much-needed services are falling short. For example, in the fall of 2017, we launched a new 64-bed homeless warming station. And in the summer of 2018, the Y launched a free summer meals program, which served more than 14,000 free meals to at-risk youth. In 2019, the Y launched an after school dinner program. And we’re planning several more outreach programs in 2020 and beyond.

What do you love most about your job/organization?

About 30 years ago, I started working at the YMCA as a summer camp counselor. I had a passion for improving the lives of children. My passion to help kids and people continues to this day. The Y helps more and more people each year here in the Lehigh Valley, many from vulnerable populations. As the Y continues to increase its services, my passion for the work grows. I’m really the luckiest person out there in that regard, as I absolutely love every minute of what I do. Working at the Y has been, and remains, an extremely satisfying career choice. 

How does Moravian College support your mission?

Moravian College has supported the Bethlehem Branch of the Greater Valley YMCA from the start and continues to support the Y today. Numerous faculty members have participated on the Bethlehem’s advisory council, board of directors, or gala committee. Moravian students have volunteered at the Y to complete various community service projects. They come to the Y to observe childcare classes, and many of the college’s sports teams and clubs have supported the Y at community events like the Easter Egg Hunt or the Trunk or Treat. Last year, the college gifted the Y a large number of used computers, screens, and other materials, which the Y so very desperately needed. So the college has supported the Y and our mission by giving back to the community, through donations and volunteering at the Y.

How can Moravian College—and the greater community—be more involved with the Y?

There are many ways to become involved with the Y. You can join, volunteer, donate, or even help elevate the Y’s programs and community initiatives on social media.

We have many membership types, from active older adult couple to family to college memberships. By joining the Y, you aren’t just joining a gym, you’re joining a community organization that offers health, hope, and opportunity to many people that otherwise would not have those opportunities.

To volunteer either occasionally, during special events, or on a schedule, visit gv-ymca.org/volunteer. To donate, visit gv-ymca.org/donate. To help share the Y’s message and news, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn and share our good news!

What is the biggest challenge your organization faces?

Looking ahead, the Y has several challenges. Volunteerism is trending down across the nonprofit sector, which equates to increased costs to run programs. Insurance for all nonprofits that work with children is seeking high increases across the sector. And the lack of passionate, motivated, mission-driven applicants seems to be worsening.

What do you hope for the future of the YMCA?

The Y will remain true to our core values. We will continue to support individuals and make the community a better place, though it may look different than today. The future YMCAs will be adapting and responding to society’s pressing needs and creating community-based solutions. The Y will continue to be a highly collaborative organization, providing all types of services to people from all walks of life and bringing about meaningful change to the individuals, families, and communities that need it the most. Because the societal divide between the haves and the have-nots is widening, there will be an increase in the opportunities for an organization like the Y to help more and more people.

Eyliena Baker, Class of 2020
Kara Mosovsky, Assistant Professor of Biology
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