From helping cancer survivors get back on their feet to helping kids learn how to swim, the 102-year-old YMCA of the Capital Area is still finding ways to impact the lives of area residents.
And, for the past two years, Christian Engle has been in charge of making sure that happens.
“Our main accomplishment has been developing a strategic plan, which is different for our Y," said the president and CEO. "It’s forcing us to determine what impact we want to have on the community and how we want to grow that impact.”
The YMCA’s mission, according to the plan, is “to protect and nurture all those we serve, helping them reach their full potential, improve their health and well-being and to support social change that will unite all people.”
To accomplish this, the YMCA is setting its sights on three specific areas: youth development, healthy living and social responsibility.
“It doesn’t really change what we do, just how we talk about it,” said Engle, adding that as part of the process to develop the plan, he and members of the board met with local leaders and community members, including local hospitals, the Pennington Biomedical Research Center, Baton Rouge Area Chamber and Baton Rouge Area Foundation.
Those meetings have already led to partnerships and collaborations to help the Y be more effective in meeting its goals. The nine local branches — A.C. Lewis, Americana, Baranco Clark, C.B. Pennington Jr., Charles W. Lamar Jr., Dow Westside, ExxonMobil, Paula G. Manship and Southside — are all taking part in Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome’s Healthy BR initiative, which tackles obesity, HIV/AIDS, and mental and behavioral health.
Also, the branches are participating in diabetes prevention programs with the Baton Rouge General Medical Center, Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center and Ochsner.
Over the summer, local branches partnered with the Baton Rouge General in a nutrition program with its summer campers.
At the ExxonMobil YMCA, located in north Baton Rouge, community members are working with the center to see what it can do to make a more positive impact, such as the YMCA's Strong Kids, Strong Swimmers program, which puts emphasis on making sure all youngsters, members or not, know how to swim.
The youth development component also has the Y strengthening its after school and summer programs. The Y Reads program calls for its campers to read 30 minutes each day.
“We want to do something to counter the education gap that occurs over the summer,” explained Engle. “We want to give these kids the skills to be successful.
“We’re improving the quality of our programs and quality of our staff … thinking a little differently about how our Y operates."
One way Engle is accomplishing that goal is by connecting with YUSA resources and programs, such as LIVESTRONG YMCA, a 12-week physical activity program designed to help cancer survivors regain their strength. Survivors participate in free or low-cost exercise regimens customized to their individual needs by fitness instructors who have been trained in post-rehabilitation exercise and supportive cancer care.
The sessions are currently only available at the A.C. Lewis branch, which has a waiting list for the January 2020 session, but Engle said it will be expanding to other locations.
“This was an under-served community,” said Engle. “Where do you go to regain your strength, your health after chemotherapy, radiation? You come to the Y.
“We need to emphasize that the Y is a tremendous asset to the community. … we’re not just the gym down the street,” he said, adding that another new program works with Parkinson’s disease patients
The strategic plan also has the YMCA looking to the future, with the hiring of a consultant to conduct a facility study to help plan growth over the next decade.
“We’re real excited about that as well,” said Engle. “We need to understand our footprint in the community.”
The community is also a place Engle is happy to call home. He and his wife of 29 years, Melinda, are glad to be living back in the South with 21-year-old son Cole and 19-year-old daughter Callie.
“The environment, the athletics (Engle’s hobbies include golf and triathlons), the hospitality, the great food,” he said with a smile. “The people here are so warm and friendly. Baton Rouge doesn’t always get the credit it deserves.”