The YMCA of Martha’s Vineyard has always been so much more than just a place to work out — it’s a network of resources that supports all facets of life here on the Island.
Despite having to close its doors, along with many other Island institutions, the YMCA is continuing to keep kids and teens connected and active, both mentally and physically.
“We are doing so much community programming, and it’s all free,” said director of advancement Sarah Murphy.
The new initiative for at-home resources, called Y Without Walls, includes courses for kids, teens, older people, those looking to break a sweat, and more.
According to Murphy, the goal of the new set of programs is to support both children and their caregivers at a time when everyone is physically distanced.
“We want to stay connected with and see the smiling faces of youth, and give them opportunities to have fun, and talk about themselves and how they feel to other trusted adults in their lives, in safe spaces,” said Kelly Neadow, senior program director of youth and staff development.
With so many great virtual education opportunities being provided by Island schools, Murphy said the YMCA hopes to complement those with fun activities and social opportunities.
“We also want to give caretakers a small break for a few minutes so they can get some work done, do the dishes, eat, or exercise,” Neadow said.
There are many great courses being offered by the YMCA, including a class on camp skills where kids learn how to tie knots or make a boat, and a virtual show-and-tell, where kids show off paintings of sunsets and shark teeth found on the beach.
The YMCA also does an online storytime, where kids listen to their favorite stories told by afterschool program director and summer camp head Tara Dinkel.
Every Monday, kids can tune in to a Zoom meeting where they are encouraged to simply play around, connect with each other, and maybe get some of their ya-yas out.
Recently, folks at the YMCA held a virtual pajama party where kids got to show off their favorite patterned PJs.
“All these programs are meant to get kids interacting directly with the content, with the teacher, and with each other,” Murphy said. “This sense of community involvement has really inspired us in how we are serving the Island during this pandemic.”
“We want to provide fun, engaging, and local content for people that we care about and beyond,” Neadow said. “Our focus at the Y has always been on youth development, and that has not changed. Staying connected, healthy, and well, empowering caregivers, and being a reliable source of positivity for our community when we need it most is why we are here.”
There are also a number of teen programs, being orchestrated by the director of Alex’s Place, Ryan Schwab-Doyon.
With Amp Jams, teens log on to play some of their favorite tunes, and talk about music and instruments with their friends. Island music instructor Andy Herr even gave a virtual tour of his studio to teens, and talked about his many instruments.
The program is run by 30-year veteran of the music industry Liz Disessa.
“Liz knows a lot of people from the music industry. Sometimes we will have special guests. Kids can ask questions they have about song recording and playing,” Schwab-Doyon said.
Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School graduate Mackenzie Condon made an appearance on a recent Amp Jams session, where she sang and played the piano. Condon performed a song she wrote, called “Hit the Ground Running.” Others on the Zoom call asked her about her influences, and discussed the impetus behind the song.
On Fridays, Schwab-Doyon hosts a virtual hangout where teens can come into a Zoom chat and talk about how they are feeling about school, what books they are reading, and what cool shows they are watching. “We want to know what is going on in their lives, and be there for them like we normally are,” Schwab-Doyon said.
Once a week, Schwab-Doyon posts a video of his son and him on an outdoor stroll, encouraging families and teens to go outside and get some fresh air. “There are so many amazing trails on the Island to explore. We want people to stay active, and really take advantage of all the resources we have here on Martha’s Vineyard,” Schwab-Doyon said.
Some teens are even getting involved with the many exercise courses offered by the YMCA. Alexa Shroeder, 14, said that Steam X is her favorite workout, and she always looks forward to doing it in the morning.
“I love that every time the workout is different. Steam X allows me to work my muscles in different ways, and I almost always wake up sore,” Alexa said. “Amy and Asil do a great job at making each class high-intensity, because you never stop moving. It’s a quick workout, but definitely not easy. I’m so excited to be taking Steam X classes on Zoom with my mom and sister as a family!”
According to Schwab-Doyon, a lot of teens are very focused on school, and are working hard on staying up-to-date with their homework. But he said there needs to be a way for teens to enjoy positive interactions with their peers, and keep their minds and bodies active. “We really try to avoid the negative and focus on the positive. It’s really all about having fun, allowing kids to express themselves, and connect with each other,” Schwab-Doyon said.