THE SAGINAW YMCA: Celebrating 150 Years of Building Healthy Bodies And Positive Relationships Impacting the Community

Posted In: Culture, Community Profiles,   From Issue 817   By: Robert E Martin

15th October, 2015     0

The Saginaw Family YMCA has existed as a non-profit oriented, membership-based health & wellness organization within the community for nearly 150 years and served as both a bedrock for not only facilitating physical, spiritual, and mental fitness among the divergent array of families populating the region; but equally important as significant fulcrum for giving back to the community that it services.

According to membership & marketing director Doug Temple, the uniqueness behind the Y’s ability to function in this manner stems from the organization’s commitment to integrate four core values of character development into all activities and everything they do: caring, honesty, respect, and responsibility.

Prior to joining the Saginaw YMCA about a year ago, Doug worked at resorts across the country and from that experience brought with him the notion that membership is primarily about relationship building. “You don’t want to get someone to join your organization and then leave, so our big focus is building up relationships throughout the community,” he explains. “We have so much more to offer outside of providing a state-of-the-art gym and swimming facility.”

One good example is the YMCA’s work with the Michigan Heath & Endowment Fund on developing healthy exercise programs for kids outside of their school time through their CATCH Programs. “We work with different schools throughout the region that don’t have physical education programs anymore, and offer these kids something positive to do,” notes Doug. “With our Saginaw Swim Safely program, we go out and give kids free swim lessons, given that drowning is number #1 cause of death for kids and under. Plus, we work with both Covenant and St. Mary’s on diabetes health challenges. So as you can see, much more of the Y is ‘cause driven’, as opposed to being simply membership based. We advocate in a lot of areas that help people directly in many ways the community often doesn’t realize.”


A Legacy of Continuity & Commitment

The Saginaw YMCA’s tightly woven connections of giving back to the communities and neighborhoods they service is axiomatic to the legacy of success that has marked the organization since its inception.  Their operative rule is simple:  those that give gain the most.

George Williams founded the YMCA in 1844 back in industrialized London when it was a place of great turmoil and despair at the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. For young men who migrated to London from rural areas to find jobs, they often came upon a bleak landscape of tenement housing and dangerous influences.  So 22-year old Williams – a farmer turned department store worker – was troubled by what he saw and joined 11 friends to organize the first Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) as a refuge for men seeking escape from the hazards of life on the mean London streets.

Although an association of young men meeting around a common purpose was nothing new, the Y offered something unique for its time. The organization’s drive to meet social need in the community was compelling, and its openness to members crossed the rigid lines separating English social classes.

Years later, retired Boston sea captain Thomas Valentine Sullivan, working as a marine missionary, noticed a similar need to create a safe “home away from home” for sailors and merchants. Inspired by the stories of the Y in England, he led the formation of the first U.S. YMCA at the Old South Church in Boston on December 29, 1851.  Today YMCA’s across the country service over 10,000 neighborhood communities.

Growing the Saginaw YMCA Into the Future

“Today we still sponsor and operate Camp Timbers and for five weeks in the summer conduct nature camps with various schools and work with the DNR on that program; plus we offer Camp Kid Again, which is an opportunity for parents to become a kid again for the weekend,” states Doug.

“Our entire facility employs around 100 individuals, including those from Camp Timbers up through the wellness floor, along with lifeguards and instructors; and right now we have about 6400 members.  The highpoint in terms of our membership was   probably around 8 years ago, after the multi-million dollar renovation of the facility was completed when we had close to 8,000 members; but since then it seems we have about 1000 members join and 1000 members drop every year,” Doug confesses.

Have new gymnastic chains like Planet Fitness posed much of a challenge to the YMCA in terms of membership impact over recent years?  “If people are not plugged into our cause and purposes they will often migrate and find something more economical. But we are not in a price war and offer so much more for the money than many of our competitors,” he emphasizes.

“Once you become a member here you’re a full-facility member and can take advantage of amenities such as our ‘Kids Zone’ that offers 2-hours of day-care services per day, so you can go and work out with any of our personal wellness staff trainers. We offer 60 group exercise classes, many that are free and many that only run $2.00; plus we offer two swimming pools and our water walk pool, which is always heated at 90-degrees and great for people with bad joints.”


Membership Rates Based Upon Income

Without doubt one of the most appealing and admirable attributes about the Saginaw YMCA is the fact their rate structures and membership costs are entirely income based.  “The highest monthly rate a member can pay is $37.25,” explains Doug. “But depending upon their income, they could get as much as 40% discounted. Every year through our annual campaign challenge our goal is to get $260,000 that we can distribute back into the community in the form of financial aid for our members, or for kids to go to camp, not to mention our Youth Programs such as Floor Hockey.  Again, we want to give as much as we can back into the community.”

“People don’t realize we are not federally funded and our funds come from grant writing or gifts from the community,” he adds.  “All our memberships have a base rate that is open to a discounted range up to 40 percent; and then our Family Memberships are also very popular and open to 2 adults and their dependants under the age of 24 that only runs $54.00 per month inclusive of the entire family and use of all our facilities,’ which is also open to a 40% discount.”

Growing up in Saginaw, the teen ‘Y-Youth Dances’ were a great way for kids around the region to listen to remarkable music from local bands, as well as then unknown national acts such as Simon & Garfunckel has the current Saginaw Y considered reprising these Friday night teen gatherings?

“It’s funny you brought that up,” laughs Doug, “because at our last meeting a member brought up that topic.  We definitely create our programs and even though the national YMCA is a large organization, every program that we build here is for our community, which changes annually to reflect that.  We still do our annual ‘Daddy Daughter Dance’ and some of that stuff; but primarily right now we are focused on things like our Competitive Shark Swim Team, which has been around a long time. A lot of schools don’t have swimming pools around anymore, either, so we offer kids a chance to engage in competitive swimming and they travel all over the state.”

“As our community is re-developing with the entire reconstruction of Downtown Saginaw and all the great things happening in the city, people wanted to be involved with everything going on,” concludes Doug. “One of the biggest things w see happening is employers aggressively finding how to get their employees involved in healthy lifestyles and activities, to help save upon future medical expenses.”

“Saginaw County is a good example. They give a $200 healthy living stipend to their employees to use; and you don’t have to be a member for a year here at the Y to join. We can create a program specific for any employee group and work with companies to test drive it. Some people love group exercise classes, while others go for swimming; but you don’t have to do all of it.”

“Our biggest challenge is getting people to realize how cause driven and committed towards the community that the YMCA truly is. We want to help individuals get plugged in. One thing about the Y is that it truly has a family atmosphere. There is a social aspect of it all – from philosophy groups that meet on Saturdays, to a group of guys that gather weekly to play cards.”

“Our Men’s Athletic Club will have guys hanging back there all day – working out, using the Jacuzzi, watching TV, playing cards – sometimes you want to say, ‘Do you have homes?” laughs Doug. “It’s almost like a country club; but it’s also one more thing that makes the Saginaw Y precious, special and unique.”

The Saginaw YMCA is located at 1916 Fordney Street, Saginaw. Phone 989-753-7721 for more information or visit









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