4 Ways to Play With the YMCA

The YMCA of the USA is “a leading nonprofit organization for youth development, healthy living and social responsibility” that includes approximately 2,700 local entities that together engage 21 million Americans. They are also the perfect partner for any public library interested in developing health and wellness programs.

Two pink hearts with "YMCA +" and "Library" written on them
With their focus on wellness and equitable access, the YMCA is a natural partner for libraries' health and wellness programs. Image courtesy of the Toledo Lucas County Public Library.

Perhaps no better endorsement for partnering with the YMCA is the fact that our current Public Library Association president, Ramiro S. Salazar, has focused on doing just that. One of his signature initiatives as director of San Antonio (Texas) Public Library has been his work with the YMCA of Greater San Antonio, which culminated in the creation of a library branch within the Mays Family YMCA at Potranco. The Potranco Library, opened in 2016, illustrates the fact that both the YMCA and the public library “are responsive to the needs of the community, providing programming for all ages, afterschool activities, and resources for active individuals and families.”

Looking for an easy lift to get started? One idea is to team up with them for their Healthy Kids Day event. Held each April, Healthy Kids Day is a national initiative to improve the health and well-being of kids. Dozens of public libraries across the U.S. have participated in Healthy Kids Day programs sponsored by their local YMCAs. 

Here are more ideas for partnering with your local Y.

Circulate free passes to the Y

As a nonprofit entity, the YMCA operates in large part on membership fees. Nonetheless, like libraries, their focus is really on access for all. They want more Americans to live healthier, happier lives. To that end, numerous public libraries across North America have worked with their local YMCAs to extend access to YMCA facilities.

In Keokuk, Iowa, the public library teamed up with the Hoerner YMCA during National Library Week 2019. All throughout the week, anyone in the community could show their library card and use the Y for free. This program went so well that the library and the Y are now teaming up for summer reading. From May through August, on the third Saturday of the month, patrons will be able to use the Y for free with their library card. If they happen to already have both a library card and a YMCA membership, they can then get a 50 percent discount in the Y’s Summer Sweat Challenge with their library card.  

The Toledo Lucas County Public Library in Ohio ran a similar program this February. For the first two weeks of the month, anyone with a library card could get a free day pass to the YMCA of Greater Toledo. This was a special program for American Heart Month.

Other libraries have taken this model and made it a recurring program. The Daviess County Public Library in Owensboro, Ky., checks out both individual and family YMCA passes as part of its “library of things” collection. In Nova Scotia, Canada, the Pictou-Antigonish Regional Library has three passes to the YMCA of Pictou County that it makes available for check-out.

Group doing yoga while seated on ground
Bringing a YMCA instructor to the library is cost-effective for the library and good promotion for the Y.

Bring instructors from the Y to your library for programs

The next thing you can do is to bring one of the YMCA’s 20,000 full-time staff or 600,000 volunteers to your library to lead health and wellness programs. The programming possibilities are seemingly endless!

In Connecticut, the Danbury Public Library hosts a Zumba instructor from the local YMCA every Wednesday night for a free, fun, family-friendly workout at the library. In Superior, Wis., Jen Rosnau, the Superior YMCA Wellness Coordinator, leads a free yoga class at the library once a month on a Saturday morning.

In Decatur, Ill., the library teamed up with Decatur Family YMCA to offer “a series of free trial exercise classes and demonstrations” at the library in January as a way to jump-start healthy new year’s resolutions. And in Brooklyn, N.Y., for Black History Month 2018 the library invited Princess Bey, the healthy living program coordinator for the YMCA of Greater New York, to come down to their Clarendon Library Branch to demonstrate the importance of physical fitness for young people.

The YMCA can also help with other library programs beyond fitness instruction. In Wilson, N.C. the Wilson Family YMCA and the Wilson County Public Library teamed up to create the community’s first StoryWalk at the local Botanical Gardens.

Develop outreach programs that take place at the Y

You can also take the library to the YMCA! That's what Kat Cook did in Keokuk, Iowa. Her program, Lego Days at the YMCA, stemmed from a meeting with the Hoerner YMCA CEO in November 2017. The library and Y discussed the need for more after-school activities and their shared desire to reach more young people. Out of this came Lego Days at the YMCA. Essentially, librarians take their Legos to the Y once a month and offer building challenges as well as open time for kids aged 5 and up to, as the Y puts it, “stretch their imaginations as much as their bodies.”

This collaboration led to more library programs at the Y during the 2018 Summer Reading Program. The Y and the library split the cost of a performer, who performed at the YMCA’s gym as a free event. The Y also referred the library to a Zumba instructor who has agreed to give a free Zumba class for kids at the library.

Another option is to see if you can celebrate special library days at the YMCA. That is what the Williams County Public Library in Bryan, Ohio, did. For National Library Week 2018, the library teamed up with the Williams County Family YMCA for a special Swim & Story Family Night at the Y. The free event featured a pool party as well as a “story time in the pool for younger kids,” plus crafts, swimming races and a free showing of the kids’ movie "Coco."

Finally, think of teaming up with the YMCA to celebrate special health-related holidays. As part of the National Institute on Aging’s annual Go4Life programming, the Ferdinand Public Library in rural southern Indiana teamed up with the Tri-County YMCA and the Purdue Extension in September 2018 for a series of free exercise programs for older adults. The exercise classes took place at the YMCA, and the library helped advertise them and also made available special information packets about the importance of exercise as you age, which included a free exercise guide.

Build the library into the YMCA!

Some libraries work so extensively with the local YMCA that they have actually moved into the Y! In Summerville, S.C., the Berkeley County Public Library System signed a 20-year agreement with the Cane Bay YMCA to host a library branch inside the YMCA. According to planners, this new YMCA facility, which opened in April 2019, is the first YMCA building in the country that was designed from the beginning to have a library inside of it. According to Paul Stoney, president and CEO of the YMCA of Greater Charleston and Cane Bay Family YMCA, the idea of building a library into a YMCA will promote “the overall goal of healthy living — which is spirit, mind and body.” The process of building the new YMCA-library was highly collaborative, with library staff and the YMCA working together on everything from color schemes to carpeting choices within the facility.

Similar efforts are taking place across North America. In London, Ontario, the Bostwick Community Centre, which opened in November 2018, includes within it both a YMCA and a branch of the London Public Library. Chief Librarian Susanna Hubbard Krimmer said they are “excited to be able to provide a space for our community that forges stronger social connections, that makes it easy and fun for those of every age and ability to stay healthy and to learn new things.”

Also in Canada, one of the newest locations of the Calgary Library in Alberta is within the YMCA in Seton. What has been described as the “world’s biggest YMCA” includes within it a 25,000-square-foot branch of the Calgary Library. Shannon Doram, president and CEO of YMCA Calgary, said the facility “was designed very intentionally to give people opportunities, not only for the physical wellness, but for the spiritual, social and emotional wellness that comes with other activities like the arts.”

As these examples show, once you start working with your local YMCA, the possibilities are endless! Let us know in the comments how you work with your YMCA.