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How the YMCA continues to serve members and the community through the COVID-19 crisis

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The YMCA of Greater Providence, like many other organizations in Rhode Island, has been forced to close its doors until it’s safe to reopen.

Now, the YMCA is taking its services inside members’ homes. CEO Steven O’Donnell said under normal circumstances, the six locations across the state provide child care, a gym and other services to about 38,000 people.

“We have diabetes programs, we have cancer programs for people who have been inflicted with different disease, where we have our staff that walk through those things,” he said. “So there’s really catch-all. We do everything, and we’re community-based, we’re a nonprofit organization, so we rely on our members that are very loyal to us.”

O’Donnell said the Y is the largest child care provider in Rhode Island.

“We have our after-school program in multiple schools around the state,” he said. “In Providence, our Providence Youth services service probably about 350 kids on a daily basis with food.”

The organization also runs two camps and is now contemplating offering online learning for kids, according to O’Donnell.

“The leaders within the Y across the country are talking about how we continue to do that, pushing healthy living and social responsibility out further into the community,” he said. 

With the closure of its buildings, the YMCA is now bringing their workouts online and into members’ homes through videos.

“We have programs for the active older adults and we also have a mental health specialist that is being retained to talk about the emotional support in this particular time,” O’Donnell explained. “We also know that exercise increases your immune system and so it’s critical that you’re doing the exercises at home, if it’s walking or resistance, whatever it may be. If we can be a partner in that, we want to be one.”

View the Y’s virtual workout options »

O’Donnell said people have several options when it comes to their membership.

“Each month we draft, we charge people for being members, and so we put a message out to them, asking them, ‘would you like to hold, cancel,’ what those things mean, or, ‘would you like to donate it back to the Y?'” he said. “They can say, ‘put it on hold’ and when we come back, we just redraft them when they walk through the doors, or they can cancel outright — which most people don’t — or they can continue to draft and that money would just go to keep the Y running.”

“To the credit of our membership, a lot of them have said, ‘you know what, my $70, my $80 for my family, I’m going to let that keep going because they want to come back to something that’s here,” O’Donnell continued.

O’Donnell, who is also a law enforcement analyst for Eyewitness News, says the Y continues to give back to the community by delivering food to people’s doors.

“We have a small group of people working with them — masked up, wearing gloves — that pick up the food and in those respective companies, in those vans, and then bring them to the needy,” he said. “We ring the bell or we call them on the phone and say, ‘there’s a bag of food on your door.'”

“We’re supposed to be helping the people that sometimes are in a difficult place, especially during a crisis like this, and making sure that we’re safe also,” he added.

O’Donnell also mentioned that the Y is working with several organizations to help get masks to their destinations.

“We’re not making the masks, but we’re the conduit to the masks,” he said. “We put them in the Y vans and we take them to wherever they want them donated.”

It’s unclear what will happen in the coming weeks or days, or when places will begin to reopen. O’Donnell said they rely on the guidance of Gov. Gina Raimondo, the CDC and the R.I. Department of Health.

“The end game is no one can prepare for what you don’t know, but we have to be prepared for when we reopen,” he said. “The message we continue to hear, nationally and locally, is we’ll be a staggering opening sometime.”

“That means, if 50% of our members return, we have to know that 50% of our employees will return,” O’Donnell continued. “Then we monitor that as it goes and we continue as more people return, the more employees that come back, and hopefully we’ll be at 100% compliment.”

He said aside from memberships, the Y also relies on donations as well.

“The philanthropic partners are great,” he said. “Everywhere we turn, somebody wants to help, and we’re willing to help as best as we possibly can.”

To help the Y keep going, they’ve launched a new program to collect donations.

“It’s really to help us with everything from child care, to maybe fixing buildings, and what does camp look like this summer,” he said.

Donate to the YCMA of Greater Providence here »

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