Y on the Fly is an effort to reach more children and families in their communities where they live, providing a variety of YMCA programming to key neighborhoods around the Mid-South. The YMCA of Memphis & The Mid-South launched Y on the Fly in April 2019; and it’s a Y without walls experience providing food, education, books, games, physical activity, swim safety lessons and enrichment activities.
The neighborhood visits occur at what’s called fun stops, where a food van brings meals and an activity van spends between one to two hours delivering a variety of activities. Yes, Y on the Fly operates two Sprinter vans, a food truck and an activity van. The reason for a van solely focused on food is to provide children with an experience that’s more than just simply serving a meal. It’s also about providing increased access, as the van is enabled to provide about 4,000 meals a day across the Mid-South.
“When we developed this program, we wanted to close the opportunity gap and reach more people in communities that currently do not have a YMCA” said Brian McLaughlin, senior vice president of operations for YMCA of Memphis & The Mid-South. “We said if we can get to the child’s neighborhood, then we have the ability to connect needed resources to the child and the whole family. The program was built around our communities’ needs of food, education, health and safety, and a physical activity component.” Y on the Fly exists in other cities, but this one is the only one in the country that puts together all those components and delivers them remotely. A grant from UnitedHealthcare made the program possible.
The activity van focuses on education, literacy, health and safety. The van contains book shelves and children are encouraged to pick out a book to keep and read. This component helps to build the child-to-book ratio, which is important for children to read at or above grade level. Volunteers then provide tutoring in literacy and enrichment programming around S.T.E.A.M. A Safety Around Water program teaches children the necessary skills to stay safe around water. Y on the Fly actually brings an inflatable pool and tank of water for the safety simulation.
Y on the Fly partners with Neighborhood Christian Centers and many other organizations, visiting their various sites around the city. While these partners are valuable, Y on the Fly seeks to increase impact by teaming with schools and community events, as well. The only staff person is the van driver, so volunteers are important to the program’s success. Volunteers from local businesses and the community meet the van onsite to help guide children through that day’s activities. Volunteers operate activities such as reading and art stations.
The program has exceeded expectations, but there is potential for much more growth and impact. That starts with an additional van, ideally two. The plan is to convert one van into a refrigerated vehicle because there are too many food requests to meet the demand at this time. The program costs about $150,000 a year to run, and contributions – whether financial to meet that need or the donation of a van – would help Y on the Fly continue to meet needs in additional communities. For more information about donating or volunteering, please visit ymcamemphis.org or email Brian McLaughlin at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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