MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - Some area neighborhoods lack facilities for people to take part in healthy activities, but one Mid-South organization hopes to turn that around by putting a gym on wheels to bring the fun to you.
There were cheers of excitement Thursday for the launch of the YMCA of Memphis and the Mid-South's newest program "Y on the Fly."
"We see the possibility of serving a lot of under-served communities in Memphis where we don’t necessarily have a Y building, but we can take the Y out to the community,” said Jerry Martin, President and CEO of YMCA Memphis and the Mid-South.
Hundreds of people gathered at Graceland on Thursday to celebrate the YMCA's accomplishments over the last year and to get a closer look at the vans at the center of the program.
They'll travel and make "fun stops" in neighborhoods that don't have a YMCA nearby.
"We call it the YMCA without walls because we basically put a YMCA into two mobile units and we can actually drive it anywhere and reach anybody,” said Senior VP of Operations Brian McLaughlin.
The vans are decked out with books, games, STEM activities, a 3D printer, and even an inflatable pool to teach kids about water safety! It’s all made possible thanks United Healthcare, Arise to Read, Neighborhood Christian Center, and WMC Action News 5, a proud sponsor of the book drive.
“We really believe in this idea,” said WMC Action News 5 General Manager Jonathan Mitchell. “We’ve been looking for the right initiative and like-minded partners to lend our voice, and we’ve found it.”
Each child will go home with a new book after every stop.
"It's fun, you get to play and do a lot of stuff,” said second grader Peyton Lane.
"Kids can get this experience that I’ve found,” said fifth grader Kaitlyn Taylor.
They’re excited about the new edition, too!
Program coordinator Briana Terry is eager to get the vans rolling.
"I am extremely excited about this program,” Terry said. “Just being able to get out into the community and give these kids the experiences that they need and that they wouldn't otherwise have without this program ... is where my heart is."
Along with giving the kids experience with cutting edge tech, “Y on the Fly” vans will work to increase childhood literacy rates.
That’s where WMC5 comes in. We’re sponsoring a book drive on April 22 for the program to help ensure every child is successful in school and has at least one book they love to read.
“We’re trying to give it kids the chance to find the passion for reading,” Terry said. “I am a firm believer that, with reading and literacy, they can do anything. So we’re really trying to build on that and bridging that gap, especially by giving them that book, because that book can make a difference.”
"We trick kids because they have a lot of fun doing the stuff that we're doing, but they're really learning valuable skills for life,” McLaughlin said.
“Y on the Fly” will also take on another critical need within the communities it serves, which is food insecurity. Now, kids will be able to get fun and healthy food in the summer and fall.
“Meaning food ... food will be served from the food truck two days a week, but they will have food every day after school,” McLaughlin said.
"Y on the Fly" will also help families get kids ready for school by inviting other nonprofits to tag along, providing a one-stop-shop of health screenings and immunizations, among other services.
“We have a social responsibility to not only resource those kids, but act as a convener to bring all of the organizations that are doing great work together to help serve our kids,” McLaughlin said. “In our 11 locations throughout the Mid-South, we know that everybody can’t get to a YMCA and so this is our way to be able to reach kids, families and people in our communities that may never actually have a YMCA with walls."
The YMCA is also looking for community volunteers to help out at the “Y on the Fly” "fun stops,” which you can do by going to their website.