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‘Bold’ YMCA campaign aims to double community impact

The Y Saves Lives targets raising $25M for outreach programs, capital upgrades with matching funds donated by the Alinea Land Corporation. 

The Y Saves Lives campaign to raise $25 million over five years aims to double the number of people served by the YMCA in Hamilton, Burlington, and Brantford from 270,000 to 550,000.

According to the YMCA’s campaign strategy, that funding will be applied to three priority areas: Developing a community outreach ecosystem of support ($16 million) in education, social supports, and mentorship; accessibility improvements and infrastructure updates, such as roof replacements and upgrades to HVAC systems and aquatics centres, ($8 million); and the Live Well program ($1 million), a partnership with Hamilton Health Sciences and McMaster University, which aids in chronic condition management, secondary prevention, and hospital-to-community transition.

“When we were consulting and developing this we heard from many people how the Y saved their life over and over and over again, or ‘I don’t know where I’d be today if it wasn’t for the Y,’” says Manny Figueiredo, president, and CEO of YMCA Hamilton Burlington Brantford. 

“So what emerged from this was a very aggressive bold campaign," Figueiredo says, which will support both new and existing programs. "We do a lot in health and wellness, in community supports such as programs like Y Minds that are new and we do programs in education and learning like Alternative Suspension that we can add to our ecosystem.”

Figueiredo, too, benefited from similar programs when he attended his local Y as a child. “I could play basketball Friday nights because it was affordable. My parents didn’t worry as long as I was at the Y.” 

The funds are being raised by community donations, grants from foundations and governments, donations from the staff at the Y and corporate partnerships such as one with the Alinea Land Group,. “The power of this is we are going to be able to cater and respond to our community, who need to rely on our generous donors,” says Figueiredo. 

“The $25 million target of over five years is based on our case for support on critical programs that we know that need to be sustained to respond to the needs that surfaced out of COVID.”

Figueiredo says that when the government, private sector, and not-for-profits work together they can achieve the goal of “thriving communities.”

Manny Figueiredo, president & CEO, YMCA Hamilton Burlington Brantford.

The Alinea Land Corporation, a development group based in Burlington, will match donations to help double the impact. “They knew the Y but they thought we were a gym and swim,” says Figueiredo. He invited Alinea leaders Paul Paletta and Lou Frapporti to a donor event where they heard a testimonial about a young girl escaping human trafficking who now saves lives herself. “One of them was in tears and said ‘I had no idea that your Y did this. (…) We don’t want just to donate we want to partner.’”

The Alinea Land Group supports the Y Saves Lives campaign wholeheartedly, says Paletta, who is president and CEO.

“At the core of our support for the YMCA's campaign lies a deep-seated belief in the power of community. By backing their 'Y saves lives' campaign, we're helping to ensure that these vital services continue to thrive, enriching countless lives along the way,” he said in a statement.

The Y Saves Lives campaign will raise $1 million for the Alternative Suspension program, which will allow for the mentoring of 500 students.

Figueiredo, formerly a director of education for the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board,  says school boards are required to provide long-term suspension programs that are five days or more.

The Alternative Suspension program sees young people come to the Y under the supervision of child-youth workers. They get help with school work and “they develop some coping skills and unpack why they got suspended.”

The students are also given access to donated Y memberships.

Some children who have benefited from the Alternative Suspension program shared their experiences in some anonymous testimonials provided by the Y.

“I liked the program because it gave me somewhere to go for my suspension. If I didn’t go, I wouldn’t have learned anything, and probably would have been suspended more,” said a young girl who initially struggled with low academic engagement and is now thriving.

Another had an experience in the program that taught him coping skills, having learned to go outside for a few breaths of fresh air and recognizing the need to cool down before returning to his previous activity. He originally had no concept of coping skills, and is now much better at it, being able to identify these times. 

A grade six student learned the value of self-reflection and analysis, seeing an upset child that he volunteers with at his church, he saw himself, and reflected with the Alternative Suspension worker: “He’s not being bad for no reason; he has a lot of hard things happening in his life right now. He has a lot of reasons to be angry and act that way.” 

A youth worker adds: “My role in this program is to see past the behaviours, work with the student to figure out the reasons behind the behaviour, and support them in whatever way I can.”

Here is the breakdown of other programs that will be supported by the Y Saves Lives campaign: 

  • $1M for Men’s Residence (174 men receiving social worker and mental health support)
  • $500,000 Helping Hands (Providing 1:1 support to children 4-13 with developmental and physical disabilities so they can participate in camp)
  • $500,000 Anti-human Trafficking and Vanessa’s Closet (Supporting over 250 youth exit human trafficking and get the wraparound services they need)
  • $7.5M Enabling Access (Removing Barriers for 100,000 children, youth, families, adults, and seniors; accessing critical programs)
  • $3M YMCA Beyond the Bell (Closing the achievement gap for 2,500 students)
  • $1.5M Youth of Tomorrow (1000 marginalized youth receiving career mentorship, support, and work experience)
  • $1M Y Mind (Intervention and support for 500 youth experiencing anxiety and early signs of mental health challenges)
The launch of the Y Saves Lives campaign is supported by a $62,800 Resilient Communities Fund grant from the provincial government’s Ontario Trillium Foundation. From left, Faisal Mohamed, youth settlement worker, YMCA Hamilton Burlington Brantford; 
Danielle Law, program coordinator of youth & children’s studies at Wilfrid Laurier University (Brantford) and YMCA board member;
Paul Haddad, senior vice president, philanthropy, YMCA Hamilton Burlington Brantford; Manny Figueiredo, president & CEO, YMCA Hamilton Burlington Brantford and Sarah Jama, MPP for Hamilton Centre.