Y's Time Is Now
Celebrating storied Past with Focus on the Future

There are 160 candles on the YMCA of Greater Cincinnati's birthday cake this year, but the organization is too busy to spend much time celebrating.
 "We're proud we've had 16 decades of service here," says Sandy Berlin Walker, president and CEO. "I think our plan is to keep doing the good work of the Y."
 Through its 14 branches, 325-acre Camp Ernst in Burlington, Ky., and outreach efforts through more than 100 partnerships with local and national organizations, the Cincinnati Y touches the lives of thousands of Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky residents each day.
"Part of our personality is that we serve different populations at different times of the day and different seasons of the year and different seasons of life," says Walker.
Serving All Ages
"If you go into Ys in the morning, you'll see young families," she says. "Then you'll see a rich collection of seniors doing exercise programs and water aerobics. In the afternoon it becomes an after-school center. We're one of the few places where these populations can come together and be in community."

While the Y focuses on programs and people, it is developing plans for a $28 million renovation of the 96-year-old building at Elm Street and Central Parkway in Over-the-Rhine. The plan, being developed with the Model Group and others, calls for turning dormitory rooms on the top six floors that have been vacant since 2004 into low-income senior living apartments, and modernizing the offices and health and recreation facilities on the lower floors. The Y hopes to complete financing this summer so work can begin by year's end.

"We've been tying to find the right combination of partners for a number of years," Walker says. "We hope it comes together."

The Y's mission hasn't changed dramatically in 160 years. It remains focused on providing youth development, healthy living and social responsibility, Walker says.

Safe Haven for Children
"We have buildings that are centers for community gatherings and health and wellness programs," she says. "But we've always been an outreach organization to the community, making sure that programs and services are maximized and have exponential impact."

For example, the Y is largest childcare provider in the region with more than 60 locations.

More than 4,000 children participate in before and after-school programs. Last year, its after-school program was honored as a national signature program.

Among the more than 133,000 Y members and program participants, senior citizens are one of its largest growth categories.

"We have more seniors than ever before. It's a sign they're taking their health seriously," Walker says.

More than 13,500 seniors participate in so-called "silver sneakers" programs where senior health-care plans offer Y membership as a benefit.

Health and Wellness
The Cincinnati Y also is part of a national YMCA diabetes prevention partnership, pursuing testing and regular exercise to prevent onset adult diabetes. Since its launch in 2010, 131 people have participated.

The Y also has an extensive partnership with The Christ Hospital Health Network that includes health and wellness for both Y and Christ employees, health enhancement programs through the hospital and physician referral to the Y for weight loss and diabetes prevention.

Part of the Y's social responsibility effort is its annual campaign to raise money for scholarships for those in need for Y programs and day camps.

This year's campaign, which runs through May 2, hopes to raise $1 million.The Y provides more than $3 million annually in financial assistance and scholarships.

"Often scholarships are the bridge from social assistance to independence," says Walker. She keeps a reminder of that mission in her files. It's a thank you note from a single mom that accompanied a $25 check.

"When I was a young mom, my child was able to come to Y on scholarship," the note reads. "I'm doing better now. I'll never forget how the Y helped me. Now, I want to be part of helping the next family that might need the Y's help."