JACKSON, MI — A long history of youth programming, fitness and wellness campaigns in Jackson started 125 years ago this week.
The Jackson YMCA began in a downtown church on March 4, 1896, and has since grown into a nonprofit with almost 6,000 members between its downtown location at 127 W. Wesley St. and Summit Township Branch at 2151 Ferguson Road.
“We are thankful for the support and care from our members, volunteers, donors, staff and community partners who have sustained the YMCA from our earliest days,” Jackson YMCA CEO Shawna Tello said in a statement. “We are honored to serve the community and play an integral role in the lives of so many. We treasure the opportunity to be a part of so many more Y stories in the decades to come.”
Most people become aware of the Y through its fitness center and classes, said Matt Curfman, who leads the board of directors as the chief volunteer officer. But it’s the Y’s mission to implement “Christian principles into practice through programs that build healthy spirit, mind and body for all” that propels its longevity, he said.
He pointed to the coronavirus pandemic as a prime example. In the first months of the pandemic, the Y’s facilities were closed because of state restrictions on gyms. Staff there instead began distributing meals and partnering with other community organizations like the United Way and Jackson Public Schools, to fill different community needs.
“It was just, how can we pivot to become part of helping people through this really difficult and crazy time,” Curfman said.
Curfman saw their community commitment personally, too. He joined the Y when he returned to Jackson after college, seeking a large gym and exercises classes, he said. One of his professional clients saw him at the gym five days a week and nominated him to join the board.
At that time, Curfman was coming out as a gay man, he said. He told the professional staff this, wanting to “give them an out” before his nomination. Instead, they made it clear he was welcome.
“They looked at me and they said, ‘Have you not read our mission statement?’ The last two words are ‘for all,’” he said. “That, for me, was probably the biggest eye-opening moment and very impactful in my life. I thought there’s a lot more going on here that even I knew as a member and I felt super connected at that point.”
Related: Jackson YMCA, Big Brothers Big Sisters to share space in new healthy living campus
In honor of the anniversary, the Y will run a promotional membership sale from March 4-11. Membership joining fees are being lowered to $1.25 for the week. Standard rates are normally $75 for an adult and $100 for a couple or family.
Celebratory T-shirts with the Y’s 125th anniversary logo are also on sale for $15 to benefit the Y Strong Kids Strong Communities annual campaign, which funds scholarships for Y programs and services.
The Y continues to grow in Jackson. A multi-million dollar capital campaign to build a new downtown facility has raised $22 million, and officials expect the project to break ground this summer.
Curfman believes the Y’s strong future in Jackson is possible with strong leadership and smart financial planning through the board of directors and management team.
“Long-term, there’s another 125 years,” he said.
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