Writer: Dr. Richard T. Bosshardt
It is a wonderful cliché. Give the gift that keeps on giving. Long after the “soap on a rope” is gone, the cologne bottle is empty, the fruitcake has been discarded, the tie has fallen out of fashion, and the latest toy has gone to the broken toy graveyard, these gifts continue to provide benefits to the recipients. I know of one such gift. It is a perfect gift for nearly anyone, and good for an individual or an entire family: membership in your local YMCA. I am a member and can vouch for the myriad benefits of the Y.
The YMCA was founded in 1821 in England by George Williams in response to the mass movement of young men into the large cities of England to find work during the industrial revolution. Conditions were unhealthy, and these young men—many were just boys—had no place to go outside their workplace. The first Ys were not gyms but rather sanctuaries where young men could find good Christian fellowship and Bible studies. The YMCA movement proved popular and by 1851 there were 24 YMCAs in Great Britain. The first YMCA in the United States opened Dec. 29, 1851, in Boston. Today, there are more than 2500 of them scattered across the United States, making it the largest nonprofit community service organization in America.
Over time, the original purpose of the YMCA evolved to include athletics. Although today Ys are regarded by many as synonymous with gymnasiums and are often best known for their sports programs, they originally began as an instrument for Christian evangelism. The popularity of the Y movement eventually led to a more ecumenical approach and today’s Ys are open to anyone regardless of gender, race, nationality, or religious persuasion.
YMCA programs today include Adventure Guide for children and families, aquatics, arts and humanities, camping, child care, community development (job training, drug abuse prevention, etc.), health and fitness, activities for older adults, and sports, among others. I joined for the exercise. Years of running had taken their toll on my legs and hips, and I felt the need for better overall fitness and strength. I had never worked out in a gym in my life. I was concerned about how I would compare to the “gym rats” I expected to encounter, making me look like the proverbial weakling.
I had nothing to fear. At the Y, you will encounter the twentysomething bodybuilder with rippling muscles and no body fat, yes, but you also will see a lot more average folks, from teens to senior citizens. Some are thin, some are significantly overweight. Some look like the walk from the parking lot will do them in. All have one thing in common: a desire to make a positive change in their lives. Trust me, you will be inspired, no matter what your physical condition.
The Y is incredibly well-equipped. It is well-lit, clean, and you feel welcome from the moment you walk in the door. You get the feeling people are rooting for you to succeed, whatever your goals. There are exercise programs for every level. Can’t exercise? There is an indoor pool where you can move without being encumbered by gravity, or simply float. They have spin classes, yoga, Zumba, aerobics, boot camps. There are sports programs for the kids and even day care for mothers with infants and toddlers, right onsite. There are youth development programs, camps, and even a diabetes prevention program. The Y offers certified personal trainers to help you establish goals and achieve them. Always check with your doctor before beginning an exercise program.
I cannot imagine a better holiday gift. My family membership costs $79 per month. The average price for a pack of cigarettes in Florida is around $6.30. Quit a pack-a-day habit and you can pay for your family and have enough for a nice dinner out for the whole gang!
Now, here is the good part. No one will be turned away from the Y because of inability to pay. No one. There are scholarships and reduced rates available for those who need them and, in case of real hardship, fees may be waived. It’s a great way to start the new year. If you can find a better deal anywhere, jump at it.