One of the largest social profit organizations in our community is the YMCA of Northern Alberta, Wood Buffalo Region. With three pillars of service delivery – child care; health, fitness and aquatics; and community programs – the YMCA is thriving and helping individuals, children and families reach their full potential.

“Our membership is growing and usage levels are increasing all the time,” shared Jim Weller, Vice-President, YMCA of Northern Alberta, Wood Buffalo Region. “We are 70 memberships away from reaching 4,000. It really tells the story of the YMCA wanting to be a centre of the community.”

Weller describes the YMCA as being like a close-knit family. A part of the community since 1988, its Westwood facility might not be big, bright and shiny like its competitor on MacDonald Island, but it does offer intimacy and charm.

“We’ve got the warm factor,” said Weller. “We want to be that place where everybody knows your name.”

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The United Way funded agency operates a number of different facilities and programs and employs over 160 full- and part-time staff members. Two programs were funded by the United Way in 2015-2016: the YMCA Youth Opportunities Program (YYOP) and the Child and Youth Program.

YYOP has been making significant inroads in the rurals communities in Wood Buffalo. Coordinator Kelly Tobin has become a familiar presence in the hamlets and has built trust and relationships that are generating results.

“In Fort Chipewyan we went from having zero buy-in at the beginning to now, when kids that won’t go to school are coming to us,” said Jennifer Best, Senior Director of Community and Housing Initiatives, Wood Buffalo Region. “Now 3 of 30 kids have resumes, which is huge. Before this program they wouldn’t have even thought that they were hireable.”

Tobin travels to Fort Chipewyan every two weeks – as an example of YYOP’s success – and regularly meets with 18 students. The YYOP Coordinator teaches employability and life skills, filling a substantial gap in these remote communities.

It takes time and consistent consultation, but trust is building and there is good support for YYOP from community leaders.

“They want their kids to have the opportunities that they didn’t have,” said Weller.
The regular presence in the communities is working. Because there is trust, there is good engagement with students; because there is good engagement, students are discovering that they have skills and opportunities.

“One of Kelly’s students brought in a coffee for her that he bought with his own money from the job he had gotten,” said Best. “That’s a huge win.”

The Child and Youth Program offers a series of free programs for children and youth of all ages. Thanks to United Way funding, this program offers options for families who might be facing financial barriers. From Kids Yoga to the Imagination Station, from Active Kids to Fun Friday, the mix of Child and Youth options is impressive and well utilized.

“We are the only YMCA that offers free programming outside of the membership,” said Weller. “It is United Way that help us make this happen. You’re investing your dollars in building the potential of individuals, children and families.”

“Never underestimate the impact of an hour of play with children,” said Best. “Thank you. That small gift is huge to a child.”

“Every dollar matters,” said Weller, reflecting on the thousands of donors who contribute to the United Way. “Thank you. We appreciate what you’ve done.”