Southern Maine YMCA adjusting its focus

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PORTLAND — When most people think of the YMCA, they probably see images of a fitness center. But that vision will soon change as the organization switches its focus to a more rounded approach to wellness.

According to Helen Brena, chief executive officer of the YMCA of Southern Maine, clubs across the country are starting to look at more than just the fitness aspect of individual well being. She said YMCAs are now starting to look at nine different dimensions of wellness: health, achievement, belonging, relationships, meaning, safety, character, giving and inspiration.

“(We know) that for some of our programs we have in the past addressed all of the different areas and those are some of our most successful programs,” Brena said. “Through our Healthy Living Committee, we are deciding to be more intentional in focusing on these nine dimensions in everything we do.”

The YMCA of Southern Maine is in the early stages of implementing a change to this more-focused approach to wellness.

Brena said it has asked members to complete a survey on how the Y has influenced them; the responses will be used to create new programing. She also said the organization is examining all existing programming to ensure that it fits within the new parameters.

“We are taking a look at all of the programs (we offer) to see what we can do to make sure we are addressing all nine of these aspects,” Brena said.

She said after the Healthy Living Committee finishing inventorying the surveys, it will move toward educating staff and board members on the new programming so that they can be come advocates in the community.

Brena said that after the nine aspects of wellness become ingrained within all of the YMCA of Southern Maine facilities – Casco Bay in Freeport, Greater Portland, Northern York County in Biddeford and Pineland in New Gloucester – her hope is that they can work outside the walls of the YMCA and work with the community.

But that goal is far away, she said, since the Y is just beginning the strategic planning process. The goal is to present proposals to the board in June and make the first programming changes this summer.

“(The strategic planning process) will give us a little bit more direction as to how we will go out into the community, but one of the things that is very important to us is collaboration,” Brena said. “Right now we are building relationships with different organizations, really trying to build partnerships, because it’s not just going to be us, it is going to need to be different organizations coming together to figure out how to make the biggest impact on the community. That is what I would love to see down the road, but that could take a couple of years to get organized.”

Amber Cronin can be reached at or 781-3661 ext. 125. Follow her on Twitter @croninamber.

Sidebar Elements

A Zumba class led by Chelsie Vega at the Casco Bay Branch of the YMCA in Freeport.