Written by Farha Akhtar
Hazem Hussein says it is hard not to feel different as a newcomer to Canada but when he and his family were introduced to the YMCA in Saskatoon, he was struck by its welcoming and supportive atmosphere.
“That is what made us want to be a part of the Y family,” he explains. “While we immigrated to Canada, we have never felt unwelcomed or different at the Y.”
The Husseins were first introduced to the YMCA when their special needs daughter enrolled in one of its kids camps. According to Hazem, it was a positive experience where her daughter felt accepted and included. The Husseins went on to become one of the member families which utilize the financial assistance which comes directly from the Strong Kids Campaign. The YMCA’s Strong Kids Campaign motto is simple: giving kids the opportunities they need to live healthier, happier lives, today and in the future.
According to Serena Dallas, Marketing and Philanthropy Director for the YMCA of Saskatoon, the YMCA Strong Kids Campaign has enjoyed incredible uptake from local families. Its programs include valuable services such as daycare, swimming lessons, fitness programs and summer camps.
“In the 2019-2020 fiscal year, over 900 children and teens developed critical life skills by taking part in our swimming lessons,” explains Serena.
“Over 700 kids learned through play at our childcare centre which offers trusted, quality childcare. This makes them better prepared for school. 90 kids participated in our camps. 20 of those kids who came to camp would otherwise not have been able to afford to.”
Serena says the Strong Kids Campaign has a much wider reach that extends beyond to other family members. Today, Hazem Hussein and his family enjoy the benefits of the Strong Kids Campaign as a family. The Husseins can regularly be seen playing together in one of the YMCA’s four squash courts.
Another local parent, Elsie Ballantyne, says she was able to get financial support so she could send her son Thomas to the YMCA’s Before and After School Program. Thomas would later attend YMCA camp thanks to the Strong Kids Campaign, an experience which Elsie says he really enjoyed. The positive experience with the Strong Kids Campaign has even motivated Elsie to become a member, so she can get active with her son.
“Without help, we couldn’t do the extra things here at the Y,” she explains.
Keeping Strong Despite COVID
Serena Dallas says the pandemic has altered the way the YMCA’s Strong Kids Campaign provides its programs, but like other organizations, it has had to come up with creative ways to continue offering its supports.
“At the beginning of the year, it was great. We had lots of kids registered for a variety of programs from our kids fitness to our STEM programs to our leadership training for youth. So it was starting off really awesome and then of course we were planning for our annual Suits and Sneakers function – which is normally an in-person fundraising event – when the pandemic hit.”
“We opted to do it virtually so it became a musical event featuring artists from around the world who have a connection to Saskatoon. So we were able to fundraise,” she explains.
While the YMCA did see a drop in its membership (from 2300 pre-pandemic down to about 1340), it has been able to continue its programs by modifying them slightly. It offers “bubble swim” for families who wish to visit the facilities pools, it continues to offer swimming lessons that take into account social distancing requirements, and other programs are now being delivered virtually.
Serena says that the YMCA Strong Kids Campaign remains focused on its goal to make sure every kid has a chance to realize their full potential.
“We have adapted our programs, but we’ve done so in a way that still has a positive impact on people.”
The YMCA believes that everyone, regardless of their financial circumstance, deserves the chance to access their programs and services. K+S Potash Canada is proud to support the YMCA Strong Kids Campaign in their mission with funding from their Youth+us program so they can keep providing a safe and welcoming place to engage in activities that help improve their lives and achieve their goals.