Why the 'Y'? New CEO talks about changes at nonprofit
Shane Riffle wants it known the Brainerd Family YMCA is more than just a place to work out.
"Really the Y has three areas of focus: youth development, healthy living and social responsibility," said Riffle, CEO of the nonprofit.
Two years ago, its board of directors named the 47-year-old husband and father of two to lead the 126-year-old organization on Oak Street.
"Our goal is to be very reflective with our membership with ethnicity, with income—all of those demographics in our community," Riffle said. " ... We want to serve everyone, so we relooked at our financial assistance process and made some changes to make it easier for people to come and join us."
More than a gym
One of the programs the nonprofit started last month focuses on maintaining a healthy weight in children. Participating families are required to attend the wellness program as a group.
"It's not just the child, it's not just the parents learning about healthy eating and physical activity. They're learning it as a family," said Joanna Collins, wellness director.
Essentia Health-St. Joseph's Foundation provided the startup funds for the family-based program, and Bernick's Family Foundation is helping the Brainerd Family YMCA maintain the program for the first couple of years to make it sustainable and free for families.
"Imagine as a child growing up that you see your entire family getting into that habit of developing physical activity or healthy eating. It really does help keep those skills going for those children," Collins said.
The YMCA includes a wellness center, an aerobics studio, yoga, pilates, strengthening classes, youth and adult sports, racquetball, gym, two pools, water exercise classes, swim lessons, open swimming, a youth center, a child care center, after-school care, summer day camp and more.
"We've implemented some new things in our summer day camp program and our after-school kids club program, so it's just not kids coming and playing ... so they're not losing what they've learned over the school year," said Zac Johnson, program director.
"This summer, we actually had teachers in our community come in twice a week for two hours, and they did anything from reading, writing, (and) math skills with the kids, and it was great ... because with young kids, they don't have the attention span to sit for half an hour to an hour."
The Brainerd Family YMCA just opened a new indoor playground and will be implementing archery into its summer day camp.
"We have a bunch of different programs that are more than just getting in the gym and running around ... and I have a ton of great feedback from the parents on, 'It's amazing that you're doing this ... that you're teaching kids more than just sports,'" Johnson said.
"Our youth sports—this year, we implemented the playbook for our parents and coaches ... so learning how to become a good person, and the coaches are doing a great job, where they are coming in and teaching them a lesson about faith, honesty, respect, responsibility."
All walks of life
The Brainerd Family YMCA employs more than 120 staff and 100 volunteers.
"We've done STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) in the summer where we had another instructor come in once a week and did a couple of hours with our kids, and they learned anything from robotics to Snap Circuits to how magnets work and things like that," Johnson said. "We had a board game where the kids talked about what they had alike with each other, and it was amazing to see the kids meet with people that they don't normally talk to, don't normally hang out with and all the things they had in common with each other."
The Northern Pacific Railroad offered to build a YMCA in Brainerd in the 1880s, "so that the young men of the railroad and the community would have a wholesome place to spend their leisure time," according to the nonprofit's website. An estimated 22 million men, women and children participate in activities at about 2,700 YMCAs across the nation, some of whom take advantage of the opportunities to give back and support their neighbors.
"They work together to get the job done to make sure we're keeping our promise to the community, and that we are developing youth and helping people live healthier lives," Riffle said.
Maci Barnes is the coordinator of Kids Corner, which includes a $35,000 indoor playground and carpeted play area. The baby-sitting program is free with family and single-parent family memberships. Art activities, learning toys and a caring environment are provided, Barnes said.
"We have people from all sorts of walks of life. We get people from both ends of the spectrum," Barnes said.
Riffle added, "The cool thing about the Y is we provide financial assistance, and our promise to the community is that we never turn away anyone because of inability to pay. We want everybody to feel welcomed and valued."
One area seeing a new addition is the YMCA's swimming classes.
"A program that we're starting is a basic swim lesson program we can take anywhere. We can either do the classes here, or we can go to an apartment complex's pool or even a lake to demonstrate basic skills that you need to swim," said Laura Marsolek, aquatics coordinator.
Riffle said, "Drowning is the second-leading cause of accidental death for youths, but it's largely preventable, so if we can reach more kids through this free program that teaches the basics, I guarantee we're going to save lives."
There are more than 3,000 members of the Brainerd Family YMCA, including youths, young adults, adults, couples, single-parent families and seniors. And more than 600 seniors are part of the Y's SilverSneakers program.
"It's a program that is run through Medicare, so if they have particular Medicare supplemental plans, they have access to SilverSneakers, which they can come in and participate in Y programs," Riffle said.
Marsolek said, "We have SilverSneakers doing our aquacise classes every morning, and you should see the size of these classes. The groups that come every morning—it's amazing, it's awesome and people from all walks of life."
The stated mission of the Brainerd Family YMCA is "to enhance lives in the Brainerd lakes area by connecting individuals and families with opportunities based on Christian values that build a healthy spirit, mind and body."
"We are slowly incorporating more youth development elements into our swim lessons. That's a big program we just started and we're working on and really excited about," Marsolek said.
"We're incorporating empathy, emotion management, personal development, relationship-building and responsibility in our youth and that's with programming and staff development and different training tools that we're using for that."
The Brainerd Family YMCA took a new tack in August dealing with issues such as suicide, juvenile offenses and dropout rates that often result from adverse childhood experiences or childhood trauma by partnering with Bridges of Hope for a self-healing community.
"We want people to come and experience Brainerd, and we want the families that live here to have the best schools, the best opportunities, the best recreation—to be healthy and happy—and the Y is part of that tapestry," Riffle said.