By Brittany Anderson
The YMCA, or “the Y,” has long been a place for communities across the world to connect through recreation, personal development and volunteer work, regardless of the age, background or socioeconomic status of its members.
The Hays Communities YMCA, located next to the Buda Sportsplex, has been a fixture in Hays County since spring 2007. As the Hays Y heads into its 15th year of operations, it continues to instill these values into local residents through its programs and outreach efforts.
Sean Doles, Vice President of Mission Advancement at YMCA of Austin, said that the Hays Y is one of the biggest in terms of members and program participation out of the nearby Travis and Bastrop counties served.
Like the whole of the YMCA, Doles said, the intent with the Hays Y was to be a focal point in the community for recreation and youth programs and for people of all backgrounds to come together.
“One thing that distinguishes the Y is it’s a very welcoming environment,” Doles said. “Some people, particularly those who haven’t exercised a lot, can feel intimidated. We try to create an environment in which we meet people where they are to help them feel comfortable and quickly connect them with a community who can support them and deepen their engagement.”
Doles said that the Y is a catalyst for enabling people to get involved in the community and make positive changes.
“It’s a place for people to come and work towards becoming the best versions of themselves,” Doles said. “Whether that means reaching health goals, developing new talents or staying engaged with other people. It’s a place for people to maximize their potential.”
Jason Daniel, District Community Executive for the Hays Y, said that the Y’s various programs — from swimming, youth sports and dance classes to safety courses, arts and crafts and gardening — provide enrichment and foundational opportunities for members to explore what might become a passion later in life.
“The Y has something for everybody, but you’d never know what that is until you give us an opportunity to show you what we’re all about,” said Daniel.
The Hays Y’s roots run deep with families in the area. In 2008, Hays CISD became the first Project SAFE (Safety, Aquatics and Fitness Education) partner of the Y, a program that provides free swimming and water safety instruction to pre-k, kindergarten and first graders. This year it will surpass the 20,000 child mark area-wide for the number of kids who have benefitted, according to Doles.
Along with spring break and summer day camps, Camp Moody, an 85-acre nature preserve along Onion Creek in Buda, offers adventure camps and other family-friendly outdoor opportunities that all Y members have access to.
Volunteer opportunities, like food drives and school supply drives, are also a fundamental part of the Y’s outreach. One recent volunteer opportunity at the Hays Y included making Valentine’s Day cards for CC4C (Cheyanna’s Champions 4 Children), a nonprofit that works to enhance the lives of children battling rare or undiagnosed conditions. Through the collaborative effort, children received between 50 to 100 personalized Valentine’s cards.
Over 100 staff members are currently employed at the Hays Y that are “passionate about growing the community.” Rachel Guyette worked at the Hays Y for six years, going from a lifeguard to the Aquatics coordinator, before having to leave for a new career when the COVID-19 pandemic hit the hardest.
“One thing I’ll mention is the Aquatic staff that kicked butt from 2015 to 2021,” Guyette said. “They were and still are one of the hardest and most trained employees for the Y and without them, the Y experience would be nothing. From inservice training, team building outings and teaching and bettering their fellow guards, there wasn’t much stronger than that bond.”
Daniel said that those who cannot afford a regular membership still have the ability to participate through the Y’s Membership For All program, made possible from contributions through its Annual Giving Campaign, ensuring that the Y remains accessible to all.
“We’re known for breaking down barriers for folks to participate,” Daniel said. “We bridge that gap and meet them where they need to be met.”
With the YMCA having a global footprint, people from all over the world have experiences with the organization — and over the past decade and a half, the Hays Y has become an integral part of the local community.
“We’re an organization that opens its doors to partner and collaborate with people across the community,” Daniel said. “One of the unique things about the Y that differentiates itself is that we promote the very best of what people have to offer. We have folks that come in our doors and have unique talents and treasures, and we invite them to share them.”