June 20, 2021


Keep Fit & Healthy

State College YMCA perseveres through COVID-19 challenges

4 min read

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As Josh Cone sets up for his virtual 6 a.m. Boot Camp class at the State College YMCA every morning, the same thoughts run through his mind.

I’m going to rock this. I’m going to do my best job to help keep people psychologically and physically healthy with what I bring to the table.

Cone, the senior director of healthy living at the YMCA, has felt a responsibility to be there for his community ever since the coronavirus pandemic first struck the United States last spring.

It’s been about 11 months since the YMCA was initially forced to shut down in mid-March, and the facility has been back up and running at only a limited capacity since June. But no matter the hurdles they’ve faced, Cone and his co-workers have been there every step of the way, trying to provide some sort of normalcy to members in an otherwise abnormal time.

When the YMCA was first forced to close, Cone came up with the idea of teaching classes through Zoom — primarily thinking about the senior citizens that made up a majority of his classes who now didn’t feel safe leaving their homes.

“I was like, ‘How can we reach out to those people?’ ” Cone recalled. “‘And I don’t know what’s gonna happen to my own health — who knows what tomorrow’s gonna bring. (But) I want to face it with a smile and with some laughter and try to lighten somebody else’s load.’”

In the early pandemic months, Cone said, at times, he was teaching three or four Zoom classes per day because of several part-time staff members being laid off.

But as the YMCA’s financial situation slowly improved, Cone was able to cut down his list of responsibilities to a more manageable size. Now, Cone teaches a Boot Camp and a cycling class once daily.

Josh Cone chats with members of his Zoom exercise class after they completed their work out on Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2021. Abby Drey [email protected]

Community members, especially the seniors, have been thankful for the opportunity to continue to stay fit.

“I’ve talked to several of them, and they said our virtual classes have kept them going, have kept them healthy, have really helped their mental and physical (state),” said Cindy Lupton, the YMCA’s membership director.

Lupton added that the YMCA’s membership numbers are just now “starting to bounce back up” after they dipped significantly at the start of the pandemic. Still, she’s grateful for the people who kept their memberships, even if they didn’t feel safe coming to exercise in person.

“We’re just very fortunate to live in a community where they supported us and continue to support us through keeping their memberships and their donations,” Lupton said.

Cone, who arrives at the YMCA every day at 5:15 a.m. and doesn’t leave until about 2:30 p.m., makes sure to give participants the chance to join classes in person at a social distance, if they feel comfortable doing so.

Josh Cone laughs with members in his Zoom exercise class at the State College YMCA on Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2021. Abby Drey [email protected]

Though adapting for members has added additional work to his plate, Cone has been more than willing to make the necessary sacrifices.

“To think about what people are going through right now and the importance to see each other’s faces and to have that socialization to help psychologically, the little extra effort it takes to set some of that stuff up, it makes it all worth it,” Cone said.

Just like Cone thinks about the same thing at the start of his day, he does the same at the end of his shift.

A few questions repeat in his mind daily as he walks out of the YMCA’s double doors to go home.

“At the end of the day, I’m just like, ‘Did I help people get a little bit healthier? Did I help reduce somebody’s stress?’” Cone said.

Parth Upadhyaya covers Penn State football for the Centre Daily Times. He grew up in Raleigh, North Carolina, and earned his B.A. in journalism from UNC-Chapel Hill.

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