YMCA’s 21st Birthday

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On September 15, the Y.M.C.A. (‘Y’) at Forster celebrates its milestone 21st birthday. FOCUS caught up with the Y.M.C.A.’s Assistant Manger, Melissa Morgan, and Centre Manager, Len Newman, to find out about the impending festivities and the first Y.M.C.A.’s humble beginnings way back in 1844.


LN: The Y.M.C.A. is a worldwide not-for-profit organisation which was originally founded in the United Kingdom way back in 1844. These days, countless local Y.M.C.A.s have opened up across the globe. Tell us about the history of the Y.M.C.A. and why you feel its template is so successful?

The Y.M.C.A. has been in Australia now for 160 years and has grown from strength to strength because of its strong connection to the local community. As a not for profit charity organisation, it has always had a clear and strong focus on providing all members of the community with access to activities and programs that engage and connect all ages through innovative and professional activities.

We know that families today are doing it tough and struggle to spend quality time together, and it’s also a fact that obesity levels and diabetes are on the rise and physical activity is on the decline, and that’s why the Y.M.C.A. template has a strong focus on family, so we can bring families and individuals together – allowing them to connect to their community and live happier and healthier lives.

LN: In 2012, the Y.M.C.A. Great Lakes transitioned to Y.M.C.A. Sydney. Tell us how this will benefit the local community.

In everything it does, the Y promotes family, healthy living, developing young people and those less fortunate. The Y is much more than a gym, pool or child care provider; it is a cause driven, not for profit charity, and this is front and centre of everything that we do. The work of the Y is for a greater purpose – a promise to the communities we serve to connect people to their communities to live happier, healthier lives. Our transition to Y.M.C.A. Sydney has opened up training opportunities for staff, to ensure we deliver high quality and professional programs. It enables us to provide more for the local community, such as our value for money family membership, which features the free learn to swim or gymnastics program for each child in the family and particularly those in need through our Y Charity Programs and Open Doors fee assistance schemes.

MM: In 2011, the Y.M.C.A. Great Lakes received a massive transformation. Tell us about the changes made and how they might have improved the Y’s facilities? 

The centre now includes two gyms with all the latest equipment, huge group fitness room, vibrant gymnastics arena and a multi purpose sports hall. Australia’s Health and Welfare Institute found that almost 60% of Australians over the age of 15 don’t do enough physical activity. Hopefully our centre, with its diverse range of programs, can help encourage more people to seek an active lifestyle.

LN: You’re a stalwart of the Y.M.C.A., having worked there since 1991. Tell us briefly about your career with the organisation?

I am very passionate about the Y, and I love what it stands for and the great work we do. It was very evident 23 years ago when I joined the organisation as the CEO of the Alice Springs Y.M.C.A. that the Y was for me. I loved its sense of community, its volunteer base and the variety of programs and activities it offered. I spent two years in Alice Springs and then got a call to manage the newly constructed Great Lakes Aquatic Centre in Forster, and naturally I jumped at the chance to come to paradise! I have now managed the Great Lakes Y.M.C.A. since its inception in 1991, and it’s been a fascinating and highly rewarding personal journey.

MM: Likewise, you’ve also been with the Y.M.C.A. for 21 years. What has kept you turning up for work there for over two decades? 

It’s never really felt like work to me; it’s more like catching up with friends and my second family, as many of the staff have been here for over 10 years as well. I love the challenges and diversity that the organisation and industry presents but most of all, it’s because I believe in what the Y stands for – family, healthy living, developing young people and those less fortunate.

Having the opportunity to change people’s lives and make a difference in the community I live in is something that I have always been very passionate about. As you can imagine, over 21 years I’ve been blessed to meet some amazing people, and I’m very thankful for that.

MM: Many of the Y.M.C.A.’s members have been utilising the centre for years and consider it their ‘second home’… 

We see the Y as a place away from work and home where people and families can connect and be healthy and active together.  Mission Australia’s National Survey of young Australians in 2011 found that 74.3% of those aged 11 to 24 say family is what they value most in life. The Y take pride in knowing that our centres provide a place where people can come together and feel like they belong.

MM: What special activities have you planned for the Y.M.C.A.’s birthday celebrations? 

We are offering a $0 join fee on all health and fitness m/ships, including family, a saving of $111. Activities for the family include come and try fitness classes, learn to swim assessments, come and try gymnastics and Kindergym, pool slide, jumping castle, face painting, BBQ and more.

Thanks Len and Melissa.

Interview by Karen Farrell.  

This story was published in issue 67 of the Manning-Great Lakes Focus

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