The YMCA of Central Florida is working to disrupt its perception
through innovation and a renewed commitment to communicate its cause.
The definition of disruption is “to break apart or alter so as to prevent the normal expectation.”
By introducing new programs and initiatives that focus on elements outside the traditional expectation of its organization, the YMCA of Central Florida has been on a journey to disrupt its long-standing perception as simply a fitness facility for families. Over the last several months, Central Florida Lifestyle Publications has had the opportunity to see the Y’s approach to disruption firsthand.
“We recognized that we had a choice to make. We were at an inflection point. Were we going to keep thinking, acting and operating as we had in the past? Or, were we going to change our trajectory, re-imagine what the Y experience could be and re-focus on communicating our cause?” said John Cardone, Executive Vice President of Membership Experience.
Dan Saginario, Vice President of Brand & Cause Advocacy, added “While the Y has experienced tremendous growth, the needs of our community continue to evolve and technology is enabling ways to connect us unlike ever before. We knew we needed to tell our brand and cause story more effectively if we were to truly ever realize our full potential and deliver on our mission to improve the lives of all in Central Florida.”
Thinking Beyond the Four Walls
Central to this new vision was to think about how and where the Y could play a role in helping the community outside of the walls of their 27 Central Florida Y locations and reach them in meaningful new ways. That led to becoming one of the first Y’s in the nation to have a full time chef and nutritionist on staff, Gary Appelsies, who champions healthy eating habits across the community. Gary will be conducting 22 cooking demonstrations in the six counties the YMCA of Central Florida serves this summer. He also actively partners with other culinary leaders in helping educate and advance healthy eating habits.
In addition, the Y also became one of the only Y’s in the nation to hire an Executive Director of Christian Initiatives, Chad Garmon, who actively works to ensure the Y is improving lives in spirit, mind and body through service and love for our neighbors. Two new initiatives Chad is piloting are a Healthy Pastors and Healthy Church program tailored to outreach to the faith community.
In addition to adding talent, the Y is developing a pipeline of new healthy living initiatives in partnership with other community health leaders to address chronic health conditions and workforce wellness. Programs such as Healthier Life Rx and Communities For Health extend the reach and impact of the Y beyond traditional wellness programs inside the Y.
“The Y brand needs to be seamlessly distributed to serve our neighbors wherever they are and however they choose based on their unique needs.” Saginario says. And this approach is serving as a model for the rest of the YMCA movement:
“The YMCA of Central Florida is a leader in the Y in the area of community integrated health, “ says Jonathan Lever, Executive Vice President, YMCA of the U.S.A. “YMCA of the USA and many other YMCAs look to the Central Florida Y for innovative approaches to helping individuals and communities promote health and well-being for all.”
Relationship Building Through Innovation
Gone are the days of one-size-fits-all communication and cookie cutter wellness programs. Technology is enabling one-to-one experiences tailored to our needs in all aspects of life. The Y has been aggressively seeking out strategic partnerships and technology tools to increase its ability to better tailor its communication and improve the experiences it provides based on each individual member. So, the Y has invested in the global leader of fitness equipment Technogym and their activity tracker My Wellness Cloud to help members record their progress and help them achieve their wellness goals.
“The commitment of the Central Florida YMCA to the community is outstanding,” says Nerio Alessandri, founder and CEO of Technogym. “The YMCA is a perfect fit with Technogym’s brand because of its belief in connected wellness and fitness, and the desire to make a difference in people’s lives.”
Telling the Brand & Cause Story
Dan Saginario stated “We know that the YMCA brand has high awareness, but many people do not realize the full scope of our impact or that we are a mission-based non-profit who has been improving lives in Central Florida for 132 years”. To help amplify this message, the Y has placed a renewed focus on capturing cause-centric stories and content to share across platforms and is also refreshing its creative with a new, more current lifestyle look/feel and messaging based on the individual pursuits we all are undertaking to become better – tied back to how the Y can help empower and support you.
And instead of focusing on deals to drive membership this summer, the Y will let prospective members know that for every new membership until August 13, the Y will set aside $50 to provide swim lessons for children in our community in need so new members join the cause with the Y to eradicate childhood drowning.
Looking to the Past to Inspire the Present
For Cardone, a former Pittsburgh steelworker, it’s hard work and a passion to make a difference that continues to inspire and drive him to help lead this kind of transformation. “I have stood on the back of many shoulders, and any success I have had is due to many,” says Cardone. “I live to pay them back and hopefully leave the world in a better place.”
Throughout his career, Saginario’s witnessed the impact that his employers, major brands like Universal, HSN and Darden, among others, had on individuals and communities. He says the Y not only embodies the best qualities of those brands but it also has a unique mission rooted in a desire to serve others and improve lives that he sees as an “irresistible calling.”
To all involved, the Y is more than just a facility or a program. For Saginario, it means “you stand for something more.” It means you are part of a movement that is dedicated to building community, fostering relationships and helping neighbors while improving yourself in the process.
“I’m mindful of so many others who have come before and made the Y what it is today,” says Saginario. “Now it’s our turn to accept the responsibility and the privilege to accelerate our growth and collective impact through storytelling, technology and innovative new experiences that will keep the YMCA of Central Florida thriving now and for future generations.”