OSWEGO — The Oswego YMCA facilities have been closed for regular use for nearly two months, but its staff has continued to further its connection with members while helping them stay active and progress toward their fitness goals during COVID-19 shutdowns.
The organization has offered live virtual exercise classes online through Facebook Live, and recently launched a section on its website called ‘The virtual Y,’ with a series of YouTube workout routines and other health and wellness resources posted in collaboration with YMCA facilities throughout the state and some across the nation.
Management and workers from the Oswego YMCA have also been posting video messages, staying in touch through email and social media, and making individual phone calls to check in on members during a period of uncertainty away from the warm and welcoming surroundings of the Y facility.
“We wanted to let our members know that we know this is going to be hard,” said Kerrie Ann Webb, the executive director of the Oswego YMCA. “We know the kids are going to miss coming here and playing, we know the parents are going to miss that time for their sanity to take care of themselves so that they can be better parents, we know the seniors where this is their big outing for the day, we just started making calls. … It’s that personal touch of staying connected and letting them know that we are here for them and it’s not just a facility that you walk into every day, we notice you and we know your name, and we want to make sure you’re OK.”
Webb and members of her management team spent much of the weekend of March 13-15 working to transition the building into an emergency child care center while forming plans for an uncertain future, facing orders to close to comply with the NY on Pause order executed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
The organization worked with the Fulton YMCA for the duration of that weekend and received advice from other CEOs from Y facilities around the state to begin formulating alternative offerings for members and reaching out to the community.
“They have really provided this outstanding platform for us to prepare and that was from the get-go,” said Trish Levine, the health and wellness director for the Oswego YMCA. “When we realized Y’s were going to be closing across the nation and specifically in New York state, we all came together and addressed, how are we going to do this.”
The virtual Y was soon launched, providing an easy-accessible outlet for members to stay engaged. The subsection of the Oswego YMCA website features a section called Y-360, which contains workout videos and on-demand classes from other Y’s across the country, and Y-Traak, which allows members to participate in a wellness competition pitting YMCAs from each state against each other.
Oswego YMCA instructors have also been guiding several different categories of live classes via Facebook and the website. This past week, the facility started renting out stationary bikes for an upcoming virtual spin class. The Oswego YMCA typically offers about 60 different exercise classes throughout the week while the facility is open full-time.
Karen Sime — a professor at Oswego State University who joined the YMCA after moving to the area from California about 10 years ago — said that she is grateful for being able to work through her regular PiYo class with Oswego YMCA instructor Pam Stephens.
“That’s been my go-to for the last few weeks,” Sime said. “I really like it, having the live feed at a certain time has helped motivate me to set aside the time to do that, otherwise my schedule has been all over the place with work and stuff. It has been really nice to have my usual class at the usual time with my usual instructor, it’s more satisfying than picking a random YouTube video and trying to figure out a different class, and it’s been like a connection to my pre-NY on Pause life.”
The virtual classes, which had long been planned, are likely to remain an option for Oswego fitness enthusiasts even when the facility is able to re-open on a regular basis.
Kelli Proulx — a Scriba resident and mother of two boys who has held a full family membership for about two years — said that she has been able to try different classes that never fit into her schedule during the regular weekly routine.
“I feel like they’ve gone above and beyond to offer things for the membership,” Proulx said.
“It’s been awesome because that’s kind of like my time,” she added. “The kids can do their thing, and for a half hour I can work out, just get that exercise break. I just enjoy it and it’s been good for trying to stay healthy.”
The online classes and occasional zoom meetings between attendees have also helped maintain a needed sense of community among the participants during a time when many have been forced into isolation.
“It’s nice to see that the people you’re usually there with are still doing OK, and you can do your usual thing with them a few times per week,” Sime said. “It’s like you’re actually doing something with them even if it is just through a Facebook video.”
Levine and Webb said that they have received several emails from satisfied members of various age and fitness levels, many of whom have answered the organization’s plea to continue as full-paying members while utilizing the virtual avenues available until coronavirus-related regulations begin to ease in the state.
The facility was scheduled to remain closed until at least May 15 entering this week and is likely to enact a series of new CDC regulations when it is able to re-open its doors to the public. Members will also notice several notable cosmetic changes and building upgrades when re-entering, according to Webb.
The Oswego YMCA’s place as a social gathering point for the community, however, will remain unchanged regardless of policies or potential future closures due to the pandemic.
“We have all come into this time of unchartered territory,” Webb said. “There is no playbook for this, and we continue to do what we think is best for our community and our organization. We’re basing it on people’s needs, and people need to feel connected and need to feel like they belong, and that’s what we do.”