What began as a place for young women to safely grow and learn is now a family oriented program focused on wellness.
The Young Women’s Christian Organization (YWCO) of Athens, Georgia is a non-profit organization that focuses on serving the community through educational, recreational and wellness programs. It was originally part of the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA), which gave working young women a chance to be healthy and grow in a safe environment. Since breaking away from the YWCA in the 1960s, the YWCO has evolved to cater to families specifically in the Athens area.
“We really wanted to do a lot of our programming and things really directly within our community and making an impact in our community, where as the YWCA was doing a much broader advocacy for women,” says Becky Galvin, YWCO Marketing Director and Fitness Coordinator.
Members are taught to use the equipment correctly in a free session with a personal trainer.
A wide variety of recreational programs are available for all ages from toddlers to senior adults. Toddlers can learn to swim, and senior adults can live a healthier lifestyle that allows them to stay independent longer.
“This is very diversified here. They offer classes for young adults all the way through 80 and 90-year-old people, and they’re very centrally located for Athens,” says Janice McMillian, a front desk employee for the YWCO. “I think it adds a lot to the community.”
One program is called SilverSneakers® Fitness Program, and through certain insurance policies, seniors can get a free membership from the YWCO, which would normally cost around $350 annually.
“There are some health insurance companies that believe so much in the importance of physical fitness and staying moving that they will pay for a gym membership for the people that they insure,” says Galvin.
One SilverSneaker® member, Annie Slack, says she heard about the YWCO specifically through SilverSneakers® and agreed that it was a great place for community and socialization.
“If [people] are social with me, I’ll be social with them,” says Slack.
Slack says she originally came to the YWCO as a place to work out and get healthy. “[I come here] for my health. I want to lose a couple pounds,” says Slack.
The YWCO has classes specifically for seniors to help with mobility and overall fitness. The arthritis class adheres to the American Arthritis Association guidelines and allows people with arthritis to stay active without the straining their bodies.
The members get a chance to socialize while improving their health in a way that is not stressful on their bodies.
“The benefit of being in the water is you don’t have the pounding. You’ve got the buoyancy and that makes a difference,” says Galvin. “They can get in and have some freedom when they’re in there.”
Multiple generations can come get active together. With over 1,000 members, the YWCO serves a younger as well as older clientele. Many members come as families.
“We’ve been coming here for quite some time. My wife had a heart attack and we needed the facility to improve our health,” says Ross Perry, a member of the YWCO. “Two of our grandchildren have learned how to swim here, so it’s a big plus for us.”
The employees will often bring their families as well. Galvin says the soccer program was invaluable to her son, who grew up at the YWCO.
“All three of my children grew up in the Y,” says Galvin. “My one son learned to play soccer out here at the YWCO and ended up going to college on a soccer scholarship, and a majority of his club playing time except maybe two or three years, he learned how to play here at the Y.”
In addition to the recreational programs, the YWCO does an afterschool care program in Oconee county and summer day camps.
“Families know that they have a safe place for their children to be in the summer and afterschool,” says Galvin.
The Girls’ Club is a day camp for girls from low income families. Not only do they stress health and fitness, but they also stress the value of education with reading activities taught by certified reading instructors and a book club.
“We’re finding that the girls have a higher retention rate and are more likely to graduate or return to school the next year in they’ve been in our program,” says Galvin. “We really talk about the value of education and learning.”
Funded by grant writing, fundraisers and member fees, the YWCO is able to provide a multitude of classes and programs, attempting to serve everyone. But to Galvin, it’s the people that are the heart of the YWCO.
“We’ve been through a lot together,” says Galvin. “I love the members…They’re very quick witted and very intelligent…There’s energy here.”