Our team: from accessible rehab to ESL classes, the YMCA has become a highly social safety net for our community.

Author:McConnachie, David
Position::Yougn Men's Christian Association


VISITING the AR Kaufman Family YMCA in Kitchener, Ontario, is a bit like dropping into an idealized version of the old family homestead. The young and old, quiet and noisy, confident and shy all gather there--many generations under one roof, working together to build for the future.

Add the motto of the YMCA of Cambridge/Kitchener/Waterloo (YMCACKW) and the image is complete "Dream, Grow and Achieve Together."

The motto is also a very good synopsis of the benefits of belonging. That doesn't come by accident for this organization or for the people who bring that motto to life every day in Waterloo Region.

"Here, it's just not about you," explains John Haddock, recently retired CEO of YMCA-CKW. "You're part of a meaningful whole. Be it through the promotion of a healthier lifestyle via our health and fitness programs or via our social programs for children, seniors, newcomers and families to help them feel more connected, we need each other to get things done. Our job, as stakeholders and caretakers of the YMCA legacy, is to find ways to float all boats (of need in our community) and to figure out ways how others can win."

"Winning" is an interesting (read "non-traditional") goal for a social service provider, but with Haddock encouraging his team to always do what's best for the community, the YMCA-CKW has grown five times larger over the past 15 years. It is a wonderful testament to the leadership of the soon-to-be-retiring Haddock and the dedicated work of staff and volunteers who have delivered these remarkable results at a time of decreasing resources.

The YMCA-CKW's wide range of services is particularly important for those seeking to find their place in a new community, a new country or even just upon entering a new life stage. One of the greatest threats to mental and physical well-being is loneliness and social isolation. Research has shown that lacking social connections is as damaging to our health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. And we also know that lonely individuals are more prone to depression. So a community that ascribes to the philosophy that "we're only as strong as our weakest link" understands the importance of providing friendly and welcoming support infrastructures.

The YMCA builds those bridges.

Haddock reminds us that the YMCA-CKW was initially empowered by benefactors representing the titans of industry in 1920's Waterloo Region. The Kaufmans, the Dares and the Breithaupts--each family a driver of the Region's historic legacy as a manufacturing hub "felt a responsibility for the broader community," says Haddock. That ethos lives on today even as the Region's burgeoning tech sector (and the new titans-of-industry) takes over the civic leadership previously held by their manufacturing-centric corporate ancestors.

"Whether it's providing ESL classes for new Canadians or providing settlement services and confidence-building programs to refugees, the YMCA-CKW responds to our community's needs--and we've been doing so since our founding," says Haddock. "So when, today for example, we as a community need to support a new wave of Syrian refugees, we can count on our experience in helping Vietnamese boat people in the '70s and '80s, or our work in helping to settle thousands of displaced people after World War II."

The YMCA-CKW, and the broader YMCA movement, has been instrumental in building both a personal and community-wide sense of belonging for more...

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