Even though I had already been forming crude letters with my arms for years whenever Village People started thumping out of the speakers at the skating rink, I didn’t actually realize that the YMCA was anything more than a jumble of random letters until I read Are you there God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume. For those of you who don’t remember reading this on the playground while everyone else played kickball (that wasn’t just me, was it?), after moving to the suburbs, Margaret’s new friend wants to know if she’ll join the YMCA or the JCC — the Jewish Community Center.
After that, it was back to making weird, arching Cs with my arms as I whipped around another curve on my rollerblades.
Maybe I was just too young to understand the true joy of the YMCA, or maybe growing up my family just wasn’t the community center type, but as an adult I can confidently say, “This place is awesome,” and here is why.
- The YMCA cares about the community it serves. Even in America, food security is a real and serious issue that touches so many communities. Children who rely on cafeteria breakfast and lunch during the school year often go hungry during the summer, putting them at risk for malnutrition and other health-related issues. At several YMCA locations in my city, there are programs providing free dinners and much needed nutrition throughout the summer to those who need them.
- It’s a great place to get in shape. Visit almost any YMCA and you’ll find a weight room and a cardio room with people of all ages, sizes, and fitness levels working toward a common goal — better overall health and fitness. Too intimidated to go it alone? There’s a good chance you YMCA membership will come with a few free sessions with one of the center’s personal trainers.
- Summer camp. Is it too late to be a kid and register for some of these? The all-day camp kids at my favorite YMCA location get daily time in the pool, access to the skate park, and a playground that pretty much always looks way more fun than the treadmill that I bust my butt on.
- Ever watched a movie in a pool? You can now. Forget the drive-in, a lot of YMCA locations now host dive-in nights. You can grab a hot dog and some popcorn, spend some time in the pool, and wear yourself and your kids out in the pool.
- You probably won’t find a more positive place to connect with your community. Okay, you might think this one is kind of lame, but you’re wrong. I promise. I grew up in the Air Force and then married right back into it, so I’ve never had the experience of being settled down in one place until now. Even though we’d already lived in Tucson for a year before joining the Y, becoming members was the first thing that truly made us feel like we were part of the community.
Maybe the YMCA has been here all along, making enormous but unseen impacts on local communities and the people within it, and I just never noticed. Now that I’ve spent some time at the Y and taken advantage of countless benefits, I can’t imagine a community existing without it.
Not sure if your city has a YMCA location? You can look here to find out.
Caitlin is a writer and freelance copyeditor who drinks way too much coffee and is studying to become an astrobiologist. Growing up in the Air Force, she ping-ponged around the U.S., across the Atlantic, and back only to start the process all over again with her husband. Now settled in Tucson, she writes for Virtue Marketing and can be found tweeting at @ifyoureadreamer, writing on her blog, or posting helpful articles for indie and self-published authors.