Feature Article - June 2008
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Helping Build Healthy Communities

In fact, some of the YMCA's partnerships go beyond the walls of its facilities to influence community development and public policy. The YMCA of the USA's Activate America program, created as a response to America's various health crises, has created partnerships in communities across the country, aiming to improve people's eating habits as well as increasing their physical activity levels.

In Attleboro, Mass., for example, a team convened by the Attleboro YMCA, with technical support from the National Park Service, aims to improve the city's walkability with a city-wide trail. The team also plans to expand bike paths and influence sidewalk improvements throughout the city.

Another team, convened by the Rapid City YMCA in Rapid City, S.D., also aims to improve public access to walking and biking, in this case by actively campaigning to influence public policy. As a result, the city council has denied variances for developers looking to build communities without sidewalks, and some construction projects that did not include bike paths or sidewalks ultimately did include them.

A team convened by the YMCA of the Suncoast exercised its influence in Clearwater, Fla., by getting the two largest providers of after-school care to require 30 minutes a day of physical activity in their programming. The county government has since adopted the requirement as part of its licensing of all after-school programs.

These partnerships don't just influence physical activity levels, but also aim to encourage people to eat healthier as well. For example, in Rochester, N.Y., a team convened by the YMCA of Greater Rochester cooperated with a child-care food vendor for three full-day child-care sites to require fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables as well as introducing more whole grains. And in West Michigan, a team convened by the YMCA of Grand Rapids responded to the problem of inner-city residents' limited access to fresh fruits and vegetables by planting community gardens and starting a farmers' market.

Staffing & Certification

Respondents from YMCAs, YWCAs and JCCs indicated that they employed more people than any other type of facility covered by the survey, and also were the most likely to require at least some of their employees to earn certifications of one kind or another.

YMCAs and similar facilities surveyed employed 67.4 percent more employees, on average, than the average across-the-board for all facility types, but they expected that number to grow at a slightly slower rate than average. While all respondents projected a growth rate of 32.3 percent over the next few years, YMCA respondents were anticipating growth of 31.6 percent from 304.3 employees, on average, currently to 400.5 on average in 2011.

Most of that growth will occur in the number of volunteers working for YMCAs, YWCAs and JCCs. Respondents in this category projected a growth rate of 40.1 percent in the number of volunteers working in their facilities over the next three years. The smallest growth will be seen in the number of full-time employees working for their facilities, though this number is still expected to grow by nearly 19 percent.

Many respondents cited staffing their facilities as a top concern, adding that competing with other facilities was a big piece of that challenge. One aquatics director in Florida said staffing was the biggest concern, "because being a YMCA it is hard to compete in offering competitive wages versus other facilities that offer more."

Respondents from YMCAs, YWCAs and JCCs were far more likely to indicate that they required certification of some kind for their employees than other facilities. A full 99.1 percent of respondents in this category said that some kind of certification was a necessity. Nearly all of these (98.2 percent) said their facility required CPR, AED or First Aid certification. Most also required lifeguard certifications (94.7 percent) and background checks (92 percent). More than half also required: personal training or fitness certifications (74.3 percent), aquatic management or pool operations certifications (65.5 percent), and childcare or early childhood education certifications (56.6 percent).