YMCA: Changing Lives, Making a Difference
Podcast #66 — Aired August 17, 2015

Healthy spirit, healthy body, healthy mind. That’s the mission at the YMCA of Greater Brandywine in Pennsylvania. Our guest this week is President and CEO Denise Day. She’ll discuss the great programs offered by the YMCA of Greater Brandywine and how it’s improving lives.

 

 

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Denise Day
President and CEO, YMCA of Greater Brandywine

Denise L. Day is President and Chief Executive Officer of the YMCA of Greater Brandywine, an association of nine YMCA’s serving more than 80,000 members throughout Chester County. Denise is respected nationally as a YMCA leader in membership, program development and fundraising. She spearheaded the renovation and re-opening of the former downtown West Chester Area YMCA into the Oscar Lasko Youth Program Center. Her passion for fundraising led her to establish the YMCA of Greater Brandywine's current annual support practices, resulting in over $1.2 million in annual donations to the Y's Annual Campaign each year. Denise has been recognized for her work on behalf of children and families and is the recipient of the 2012 March of Dimes Achievement Award for Excellence in Public Service.

 

Episode Transcript

Raymond Hansell
Hi welcome to BetterWorldians Radio. BetterWorldians Radio is a weekly broadcast whose mission is to uplift and inspire you to make the world a better place. This week BetterWorldians is featuring a spotlight, a BetterWorldians spotlight, the content you know and love formatted for quick and easy listening. By the way Im Ray Hansell and today our spotlight focus is on the YMCA of Greater Brandywine, an association of nine YMCAs serving more than eighty thousand members throughout Chester County in Southeastern Pennsylvania. Our guest today is President and CEO Denise Day. Denise is respected nationally as a YMCA leader in membership, program development and fundraising. She spearheads the renovation and re-opening of the former downtown West Chester Area YMCA in the Oscar Lasko Youth Program Center. Her passion for fundraising led her to establish the YMCA of Greater Brandywine's current annual support practices, resulting in over one point two million dollars in annual donations to the Y's Annual Campaign each year. Denise has also been recognized for her work on behalf of children and families and is the recipient of the 2012 March of Dimes Achievement Award for Excellence in Public Service. And now without any further ado, lets welcome Denise Day. Hi Denise.

Denise
Hi, thanks for having me.

Raymond Hansell
Youre very, very welcome. Lets start by telling our listeners a little bit more about the Y and its mission today.

Denise
Okay. Well our mission is to put Christian principals into practice through programs that build a healthy spirit, mind and body for all. And while thats our mission, sometimes it easiest to really talk a little bit about our cause, and were really about strengthening the community. And we believe that a positive lasting personal and social change can only come when we work together to invest in our kids, our health, and our neighbors. And so we focus our areas, our work in three areas, youth development, healthy living and social responsibility.

Raymond Hansell
Okay. Now hows the mission changed from the years past when a lot of the people I guess in the Philadelphia area and throughout the country would think of the Y as a place for gym and swim?

Denise
Well I would hope that weve never been just a gym and swim, but I think we really tried to do a better job of explaining who we are and really how we effect the quality of life in a community and such. So most people dont realize that the Ys the largest provider of childcare in the country. That no one is turned away due to their inability to pay full fee. That we provide a tremendous amount of financial assistance each year. That, you know, we provide all day childcare, preschool, were doing things with education, early learning readiness, addressing the achievement gap, summer day camp, youth leadership, youth in government, arts and humanities. So we are so much more than a gym and swim, and were for all, which I think is probably most important, making sure that the Y and these services are available to all.

Raymond Hansell
Totally inclusive.

Denise
Yes.

Raymond Hansell
Now what brought you personally to the Y? And how does the Ys mission resonate with you?

Denise
Well I was exposed to the Y in college. I guess maybe right before I went to college, I played a little racket ball at the Y, but it was really when I was in college in Lincoln Nebraska that I got exposed to the Y and did some internships there with their youth sports department, and started to have a better understanding of just how the Y serves the community, and next thing you know I got involved on a full time basis, and right after college. And it was just, its really resonated with me, with the Ys values certainly align with my values, and the idea of being able to give back, its just been a very rewarding career, and as I like to say, I dont think Ive actually worked a day in my life.

Raymond Hansell
Thats great that you feel that way. And we feel that way as a matter of fact. Tell us a little bit about the scale of the reach of the Y, how many members, how many centers, etc.? I dont think many people really understand just how, how big of a scale it is.

Denise
Right. Well here in our are, for our YMCA, we just recently went through a merger, where the YMCA of Brandywine Valley merged with the YMCA of the upper main line, and that has created, we basically serve all of Chester County Pennsylvania, except a small piece of the Phoenixville community. And we have nine facilities with approximately eighty thousand members. To give you a little bit of an idea of that, we have more than twelve thousand card swipe visits a day throughout our facility.

Raymond Hansell
Oh my word.

Denise
So thats the ones that are coming in and swiping their cards, it doesnt necessarily count all the kids that are in our care. In the Monroe Schools, were in twenty-five different elementary schools with before and after school childcare. And so the number of people coming in contact with the Y on a daily basis is quite impressive.

Raymond Hansell
And beyond the scale of the Brandywine Y, I guess nationally, its a much bigger organization as well?

Denise
Right. Its not only national, its international, the Y is in hundreds of countries around the world, each Y is a little unique maybe to what they, you know, the service they do for their communities and such. We actually have an international partnership with the YMCA Peru. And so we do some exchanges there, and family service learning trips, and such. But then nationally there are over nine hundred YMCAs across the country. And now that doesnt count branches, then you get into well over two thousand, you know, facilities that youll find.

Raymond Hansell
And the membership based on that, do you have any idea how big that is?

Denise
Oh geez, I cant tell you off the top of my head.

Raymond Hansell
Somebody told me it could be as high, internationally as a billion people but Im sure its.

Denise
Oh absolutely, absolutely could.

Raymond Hansell
Yeah, thats amazing. So how are you reaching out to corporations and other kinds of partners? You mentioned the Peru partnership, how does that work?

Denise
Well thats working with the Y of Peru, we each can strengthen each other. Theyre doing some wonderful outreach projects in their areas in some of the communities that they serve. And we go down there and help them with that and see what theyre doing. Theyre also doing wonderful work with teens, and young people, and so were really trying to learn from them of how theyre impacting so many young people and keeping them involved and getting them involved. And then were helping them with teaching them a little bit about fundraising. So thats a little bit of how, how that partnership works. And its just wonderful to, for us to give the experience to families, to travel together, and to, you know, experience other cultures and that appreciation of diversity and such. So its just a nice element of what we can do. And then here for corporate partners and sponsors, were very fortunate to have many corporate partners who support our mission, and help us to address community needs so that the Y can be available for all. So it depends on the partner of maybe what we may or may not be doing. I can tell you a little bit about, you know, our partnership, one is, we had a partnership with the Nemours AI duPont Hospital for Children. And you there, their mission, we have a common mission to keep kids healthy and safe, and so they come to our branches and educate families on important issues around childrens health and they support our Healthy Kids Day, which is a national YMCA event. And, you know, so we partner together in that. We have a partnership with the Caring for Kids Foundation, where we help distribute over, last year it was over four thousand coats to kids in the county so that they could stay warm during winter months. Where theyre providing, they actually provide the coats and were the conduit between the coats and the kids. We know some kids who can best, you know, benefit from those coats. Weve also got a great partnership with the Believe and Achieve Foundation.

Raymond Hansell
Oh.

Denise
Yeah?

Raymond Hansell
Okay, tell us about that.

Denise
Well the Believe and Achieve Foundation helps us into communities we provide a free after school program for low income children, where they get homework help and mentoring, support, free snack. And what we do there with the Foundation, they help to support it, and then we have a center here at the Youth Program Center in Westchester, and we also have a center in Coatesville at the Gordon School. And so over, about seventy kids participate daily in the Westchester location, and about twenty in Coatesville, and thats growing.

Raymond Hansell
Now at the grassroots level at the Y membership, tell us a little bit about, you mentioned earlier that you have income-based membership. So for families in need, and that this may be of interest to, how does that work for our listeners?

Denise
Yeah, well income-based membership is actually our membership model. So you pay on a sliding fee scale based on the household income. And so, you know, we have what our full fee is, and folks come in and if they feel like theyre at an income level that they cant afford full fee, then we work with them, a fee that they can, what they can afford so they can take advantage of the programs and services and such.

Raymond Hansell
And how does the try the Y for free work?

Denise
Well its kind of what it says. On Tuesdays right now, if youre talking about the free on Tuesdays, or youre talking about the passes that you can download off of the Internet.

Raymond Hansell
Okay.

Denise
You can download a pass and get a three day trial just to come in and see how we can help you meet your goals. And, or you can do try the Y Tuesdays right now in the month of August, where you can just come in to your local YMCA and sign in and have a chance to enjoy the facilities for the day.

Raymond Hansell
What a great deal. Well it sounds like, so what weve covered so far really is how broad, how inclusive, how widespread, and how welcoming and easy it is for people to access the Y. So well be talking more after our break with Denise a little bit more about the specific programs and I think youre going to be really as impressed as you have probably been listening so far. So were going to take a short break, but well be right back with Denise Day, President and CEO of the YMCA of Greater Brandywine, and my co-host MarySue. Before we go I want to let our listeners know if youre a fan of BetterWorldians Radio, then you should check out our popular social game on Facebook called A Better World. It rewards players for doing good deeds while helping to raise money and awareness for charities. In fact one of the charities we just mentioned, Operation Warm, is another charity that Denise had mentioned, that really puts coats on kids in need around the country. To date over thirty-five million good deeds have been done in A Better World by more than three million people. In June we partnered with the Doctor Phil Foundation, we challenged our players to complete three hundred thousand good deeds in the game, and because they executed that goal or exceeded it, we released funds for the I Am For The Child campaign, which recruits volunteers who advocate for abused and neglected children. Great job BetterWorldians. Well be right back.

Raymond Hansell
Youre listening to BetterWorldians Radio. Were talking with Denise Day, President and CEO of the YMCA of Greater Brandywine. And now lets welcome back Denise and my co-host MarySue.

MarySue Hansell
Hi Denise.

Denise
Hi, how are you?

MarySue Hansell
Great, I was so happy to hear about all these wonderful programs. Lets talk a little bit more about it. You mentioned the childcare program, that is an interest to so many people. Can you tell us a little bit more about that please?

Denise
Yes, you know, affordable childcare is so important for, you know, families to be able to work and to know that their children are safe and loved and cared for when they cant be there and such. And so our childcare programs are one of our largest programs, we have all day childcare, we have preschool care, we have Montessori preschool, we actually even have a licensed kindergarten program.

MarySue Hansell
Wow.

Denise
With our spaces, and we have before and after care that we do right within the schools as well. So childcare is very, very important. Its all licensed, its a licensed program and you know, so we have financial assistance that is available. We also accept CCIS, which is a form of government subsidy as well. Again, very important so that families can work.

MarySue Hansell
Yeah, Ill have to mention that to my daughter. I know that she lives out in that area, I dont know if shes aware of the wonderful extensions you have there.

Denise
Yeah.

MarySue Hansell
You know, now its the height of the summer camp season. What is the Y Camp all about?

Denise
Oh well summer camp is just, every kid deserves a summer camp experience. My kids actually just came back from a camp, a Y Camp, and they have attended our summer camps as well. But it is just wonderful for the kids to have a camp experience.

MarySue Hansell
What ages are they?

Denise
Well, you know, every day, theres not really a typical day, because every day is, as our counselors like to say should feel like a new adventure with exciting things happening, you know, that maybe didnt happen the day before. But there is certainly structure to it. But they all start with opening ceremonies and the counselors get the kids excited for whats going to happen that day, and each day is typically focused around some sort of theme. From there, the kids swim, thats an important part of the camp day. Its a great way for the kids to be active and they love the swimming. But we also make sure that the kids can improve their skills just with basic water safety skills and know that theyll be safe around the water as well. And then the kids spend the rest of the day in various stations or depending on what their area of interests are, you know, weve got book nooks so kids can read and write and continue to keep up with some of their learning so they dont have summer learning loss, you know, its real important for kids to continue to read. We have environmental ed. and nature and science, where theyre really immersed in the outdoor environment and learning about those things. Then we have fun with sports and fitness and engaging games, and all those things of keeping them active. We have arts and crafts.

MarySue Hansell
Wow.

Denise
And basically working with their creativity. We do a lot with songs and games, obviously they have lunch together, we have, bring special guests in, sometimes theres trips as well, and then at the end of the day a closing ceremony. So theres a lot done around teamwork and such, and things that theyre doing throughout the day around our values, caring, honesty, respect and responsibility. And kids are usually being rewarded for some of those things, and so were reinforcing those values. And then Fridays we always have a special closing ceremony where theres different recognition done and they present a spirit stick to the group that has the most spirit. They usually present a cheer or skit, and its a really big deal for the campers, and they have a lot of fun with it. So its just a great place to meet new friends and to have fun, and for the parents to you know, again feel good about the fact that their kids are having fun in a safe environment, and coming home charged up and usually pretty tired. So the parents can work and feel good about that at the same time.

MarySue Hansell
Yeah, you know, I think its so important that the children learn how to swim so I know you folks give a lot of attention to that. Because I know I have five grandchildren myself, and I always worry that they dont know how to swim properly. So thats a

Denise
Im glad you bring that up actually because our Splash Learn Water Safety Program is one of our most important programs, its done at every branch in every community, and were really trying to take it to every elementary school, and were working with a number of school districts where one week a year theyre bringing all their second or third, it depends on the school district, graders in to get water safety skills, a week long water safety skills. Most people dont realize that drowning is still the second leading cause of death for children.

MarySue Hansell
Oh boy.

Denise
And yeah, it can be very scary, and so we take it very serious and are doing our best to make sure that every child has an opportunity to be safe around the water.

MarySue Hansell
Fabulous. Now what programs are offered for the whole family to participate together in?

Denise
Well obviously there is swimming, and we keep our gyms open for families. We have family friendly group exercise classes and weve extended our ages, and lowered our ages in our fitness centers for families to work out together there. We have tremendous amount of family nights and family fun nights and special events that are designed for families, around healthy Halloween and pictures with Santa, pictures with the Easter bunny, craft nights, movie nights, all those of types of things. Weve got pottery classes for kids and families. And then we have programs like together-hood where Y volunteers, and families can volunteer together to work as teams to go out and do community service as well for other, where theres other community needs, but working through the Y. And then our Girls on the Run and Stride programs, which are programs actually for the kids, the boys and the girls ages three to, in third to sixth grade. But it culminates in a race, a 5k race, and often times the kids need to have an adult to run with and the parents get involved with that, and we find that thats been a very neat parent child activity because they have to, they all start to train together to do that as well.

MarySue Hansell
Nice.

Denise
Those are just a few of the family friendly activities that we have.

MarySue Hansell
Well thats a real education, I know our listeners are probably saying I need to get to the Y.

Denise
Absolutely.

MarySue Hansell
You know I also saw on your website that you have a program for people with multiple sclerosis. Tell us about that.

Denise
Yeah, its a support group for MS. Its led by a member volunteer at our Westchester branch, and they meet the second Saturday of each month. They have a discussion topic, led by this volunteer, or someone that might be coming in as a guest speaker, and then theres some social time for the group at the end of each session. And then once or twice a year they will do an event with families. Some of the topics theyve done include like art therapy, or navigating the healthcare insurance issues with MS, understanding MS and depression, nutrition, how MS impacts caregivers, just some of those things, or talk about the latest research.

MarySue Hansell
Very impressive.

Denise
For many in the group, its really an opportunity to be with others who have MS and to find out what theyre experiencing as their disease progresses potentially or just, you know, getting that support for each other, has been very therapeutic for them.

MarySue Hansell
Thats wonderful. Denise what are your aspirations for the Y in the next say five to ten years?

Denise
Well while doing so much and touching so many lives theres always so much more we can do. We actually right now are going through our strategic planning process.

MarySue Hansell
Okay.

Denise
With our new board and laying out what some of those goals are. And, you know, we really, we know one of those things is we need to do a better job of making sure that everybody is aware of all this great work thats going on and the opportunities that are available for all. And so we know that thats important for us to just increase the communication on those things. We are really looking at developing more strategic partnership to enable us to provide greater impact in the areas of youth development, healthy living and social responsibility. You know, I think collaboration and partnership is very important in this day and age, especially for nonprofits to work together. So we look to do more there. You know, we want to be the leader in youth development, healthy living and social responsibility, so theres some more quality programming that were looking at. One is the diabetes prevention program.

MarySue Hansell
Oh thats a good one.

Denise
Yeah. Which is very important. The Live Strong Program, which is helping people with cancer as well. And some more different programs that will meet community needs. And you know well be doing some more things to improve some of our facilities in order to be able to deliver those programs.

MarySue Hansell
Wow. Now how can our listeners help support all this?

Denise
Well thats an important piece. You know, we are a cause driven nonprofit and charitable donations are a very important part of our budget in allowing us to do this work and making it available to all. So supporting us is being a member, by being a volunteer, by being a donor. Contributions are tax deductible and Ill just share last year in our association we awarded over three point two million dollars in assistance to over nineteen thousand people.

MarySue Hansell
Well thats surprising, tell us more about that.

Denise
The need is there. Yeah, so that allowed us to help to subsidize for these programs, a lot of the camps, a lot of the children in our camp programs, you know, need subsidy and in our childcare programs, thats where the majority of our funds end up subsidizing in the Learn to Swim programs, early learning readiness program, is an important program too, which helps get kids ready to go to kindergarten and school so theyre not behind, were doing that in some of our lower income communities, really important program there. Were working with the at home caregivers to make sure that the kids are getting the skills and the learning to be right there with everybody else when they start. So anyhow, a lot of, those are just some of the ways that the funds raised help to support the community.

MarySue Hansell
Fabulous. Now how can people find out more about the Y? Do they go to the website? Tell us.

Denise
Well they can certainly go to our website or go into their local Y to get a tour. And if its a listener and theyre not part of the service area for the Y of Greater Brandywine, I encourage them to go to their local YMCA, because while every Ys a little bit different, many of these programs are happening in their local Ys as well. So go to your local Y, get a tour, ask some questions, go to our website. Our website is www dot YMCA GBW dot org and learn more and come see us.

MarySue Hansell
Hear that everybody? Go to your YMCA, your local YMCA. Heres the very important question Denise, how do you hope that the work being done at the YMCA is helping to make the world a better a place?

Denise
Yeah, well Im sure the Y is helping to make the world a better place. You know, the Y is all about community building. You know, the members help each other, they help the community through the Y. Our members come together regularly and they do blood drives, food drives, coat drives, swimsuit drives.

MarySue Hansell
Wow.

Denise
Holiday Angels, thousands of children in our area get presents each year, who otherwise wouldnt, because of the generosity of our members with our Holiday Angels program. They do Thanksgiving baskets, theyre volunteering their time, theyre contributing to give every child a chance to participate in the Y. It really fosters a sense of belonging, and that youre part of something larger than yourself. And I believe that that makes it a better world.

MarySue Hansell
Yes it does.

Raymond Hansell
And we concur, actually I think this is a great, a great show for our listeners to hear because this is a good place to begin being a BetterWorldian is to join your local YMCA and participate. Theyve made tremendous progress in facilities and in the breadth and depth of their services, and are very, very inclusive to helping a lot of people in the world. So if you want to find out more about the Y, as Denise just said, just go to the Y, get a tour, find out more, jump in there, volunteer. And also go to the YMCAs website at YMCA GBW dot org. Denise, thank you so much for joining us today on BetterWorldians Radio.

Denise
And thank you for having me.

Raymond Hansell
Youre very, very welcome. As we end our show each week we like to share our mission at BetterWorldians. We strive to make the world a better place by encouraging the very best in everyone and telling people about all the good thats being done in the world. We focus on positive thinking, positive values, and positive actions. In short, our vision is to bring out the BetterWorldians in everyone, so that we can all make it a better world. And so until next time, be a BetterWorldian.