Life Lessons from YMCA of South Florida CEO Sheryl Woods

  • YMCA of South Florida is the fabric of the community. We work with all ages and within all types of communities, regardless of economic ability. We provide health and wellness options for kids, adults, seniors and families in all areas of wellness—spirit, mind and body.
  • While we were taking extra precautions and safety measures, when federal and state guidelines mandated that we close our health and wellness facilities, we did so. Those eight facilities, several of which are in city-owned parks, are membership-revenue driven with people that come into our facilities to work out, take classes, participate in swim lessons and youth sports. (Note: YMCA of South Florida operates nearly a dozen facilities in Broward and Miami-Dade counties overall, including family centers in Fort Lauderdale, Weston, Pembroke Pines, Hollywood and Miami.)
  • The other part of our business—youth development/education and community outreach—depends on grant funding and donations. Thanks to our funders, such as Children’s Services Council, the Children’s Trust, Spirit Airlines and several other foundations, we continued to provide some of these critical services during this time.
  • As the largest provider of afterschool programs in Broward and Miami-Dade counties, the YMCA has 128 afterschool sites, three preschools, and many other youth programs and services we provide in the community (the majority of which are grant-funded). The Y is uniquely positioned as the “go-to organization” to provide much-needed child care for first-responder and health-care workers who are on the front lines doing essential work. So, even though our Y workout facilities may have shut down, our work in the community has continued.
  • Our community outreach work has had a huge impact on seniors and those in fragile communities. During the COVID-19 pandemic, they need the Y even more. Our Y team is doing some meaningful work around calling seniors for well-being checks, providing food delivery, and connecting the community with resources to help them with their everyday needs. We’re doing that through our Community Hotline (754.312.4150), which is open to the entire community.
  • Especially in times like these, our members want to stay engaged and connected. We did this using technology‚ creating a “Virtual Y,” and using our mobile app and social media to share workouts and activities to keep the whole family busy. Our members are telling us how grateful they are to us for providing them with these extensive additional resources so they can [exercise] at home, do activities with their kids, and connect with one another. Once we reopen our facilities, we will continue to provide even more virtual resources for our members and the community.
  • Like other businesses, the YMCA has to protect the long-term stability of our organization and employee base. We ultimately had to make the tough decision to furlough staff. The Y is one of the largest employers in South Florida—1,700 part-time, full-time and exempt staff. We have a small team of employees who are still managing the Y, and they took payroll and retirement program reductions to support the health-care needs of our full-time and exempt furloughed team members. This definitely was a very difficult decision, but we have a strong Y family that will come back stronger to serve our community when we get through this. And we will.
  • Our community is going to need us even more. Families depend on the trusted brand of the Y. We will continue to provide programs and services that the community wants and needs; however, this health crisis has given us a chance to think about our business philosophy and work on creating the best business model we can going forward.
  • The Y has always had a “human component” to our work, building relationships that help us strengthen our community. And whether it is a member, a donor or a funder, relationships make the Y resilient and relevant to our community. These relationships are the key to keeping the Y and the community moving forward. We need each other now, more than ever.

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