Local YMCA undergoes reimagining process

YMCA camper jumps into swimming pool.
YMCA camper jumps into swimming pool. (Courtesy of YMCA)
Courtesy of YMCA

The YMCA of North Central Florida has begun a reimagining process, analyzing its operations and the community around it.  

The local YMCA started in 1967, with the brand’s roots running back to 1844. CEO Angela Howard said the organization has adapted over the decades and, since the COVID pandemic, many Y’s have started shifting.  

“So every community has really made some adjustments to how they function looking at more community outreach — just doing many different things across the United States based upon their particular community,” Howard said in an interview.  

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Howard has led the YMCA of North Central Florida since 2019 and, in that time, some changes have already started.  

The cities of Hawthorne and Micanopy had YMCA summer camp programs for the first time in a decade, and the Y stopped programs for those under 10 years old to focus on youth 10-16 years old.  

Angela Howard speaks at the Aug. 18 feedback session.
Photo by Seth Johnson Angela Howard speaks at the Aug. 18 feedback session.

The key moving forward, Howard said, is listening to the community. The summer camps came after conversations with Hawthorne Mayor Jacquelyn Randall and Bishop Chris Stokes in Micanopy.  

At a July event in Archer, Howard passed out paper surveys for people to fill out. The questions asked about the Y’s perception in the community and what the questionee knows about the organization. The form also asks about hopes for the community.  

“We can’t fulfill our purpose of strengthening our community, if we don’t listen to the community,” Howard said. “The community knows what they need.” 

She said the YMCA needs to engage the community where it is, outside the walls of its location on NW 34th Boulevard in Gainesville. But to do that engagement, the Y first invited a group of stakeholders behind its walls for a feedback session.  

On Aug. 18, the Y held the first session focused on Gainesville stakeholders. Another session will follow in September that hits the outlying communities.  

Scattered across the basketball court, community members gathered at nine tables topped with packets of information. From long-term to recent residents, nonprofit workers to physicians, each group discussed a series of questions while a YMCA board member steered the conversation and scribed replies.  

The questions followed the same course as the paper survey, starting with the community, leading to the Y and looking for connections between the two. 

Howard said the board of directors will compile the data, analyze it and then create a roadmap for the North Central YMCA to follow over the coming years. She said the plan should be ready by January.  

The reimagining process isn’t new. The YMCA posted about it in October 2021, but now the community feedback has arrived along with the January target.  

“Moving forward, the Y intends to expand its offerings outside the walls of its facility to leverage partnerships that offer programming for youth, teens and adults alike, regardless of geographic location,” the YMCA said in a statement last year.  

With multiple counties in its jurisdiction, Howard said the Y plans to begin expanding—again searching for community needs and fulfilling its purpose of strengthening its local communities.  

Angela Howard, president of the YMCA of North Central Florida, speaks with an attendee filing out a survey.
Photo by Seth Johnson Angela Howard, president of the YMCA of North Central Florida, speaks with an attendee filling out a survey.

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I really hope this doesn’t mean that the Young Men’s Christian Association is moving to a more “woke” philosophy. That’s the last thing that youth need.

I’d also encourage them to focus on outreach to fathers to help strengthen them. Strong fathers are the best thing for our youth.