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A community center

by CAROLINE LOBSINGER
Staff Writer | January 23, 2022 1:00 AM

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SANDPOINT — There’s something for all ages.

From activities geared toward the very youngest members of the community to older adults, the YMCA has something for everyone, Tammy Campbell and Heidi Bohall said.

“I want to make sure that the community knows that everyone is welcome,” said Campbell, the facility’s current branch executive. “Everyone. So it doesn’t matter your age, your size, your color, your religion, your income level, your gender, it just doesn’t matter. Everybody is welcome at our Y.”

“We want to make sure that everyone, no matter what walk of life, knows that you’re welcome at our Y,” adds Bohall, director of membership and wellness. “We want everyone to have a place to belong. And that’s really important to us.”

Creating that sense of belonging — and the programs offered — comes through a partnership with the community, with programs based on conversations with members, the community at large and local businesses and supporters.

A town hall meeting is planned for Feb. 22 at the Sandpoint High School auditorium to introduce the YMCA’s new CEO, Alan Lesher, and to gather input from the community on what programs people want to see at the facility. The meeting begins at 5:30 p.m.

“There really is truly something for everybody,” Campbell said.

“I think that’s something that sets us apart from other organizations I truly do,” Bohall adds.

While some facilities are very much gym-centered, Campbell and Bohall said the Y is more of a community center that happens to be based in a fitness facility. It is, they said, a safe space for everyone — from kids looking for a place to do homework that has Wi-Fi to parents looking for a safe place with activities for their kids while they relax in the sauna or get some work done.

What programs are offered and how the YMCA fits into each community depends on the community and the conversations held, the pair said.

That conversation about what the community wants and needs is transformed into the programs and options available to each specific community. As a result the programs include all ages, and across all genders and spectrums.

“And the other thing that kind of makes us a little bit different, and I’ve always said this is that we offer something for all ages,” said Bohall.

While a parent might bring a child to its child care program, on the same day, the YMCA also is offering programs for children and teens and tweens and young adults and adults and seniors.

The Y focuses on three different areas — healthy living, youth development and social responsibility, Campbell said.

From the very young to older adults, the Y has something for every member of the community, with programs tailored to that community, the branch executive for the Litehouse YMCA.

“We want to have programming for all those age groups. And we want to help them be better members of society,” she said.

That’s why, Bohall and Campbell said you’re just as likely to see the YMCA taking part in a food drive or a warm clothing drive — or like last year’s drive to match computers with local students in need.

That social responsibility component means that each YMCA works to ensure communities are getting what they need out of their YMCA, Campbell said. If the YMCA is in a community with a lot of active older adults, you might see more programming coming out for active older adults. If the community has a lot of children in need of child care, then you might see that YMCA start trying to focus on bringing child care to the area.

“So we really look at trying to find the gaps in our community and then building that bridge to try and make the community stronger,” Campbell added.

One example is a shortage of lifeguards due to the American Red Cross pausing certification.

“So there’s a huge nationwide shortage of lifeguards,” Campbell said. “Well, that really, you know, showed its ugly head here in Sandpoint, where we had both City Beach and the YMCA trying to find lifeguards.”

To try and address that shortage, YMCA officials will be working with Sandpoint Parks and Recreation on a junior lifeguarding program.

“So we want to grab those kids when they’re young, and try and develop them into those lifeguards,” Campbell said. “Now that’s not something that we would have maybe even considered doing until we saw the real need for it.”

Community need is also behind expansion of the Y’s swimming program from swim lessons into a swim teams for youth between the ages of 6 and 9 years old.

“So we can get not only our community up and trained through swim lessons, but also through swim team,” Campbell said. “And along the swim team you don’t just get a swim lesson and learn to swim but you get the camaraderie, you get the discipline, you get traveling. So it’s just it’s all-around a really great program. And again, it was just something that we knew we needed. We couldn’t offer swim lessons for a while, but we could offer swim team.”

The diversity of program is something that often surprises people, Bohall and Campbell said. That the Y’s main focus is on bridging gaps through a variety of programs. What those programs look like — and, really, what those programs are — depends on the community.

“We want to continue to build programs because we are not about coming in and working out, you know, on a treadmill, that that’s really not … yes, that’s our building, that’s what our building does for us. But that’s not what our people do,” Campbell said. “That’s not what our staff does and that’s not why we’re here.

“We’re not here for people to come run on a treadmill — only. Of course, that’s just one small component of it. We have a much, much bigger picture than that. At some point we want to be offering school-aged care programs, we want to be in the schools to offer after-school classes, you know, so there’s that we really want to be much bigger in the community than we currently are. The only way we can do that is by getting out in front of community members and in front of other businesses and let them know what we do.”

Now in its third year – the Litehouse YMCA opened on Dec. 1, 2018, the facility in some ways saw its programming derailed by the pandemic. While it has made big strides in getting its programming back on track, it has been challenging at times. Staff and member safety are an emphasis and the facility works hard to maintain healthy conditions for everyone.

In many ways, the pair said the Y is more of a community center that happens to be in a gym facility than a gym facility that happens to offer an occasional community program.

Each YMCA is unique and what programs it offered is based on what the community’s needs are and what community members want to see offered.

“So the needs here in Sandpoint might be different, obviously than the needs in Spokane and so just like [Tammy] was saying, it’s not like a cookie cutter recipe,” Bohall said. “So each YMCA in whatever community the YMCA is in, basically builds its programming to meet the needs of that community.”

If somebody has an idea, such as a leadership program for middle school students, the YMCA will work with the community to try and make that happen. It might be that a YMCA elsewhere in the country has offered a similar program that the Sandpoint facility can adapt or it might be something totally unique to the community. What it looks like, what it entails, really is up to the community, the pair said.

“So we’re open to, and we encourage people to bring, those new ideas,” Bohall said. “Because, I mean, we can’t always come up with every idea. Like, we definitely want people to bring, you know, different topics and different things to us to see if it’s something that we can implement.”

But, Campbell said, the funds have to be there to make it happen. While the YMCA isn’t just a gym, its membership base does fund a majority of its bills and operations.

For new programs to be implemented, the Y has to have the funds for that to happen. Otherwise the facility will end up having to charge more than it wants for a program and that’s the last thing they want to happen.

It’s important that the YMCA is available to anyone — and everyone — who wants to participate in its programs. The Membership for All program helps community members who want to join the Y who may not otherwise be able to afford it, Campbell and Bohall said.

Ability to pay shouldn’t prevent anyone who wants to join keep them from joining. The program helps with that, the pair said.

“We truly believe that having a YMCA in a community makes a stronger community,” Campbell said. “Not only because we have programs, not only because we have a gym, and we have a pool, those are just facilities, anybody can run that kind of program of facility. We believe that we do something a little bit further than that. We help with your mind, body and spirit. We really want to create a place where everyone can learn, grow, and thrive.”

Some of those funds come from staff, some from members, and some from community members who simply believe in what the YMCA is about or were impacted by the Y at some point in their life. Other funds come from local business which want to make a difference.

This year five businesses stepped up with significant donations — Schweitzer, Litehouse Foods, Miller’s Country Store, Finan McDonald, and Farm Bureau Insurance.

“And so we as a staff, and as our Y wanted to kind of more officially thank them for really recognizing all of the things that we do as a Y and all the things that we hope to do as the Y for the Sandpoint community,” Bohall said. “Because without those dollars, we can’t do any of the things that Tammy mentioned.”

Campbell said YMCA staff wants those business — and really, everyone who donated to the organization — to know they are thankful and grateful for their support, that their dollars “absolutely make a difference.”

“They make they make a direct difference in the community that they would be able to see just by walking into our Y or by attending one of the programs or watching one of the programs happen,” she added.

The strength of the YMCA lies in its community, with each and every donation making a difference in the lives of everyone in the area. From individual donations to staff members to local businesses, each donation adds up to something bigger.

Campbell and Bohall said they are thankful to the community, staff and its business for being so supportive.

“[Their support] really does make our community stronger, and these dollars will make our community stronger,” Campbell said.

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