Tucson YMCA: Nonprofits need your help to serve in new ways amid COVID-19
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Tucson YMCA: Nonprofits need your help to serve in new ways amid COVID-19

The following column is the opinion and analysis of the writer.

In August of 1996 I read an ad in the local paper. The YMCA in the neighboring town was hiring a part-time position at their front desk. I applied, was hired and almost 24 years later I’m still working for the Y. It is a story you hear frequently in the nonprofit world: I was not looking for a career, but I fell in love with the community impact we have.

At the Y, we believe everyone should have access to our programs. Last year we provided $1,120,632 in financial assistance to families in our community so they could learn, grow and thrive at the Y.

This enabled children to learn lifesaving skills in swim lessons, be prepared for the starting line of kindergarten by participating in academic preschool, learn how to navigate being a part of a team through youth sports, reach grade level in reading by attending summer learning loss prevention, and so much more.

Last summer, we served 265 kids from military families at Tri-Y to experience a week of resident camp. I could write more about the Y, our impact, last year and dating back to our over 100-year history in Tucson.

But the Y is about building community, so rather than focusing on the Y, I would like to concentrate on our shared commitment to Southern Arizona.

Unprecedented. I think I’ve heard that word more in the last month than I have in the last 10 years and rightfully so. I’ve spent my entire career working for the Y. In all the trainings, classes, blogs, journals, etc. I do not remember a business plan for unprecedented.

Some may think it odd that I use the term business in reference to a nonprofit. Nonprofit is simply a tax status. In the nonprofit world, our business is community benefit.

Like so many small businesses right now, we are worried about today, about the future, and about the impact we normally make. Most of us will struggle to make it through. Sadly, some of us won’t, and another unmet community service gap will appear.

Nonprofits play a vital role in our community. We teach kids to swim, feed families, build houses, mentor, tutor, counsel, help grieve, entertain, and so much more.

What if our incredible nonprofits weren’t here? That is a terrifying thought. How many kids would not find their inspiration, their spark, after a week at Triangle Y Ranch Camp? How many families would not receive the support they need at Casa de los Niños?

Think about the homes Habitat for Humanity has built that transform a family’s future. Boys & Girls Club, United Way, Youth On Their Own, Girls Scouts, Community Food Bank, JCC, Literacy Connects, EEF and all the other nonprofits that serve our community. Together, we transform so many lives, we make our community stronger. Together we fill community gaps that meet tangible needs.

As our world changed, so many nonprofits quickly pivoted to meet immediate needs our community has today. On March 19, the YMCA of Southern Arizona began offering emergency child care to health-care professionals, first responders and those providing vital services to our community. We are helping seniors stay connected through wellness calls and by encouraging them to participate in our live-streaming classes.

We have virtual wellness and family programming to help people stay healthy and active while at home. This is only a glimpse of what the Y is doing. It is incredible what the entire nonprofit community is doing in this time of crisis.

As a community, we are being squeezed. When you are squeezed your true self comes out. As my buddy says, Tucson is one big high school hallway. We act like a little town even though we are not.

Essentially, at our core, the Y is about relationships. In Tucson, these relationships span generations. We have three pillars we focus on: Youth Development, Healthy Living and Social Responsibility. We define Social Responsibility as giving back and providing support to our neighbors.

As a community, to me that means each of us choosing to focus on what we can control, what we can do in this time. We can call family and friends and check in on them. We can ensure our neighbors are well. We can eat takeout once a week to support our local restaurants.

If we are able, we can reach out to our favorite nonprofit and ask them how they need help. We can go online and donate. We can be someone’s pillar to lean on at a time when they may be struggling to find hope for today.

Tucson is resilient. We have grit. It is not a matter of if we make it through as a community. It is a matter of how we make it through. We will make it through together, choosing to do what we can for each other.

I ask you to not wait to be asked, reach out today and be a changemaker.

Kurtis Dawson is the president and CEO of the YMCA of Southern Arizona. Learn more about the YMCA at www.TucsonYMCA.org

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