Oak Square YMCA

Exterior of Oak Square YMCA

Harvard University awarded the Oak Square YMCA funds through the Harvard University Allston-Brighton Emergency Response Grant Program and the Harvard-Allston Partnership Fund to support their efforts in supporting the community.

At its heart, the YMCA is a microcosm of the community in which it exists. The Oak Square Y in Brighton is no exception.

“The beauty of the Y is the connections that people make in person and the growth and progress in striving towards better health,” says Tom Myers, Executive Director of the Oak Square YMCA. “It was hard for us to think about [physically] closing our doors, but we understood the importance and quickly pivoted existing programming such as our wellness programs, and also expanded offerings like our emergency food program.”

Myers notes that the YMCA offers food assistance during the summers, so it was well positioned to quickly meet the growing needs of the community. It opened what it refers to as “hunger prevention sites,” which he notes support about 3,500 meals a week for about 350 families, both grab-and-go meals available at the Y, as well as grocery delivery. Funds from the Harvard University Allston-Brighton Emergency Response Grant will be directed to these efforts.

“We’re hoping to ease some of the concern and worry that families have about food insecurity,” Myers says. “We want to be a consistent presence that can be there to support them during this challenging time.”

In addition to helping members feed their families, the Oak Square Y partnered with the other YMCA locations in greater Boston to offer a varied schedule of free online fitness training taught by some of their trainers. While fitness training is typically a members-only benefit, the Y opened these courses up to anyone in the city of Boston to help people keep healthy while they are staying home. Each day the Y offers 3-5 classes for all fitness levels and interests.

In addition to their focus on hunger prevention and helping people live a physically healthy lifestyle, the Y has also set up virtual support centers, where over the last five weeks Y staff have reached out to the some 100,000 members (across all Boston branches) via-phone and email just to check in. Myers said the effort serves as a way to stay connected with members and see where the Y can play a role and help. The program has been so successful that they plan on continuing it in some form even when able to welcome members back to their physical locations.

Looking forward, the team at the Y knows that activities in the future will have a different look and feel. So, Myers and his colleagues are focused on more than just pivoting; they’re also beginning to think about expanding the already robust offerings.

“We’re working to bring some of the best elements of our summer day and overnight camps online to give young people a chance to connect, virtually,” Myers says. “We’re also engaging partners like Harvard [and others] to create virtual field trips to bring those incredible cultural and educational experiences to the screen.”

The initiative, Myers notes, will be called CAMPish and they hope to have registration open in early June. Currently, staff from the Y are working with external partners to work out the look and feel of CAMPish and expand offerings to include art and music lessons as well.

“We’re so thankful for the support we’ve received from our members and the community, and we’re going to be here for Allston-Brighton and serve in whatever way we can for stronger families and a safer community in the coming months,” Myers says.