Executive director Ryan Smith calls Dr. Phillips YMCA a “very unique Y,” and 28 attendees got a sense of its stand-out nature Wednesday the instant they got off a tour bus from the 2016 AB Show in Orlando. Its arched entryway, massive front desk and specialty-food retail spaces communicate an upscale vibe, but Smith assured the visitors that this Y is for everyone. “Our focus is being a hub to the community,” he said, as the tour began in a first-floor conference room used by the local Rotary Club. “Gone are the days of having to be a member to enter a Y.”
Co-founded in 1983 by golf legend Arnold Palmer, Dr. Phillips YMCA is nearing the end of its latest renovation, and another will commence in six to eight months. The 200-person capacity dance studio, complete with stage, may “seem excessive,” Smith said, but it hosts 100 classes per week, and the Y is already outgrowing certain activity spaces. (Additional studios accommodate fitness/martial arts and yoga.)
The Y’s commitment to community is exemplified by its partnership with Orlando Health, central Florida’s largest health provider, with onsite physicians and physical therapists occupying 3,000 square feet of the building. “For us, it’s about bringing everybody together,” Smith said. “If we’re going to better this community, it’s going to take all of us.”
Another example of that commitment addresses this area’s number-one cause of childhood death — drowning. The Y’s Safe Start Drowning Prevention program introduces kids as young as three months old to the Y’s outdoor pool waters. Most can avoid panic and float in an emergency situation by six months, Smith said, adding that many kids are afraid of water because their parents are, too, and in worst-case scenarios parents drown while trying unsuccessfully to rescue their own children. “This Y has said, ‘no more,’ “ Smith said. “How much longer are we going to let this happen?”
A third example — and another “no more” epiphany for Smith — is the Y’s youth leadership program, in which local teens are addressing America’s lagging technology proficiency. On Nov. 15, the day before Wednesday’s tour, the Y was awarded a $7,000 grant from Microsoft to help bolster its STEM programs.
Dr. Phillips Y is walking the walk on the fitness front, too. Last year it entered Technogym’s “Let’s Move for a Better World” competition, rallying members (including local Rotarians and area campus Greek organizations) to the top finish in the United States and a ninth ranking overall among 213 participating nations. “We brag on this,” said wellness director Alicia Villanueva. “This is the Y of the future.”
All the while, the Y remains grounded in its community, which — while affluent — has its share of “have nots” among the “haves,” according to Smith. He points out that 25 percent of the Y’s 1,800 members are on scholarship, receiving anywhere from 10 to 90 percent relief on their dues.
In the end, tour attendees were exposed to not just a physical building, but the exemplary programming that helps Dr. Phillips YMCA make its corner of the world a better place. “I’m not saying Ys are the only solution,” said Smith, as he addressed individuals representing both public and private fitness and recreation enterprises. “Each of you are part of the solution.”