Welcoming, nurturing, good neighbors.
Since a volunteer launched the movement in London back in 1844, that’s who the YMCA organization has been. When Hurricane Irma ripped through Central Florida in September, that’s who our local YMCA of Central Florida was – a good neighbor to all in this community. They opened their doors not just to members but to anyone impacted by the storm looking to charge their cell phones, take a hot shower, or just gather with one another in the air conditioning.
YMCA of Central Florida President and CEO Dan Wilcox said, “Being here for our community is just who we are. If we can open our doors during a time of need, we will. And we are grateful to our members. It’s because of them that we could serve over 1,000 neighbors in our community after the storm and offer them a place of comfort.”
If someone came in looking to take a hot shower, the Y had over 3,000 hygiene kits filled with soap, shampoo and other toiletries, all donated by Clean The World. These kits were free on a first come, first served basis.
Opening their doors to all is not new to this organization. In past storms, like Hurricane Charley, the entire community was welcome, and Wilcox ensures they will do it again in the future if the need is there. Though this time, it was a bit more difficult to get their doors open right away.
Open Doors & Open Arms
“In the history of the YMCA of Central Florida, we’ve never felt a power outage of this capacity,” said Dan Ickes, Chief Operating Officer. “Every single one of our Central Florida Y locations was impacted by this storm and forced to close for some period of time because of it, whether it was for three days or 10.”
The South Orlando YMCA on Oak Ridge Road, just off of Orange Blossom Trail, was closed from the start of Hurricane Irma and left unable to re-open until nearly a week later on Saturday, Sept. 16. The neighborhood surrounding this Y suffered major power outages, leaving the community without necessities for an extended period of time.
No Power.. Still?
On Thursday, Sept. 14, days after Hurricane Irma came through Central Florida, the South Orlando Y team was still unable to open their doors due to power loss, but they knew their community was in great need of service. Executive Director Kristen Cole said she realized she could not just sit in front of the Y and send their community away. She wanted to do more. The need for ice was widespread, in an area where so many were still without power, so Cole reached out to others on the YMCA of Central Florida Association team to arrange for her Y to be an ice drop-off location and hand out free ice to the South Orlando community. Within hours, Cole said, “The team worked together to find ice donors: Halperns’ Steak & Gary’s Seafood, as well as Millenia 106 Restaurant.”
“The following day,” Cole went on, “we were able to secure even more ice from donors so we could continue handing out free ice to our community.”
The Y staff was on hand even though they weren’t open, but they were emotionally exhausted from the storm, from their relief efforts, and from a distraught community. Nancy Bryant, the executive director of the neighboring Lake Nona YMCA, reached out to Cole and asked how she could help the South Orlando team. The Lake Nona Y staff joined in the ice distribution with banners, cards and emotional support. In those two days, the teams were able to provide over 200 families with donated ice. But the outpouring of kindness and care in South Orlando didn’t stop there.
So many were lending hands before, during and after Irma, including other YMCA associations. The Spring Valley YMCA, all the way in Pennsylvania, donated, collected and drove more than 1,100 miles to deliver clothing, diapers, baby items and additional supplies to the South Orlando YMCA. It’s a beautiful thing to see not only our local communities coming together but neighbors from afar, too.
Lending a hand and being a space where neighbors are encouraged to help neighbors, especially in times of disaster, has always been—and will continue to be—the Y’s commitment to the community.