For 102 years, the YM & YWHA of Washington Heights & Inwood (the Y) has been a premier community center and human-service organization in northern Manhattan with the vast majority of its activities and services taking place in person. While in recent years the Y expanded the reach of its programs to other locations under the Y’s supervision, it continued to mostly focus on face-to-face programs.
When New York City began to feel the strain of the spread of the new coronavirus (COVID-19), the Y immediately sprang into action, maintaining its commitment to stay open as long as possible. It enacted new protocols for additional cleaning and sanitization routines on touched surfaces, while posting notices throughout the building to inform program participants how they could help prevent the spread of the disease including proper hand washing; social distancing; cough and sneeze etiquette; and staying home when sick.
It became clear to the Y’s senior management that these unprecedented times could lead to city or even state-mandated shelter-in-place orders. New Yorkers watched daily updates by officials, who first asked businesses to stagger hours, then to keep 50% and eventually 100% of staff performing non-essential services at home. As many drop-in centers and businesses closed, the Y continued to provide low-income seniors with critical essential services and the food they needed to survive through prepared take-out meals and deliveries to those who were unable to get them on their own.
As the situation rapidly evolved, the Y’s team of dedicated professionals developed a robust menu of online programs to help fill the void when members would no longer be able to come to the Y. “We challenged ourselves to transform our tried and true approach, backed by 102 years of in-person community building, educational initiatives, and social activities, in only one week,” said Martin Yafe, the Y’s Chief Program Officer. “This was no small task, and there were a lot of details to consider. We were able to launch The Y @ Home through the hard work and dedication of our staff. When you have a talented team of experts in their fields who care about their members and program participants as much as they do, anything is possible.
“The Y @ Home officially launched yesterday, even though some of our programs began earlier this week. I am proud to share that, on our very first week running The Y @ Home, we are already offering more than 20 hours of virtual nursery school programs a day, seven homerooms and three electives a day at our Be Me after-school program; enrichment activities for toddlers; inclusion programs for youth with Autism Spectrum Disorders and support groups for their parents; stimulating events for seniors; light fitness activities for people of all ages; and a variety of fascinating programs through the Norman E. Alexander Center for Jewish Life. And, our off-site programs will very soon follow suit.”
Known for its ability to adapt to new realities, the Y has a proven track record for more than a century of meeting the changing needs of its community. “We know this pandemic is affecting everyone,” said Yafe. “It’s a global tragedy. But we want you to know the Y is still a home for you. For now, we’re bringing our home into your home. Social distancing will not stop us from providing people with as much meaningful engagement and community opportunities as we can. We value our relationships and the role we’re privileged to play in people’s lives. We’re doing everything we can to continue bringing our services to the community. Even though necessity demands social distancing and we cannot get together in person, the Y continues to make a profound difference in people’s lives — online and off.”