When Jessica Moat’s two kids were going stir-crazy during their summer vacation, a friend recommended she look into the day camps at the Northwest YMCA.
She’s been thrilled by how much fun her kids have been having in a safe and secure environment.
“My kids come home and they’re absolutely exhausted, and that’s what I love the most about it, because it gives them the opportunity to run off all of their energy instead of being cooped up in the house,” Moat said.
Moat is one of more than 12,000 of northside residents who have discovered that the YMCA is a great place for families and individuals. The community center, at 7700 N. Shannon Road, offers not only the summer camp programs—which include fun activities on site and field trips to places like Old Tucson Studios and the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum—but also 23 fitness and health programs ranging from team sports like basketball, soccer and volleyball to cardiovascular and strength and conditioning classes.
While the countless classes and programs are a huge hit with residents, newly hired executive director John Winchester hopes to build even stronger ties in the community in his new role.
Winchester, who previously worked as the outreach director at the University of Arizona’s Center for Judaic Studies and who unsuccessfully ran for the Pima County Board of Supervisors in 2016, is a lifetime Tucsonan that knows full well the value that the nonprofit offers the community.
“This is my community, I live a mile from the Northwest YMCA,” said Winchester, who has been a longtime member of the Y. “We got into the Y because of the services and the programs that they offer for families.”
Winchester spotlighted the center’s Itty-Bitty Sports program, which teaches kids between the age of 3 and 5 the importance of recreation in staying active, as his introduction to the fitness collective’s local chapter.
“They have great programs and we’ve just started building relationships with people at the branch as well as with other facilities in the area,” he said. “And that led us to get into other community sports programs, such as Thornydale Little League, etc.”
He wants to bolster the center’s standing in the community, so people will think of the Northwest YMCA as much more than a fitness center.
“The goal is to create a space that can reach even more people and also build relations, inter-relationships between the generations,” Winchester said. “We have a teen and senior program where young teens help seniors work their electronics. Our goal is to help broaden and build community and create a sense of community up here in the northwest. And I’d really like to heighten that.”
That upbeat approach has won over longtime Northwest YMCA employees, like operations director Yevette Sykes.
Sykes, who has worked for the YMCA for 27 years, believes that Winchester has a chance to pump new energy into the facility.
“It’s great; John brings a different perspective to the Y, with all of his community involvement and introducing the community to the Northwest Y,” Sykes said. “I think he’ll be a great asset to our organization, and I think he will also learn a lot about the way the Y works.”
Winchester is excited about joining an organization that not only serves its 12,000 members at its six branches but also aid other nonprofits in the community. Since its local founding in 1973, the YMCA of Southern Arizona has donated more than $2.86 million to area nonprofits.
“I want people to understand that we are not just a regular gym. And I think a lot of people think of the YMCA in that capacity,” Winchester said. “The bulk of the people who know about the YMCA and come through here, they come here for the programs. And we want to expand how much people understand about what we do to make it a more inclusive space for everyone who is up here in the northwest.”