What’s Cooking at the Y?

Most people know the Y as the place that invented basketball, volleyball and swim lessons. And while this will always be true, the Y has expanded its cause to strengthen communities in ways that few other private, public or nonprofit organizations can.

As one of the region’s oldest and largest nonprofits, the Y of Central Florida has always dreamed big. And it’s on a mission to improve the lives of 600,000 neighbors, a 20 percent tipping point of the population, through its cause-driven focus on Youth Development, Healthy Living and Social Responsibility.

Thanks to the generous support of Dr. Phillips Charities and the growing number of partners and advocates, it’s striving to reach this goal by 2020 – and change perceptions about the Y along the way.

“The Y is a highly visible and respected brand, but its broader impact on the community is a well-kept secret,” says Jim Alessandro, Senior Vice President, Marketing & Sales Content, ‎Walt Disney Parks and Resorts and Chair of the Y Brand & Cause Stewardship Committee. “Every day, the Y is helping kids succeed in school, is tackling tough issues like diabetes prevention and many other critical topics.”

Healthy Living
With rates of chronic disease on the rise and impacting the health of nearly half of all Americans, the Y is investing heavily to help people adopt healthier, more balanced lifestyles.

Through personalized fitness, evidence-based programs, technology solutions and enhanced staff training, the Y is ensuring that every Y member enjoys a unique and personalized experience – one that’s specifically geared to their individualized needs, health goals and levels of ability.

Nowhere is this more evident than at the newly transformed Dr. P. Phillips YMCA. Funded through the generosity of Dr. Phillips Charities and other donors, this neighborhood Y has nearly doubled in size in order to further serve the community. Re-opening this month, it will be one of the most innovative Healthy Living Ys in the nation.

By providing everything people need to get – and stay healthy – all under one roof, from physician referrals and diabetes prevention to personalized coaching and a healthy eating cafe, it’s making healthy living easier for every member of the community.

With food being a major factor in good health, the Y of Central Florida is one of the only Ys in the nation to have a professional chef and nutritionist to inspire people to adopt a love of fresh, healthy food.

As the YMCA’s Director of Health Eating, Gary Appelsies is collaborating with many of the Y’s Healthy Living partners, including Orlando Health, Florida Hospital, the West Orange Healthcare District, Sodexo, United Health Foundation and others.

He has also worked with the new Axum Market Café inside the Dr. P. Phillips Y to develop a healthy menu that also tastes great, is convenient and is affordable. With a focus on farm-to-table meals, fresh-pressed juices, healthy snacks and artisanal coffees, the Café provides a wide variety of nutritious options. And with 100 percent of net proceeds benefitting local and global social initiatives, it’s also enabling the community to join a cause and a purpose – a critical factor for the Y when identifying partners who share a common mission.

The Café and the Y’s commitment to advancing healthy eating has also been attracting solid support from the local culinary community. Celebrated chefs including Kathleen Blake of The Rusty Spoon, Ryan Freelove of Market to Table Cuisine, Kevin Fonzo of K Restaurant and Wine Bar, Collette Haw of Collette’s Clean Eats, Jamie McFadden of Cuisiners Catering, Nora Galdiano from Sysco and others have stepped forward to partner with the Y to help educate and inspire others. Many will also be teaching upcoming classes at the Y’s Teaching Kitchen, also at the Dr. P. Phillips YMCA.

“Food is a proven way to help the body heal, maintain a healthy weight and avoid chronic disease,” Appelsies says. “At the Dr. P. Phillips Y, and at all of our 22 YMCA family centers, we are trying to change the conversation around food through education, nutritious food, farmers markets and community gardens. We want to show that healthy food is affordable, easy to prepare and full of flavor.”

YMCA Healthy Living Programs at a Glance
Livestrong at the YMCA: Small-group, personalized classes that help cancer survivors regain their strength, energy and wellness following cancer treatment.

Communities for Health: Worksite wellness pilot, funded through Sodexo, to improve the health and wellness of frontline employees and their families.

HealthierLifeRX: Three-year pilot funded through United Health Foundation to connect people with physicians, Y health coaches and other resources to combat chronic disease.

YMCA’s Diabetes Prevention Program: A 12-month, evidence-based program that empowers people to make healthier lifestyle choices proven to reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes.

Social Responsibility
As an organization founded and committed to continue to live out Christian principles, the Y serves communities where individuals are at highest risk. Nearly half of the Y’s 22 Family Centers are considered “Outreach Ys” which are located in neighborhoods that would be unable to sustain a Y through the traditional membership model. As part of the Y’s cause to strengthen communities, 5 percent of membership fees at the larger, local Ys go to support, sustain and strengthen the Outreach Ys. It is only through the unwavering support of Dr. Phillips Charities that the Y has been able to fulfill its outreach mission while enriching lives all across Central Florida.

Over the past 30 years, Dr. Phillips Charities has donated more than $43.6 million to the Y of Central Florida. No other Y in the nation has received this type of sustaining support, and it has enabled the Y to grow and innovate in meaningful ways to better serve our community.

One of these examples is Safe Start, the YMCA’s signature water safety program. Established in 1999 through the support of Dr. Phillips Charities, it has helped more than 17,500 children, including two-year-old Skyler Strasser, avoid the tragedy of childhood drowning.

“In the YMCA of Central Florida, Dr. Phillips Charities has found a partner who shares our commitment to making the Central Florida community a better place to live,” says Ken Robinson, President and CEO, Dr. Phillips, Inc. and The Dr. P. Phillips Foundation. “Through our support of the YMCA, we have been able to leverage our grant dollars, positively impacting children and families through a variety of projects and programs.”

Social Responsibility by the Numbers
-50,000 local lives improved through the YMCA Social Responsibility initiatives in 2015
-22,307 donors, volunteers and advocates gave back through the Y cause
-$5.34 million invested in Y Social Responsibility initiatives in 2015
-4,000 residents per year united in faith and understanding through YMCA Prayer Breakfasts

Youth Development
When it comes to giving kids the brightest possible future, few things are more important than a good education. But schools can’t do it all, and too many families lack the resources to fully prepare their kids for success.

That’s where the Y comes in. As innovators in out-of-school time learning, the Y offers academically focused programs that nurture kids’ healthy development from cradle to career.

Every day, more than 7,740 kids participate in YMCA after-school programs. Operated onsite at nearly 70 elementary and middle schools, these programs provide extra reading time, homework help, mentoring and enrichment.

All are based on the success of the YMCA After School Zone program, funded through Orange County Government. Since 1999, more than 191,000 middle school students have participated in the program. Ninety-three percent have maintained a 2.0 GPA or better, 52 percent have earned honor roll status and 99 percent have been able to avoid juvenile crime.

Based on these outcomes, the Y last year received $4 million in new state funding to expand its after school, middle school programs in 14 new locations in Brevard, Lake, Seminole and Osceola counties.

Dr. Maria Vazquez, Area Superintendent at ‎Orange County Public Schools and a member of the YMCA Metro Board said the Y provides a critical layer of support for overstretched schools, teachers and families.

“Kids who participate in high-quality after school or summer programs typically earn higher GPAs. They’re also better readers, have healthier relationships and are more likely to stay out of trouble,” Vazquez says. “For these reasons and more, Orange County Public Schools partners with the Y to keep kids safe, active and learning.”

Victoria Rivera, a fourth-grader at McCoy Elementary School is a shining example of this success. Prior to starting the Y’s Power Scholar Summer Learning Program, Victoria was reading nearly a full grade below reading level but caught up with her peers in just six weeks. Now a lifelong reader, her favorite book is “Judy Moody Was In a Mood.”

Youth Development by the Numbers
9 million minutes – extra reading enjoyed by Y summer campers
7,740 – students served each day through Y after-school programs
10,000 – teens taking part in Y leadership activities
938 – infants, toddlers and preschoolers nurtured daily through YMCA’s Child Development Centers at Walt Disney World Resort

For more information on the Y mission and healthy holiday recipes from the YMCA and featured chefs, visit ymcacentralflorida.com


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Written by Lyndsay Fogarty

Lyndsay Fogarty has had many roles at Central Florida Lifestyle, working her way from intern to contributing writer to managing editor. She is a graduate of the University of Central Florida’s Nicholson School of Communication where she earned her degree in journalism. Along the way, she has learned that teamwork and dedication to your craft will get you far, and a positive outlook on the present will get you even farther.

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