CEO Blog | YMCA of Simcoe/Muskoka

Sierra Leone Needs our Help

August 22nd, 2017 by YMCA of Simcoe/Muskoka

Devastation has hit Sierra Leone in the aftermath of floods and mudslides, which occurred on Monday, August 13 in Freetown. The President of Sierra Leone has declared a state of national emergency and the Red Cross is reporting over 400 dead and another 600 missing.

The YMCA of Sierra Leone has been asked to take an active role in providing humanitarian supports on the ground, specifically bringing food and non-food items to survivors in the area most affected by the floods, and they need our help and support.

Our partner, Christian Kamara, National General Secretary and Chief Executive Officer at the YMCA of Sierra Leone recently shared with us, “we are experiencing yet another catastrophe of massive scale and the death toll continues to rise. For now we are burying the dead, looking after the victims the best we can and mourning as a nation. Thousands of families and children are in need of food and shelter. Our intervention will be to provide food and non-food items to the survivors, which we hope to do immediately, once we are able to get the funds. We thank you for your solidarity. Any support during this time of crisis is welcomed.”

The YMCA of Simcoe/Muskoka is urgently asking individuals and organizations in the community to donate funds to help support the victims in Sierra Leone.

Our thoughts and prayers are with Sierra Leone

The YMCA is a global network, with YMCAs located in 119 countries worldwide, united by the passion to build healthy communities. Since 2005, the YMCA of Simcoe/Muskoka has partnered with the YMCA of Sierra Leone to assist with delivering community wide programs such as youth job training and children’s education.

In the wake of a decade-long Civil War that ended in 2002 and, more recently, an Ebola epidemic which took the lives of over 4000 people, Sierra Leone is one of the poorest nations in the world and is once again facing a crisis of catastrophic proportions. It’s in times like these that it’s so important for those with so much, to reach out and support those with so little. With that, we are asking the community to please consider making a donation to support the YMCA of Sierra Leone’s flood relief efforts. Your gift through this emergency appeal will go directly towards supporting the Y’s efforts to provide relief to the survivors in the most affected areas.

Our thoughts and prayers are with Sierra Leone. With our support, volunteers and staff will have the resources needed to support their communities in this time of crisis.

To make a donation, please visit

Muskoka Novel Marathon: Our community support is outstanding!

July 31st, 2017 by YMCA of Simcoe/Muskoka

More than a health and fitness centre, the YMCA of Simcoe/Muskoka prides itself on developing a unique ‘Centre of Community.’ As a cornerstone of health and support in the community, we focus on engaging our community by working collaboratively with individuals, community groups and organizations to achieve mutually agreed goals that build capacity, improve wellbeing, and produce sustainable outcomes. 

The Muskoka Novel Marathon is a perfect example of outstanding community support and collaboration. The Muskoka Novel Marathon is an annual event to raise funds and awareness for adult literacy in Huntsville and surrounding areas. For the past seven years, the event raised over $170,000 towards YMCA Literacy Services in Huntsville. It’s an opportunity for writers to come together in a supportive environment and spend an entire uninterrupted weekend writing. Friends are made, stories are shared, and more importantly, awareness is raised about the need for literacy services in our communities. Two out of every five Canadians struggle with basic reading and writing. It can affect their jobs, health and family. Funds raised at the Muskoka Novel Marathon are donated to YMCA Muskoka Literacy Services (part of YMCA of Simcoe/Muskoka) and help keep our doors open to those in the community who want to overcome literacy challenges for a better life. 

This year’s fundraising goal is to match last year’s total of $36,000. So far, the event has successfully raised $31,500 and the final total will be revealed at the Novel Marathon’s wrap-up event on September 23, when Best Novel and other award winners will also be announced.

Thanks to the Muskoka Novel Marathon and outstanding community support, YMCA Literacy and Employment Services in Huntsville is now offering a service unavailable anywhere else in Muskoka – a class in English as a Second Language (ESL).  So far, members of two Syrian refugee families in Muskoka are taking the class, along with another Syrian family settling in Gravenhurst, soon to register. And it couldn’t be happening without the generosity of the writers at the Muskoka Novel Marathon and community support.

It’s up to us to create and cultivate strong communities. At the YMCA of Simcoe/Muskoka, we will continue to work hard to develop an organizational culture that understands and serves all of the diverse segments of the communities we serve. With the help of our community partners like the Muskoka Novel Marathon, and many more, we will continue to work hard to connect, adapt, communicate and grow our culture to build strong communities across Simcoe/Muskoka. Thank you for your continued support!


Honouring Our YMCA Volunteers – Thank You!

June 22nd, 2017 by Rob Armstrong

In the true spirit of philanthropy, every year hundreds of individuals donate thousands of hours to the YMCA – allowing us to run our many programs and services in our communities across Simcoe/Muskoka. The Y simply could not provide what it does without the hundreds of volunteers who give selflessly to make it happen.

Over 600 individuals currently volunteer across Simcoe/Muskoka, and 80 percent do so by instructing or supporting physical fitness programs. People are often surprised to learn that Y volunteers are as highly trained in these areas as their staff counterparts. In order to support growth in mind, body, and spirit, the Y ensures that training is extended to volunteers so they may support others. Beyond fitness, volunteers from many other facets of the Y also donate their time in the areas of child care, camp, employment services, operations, child and youth programs, philanthropy and on our board of directors.

We want to say thank you in a big way!

On Sunday, June 4th all YMCA volunteers were invited to the inaugural Volunteer Appreciation Family day at YMCA Geneva Park. For the first time volunteers across the association were gathered together to meet one another, celebrate together and enjoy the day with their families. Above all, they were gathered to receive thanks for the spirit of compassion and giving that keeps the Y alive.

The Y is truly fortunate to have such a dedicated group of volunteers who represent the diversity in the community. Our volunteers come from all ages and stages of life including students looking to gain work experience and retirees who have volunteered for over 30 years.

Reinhart Weber – volunteering at the Y for over 50 years

One such YMCA of Simcoe/Muskoka volunteer is Reinhart Weber, who recently received the YMCA Canada Fellowship of Honour medal from its Patron, His Excellency the Right Honourable David Johnston, Governor General of Canada, in a ceremony held at the Museum of Nature in Ottawa, Canada on June 8th.

Reinhart has dedicated over 50 years of his life to expanding the reach of the YMCA in our community.

Over the years Reinhart has shared his personal success by giving back to his community as a generous donor, a thoughtful leader, and an inspiring visionary, including being an important part of helping to build the new Midland YMCA.

But perhaps Reinhart’s greatest contribution has been to the youth of his community. In the early 1990s, he began to focus his energy on the YMCA’s role in youth leadership development. He wanted to create a program for young people that would teach them about leadership in a structured but experiential way, also providing them with an opportunity to travel. He supplied the vision and the seed funding for the first Youth Leadership Development program for the YMCA of Midland. By 1997 the program had expanded to include four levels for youth aged 10 to 16 and had grown from an initial 14 to more than 100 participants. When the YMCAs in Simcoe County merged to become the YMCA of Simcoe/Muskoka, Reinhart seized the opportunity for growth, and the program soon provided opportunities for more than 250 youth from across the region. In 2011, those young leaders were given a seat at the table of the YMCA of Simcoe/Muskoka’s board of directors in the form of a youth advisory council, which was consulted on the Association’s new strategic plan.

We are very proud of and grateful to Reinhart Weber and all our YMCA of Simcoe/Muskoka volunteers.  Their vision, passion, and dedication have made a significant contribution to the development of stronger and healthier communities across Simcoe/Muskoka. Without our volunteers, we couldn’t do the work that we do every day to help our communities thrive. We are truly grateful for their efforts.

YMCA Summer Camp Empowers Youth

School is out in a little over a month, which means it’s time to enroll your child in summer programs. YMCA of Simcoe/Muskoka Youth Leadership, Day Camps, and Overnight Camps provide fun, developmentally appropriate experiences for children and teens of all ages, whether it’s their first time or they’re seasoned veterans gaining a leadership opportunity.

Our YMCA camp staff will tell you that summer camp isn’t just about fun and games. They’ll tell you that camp is a place where invaluable life skills are acquired and nurtured. It’s a unique place for kids to learn and grow. It provides children with different opportunities to develop important life skills that are difficult to achieve in any other environment. Often times, parents will be amazed at the growth and positive changes that occur when their kids come home from camp.

Youth development experts agree that children need a variety of experiences in their lives to help them grow into healthy adolescents and adults. Below are five of the many critical life skills that are fostered at summer camp:


Talk to any camp alumni and you’ll likely hear how some of their most meaningful friendships and lessons on how to get along with others came from spending time at camp.

Problem Solving 

According to the 2015 ParticipACTION Report Card, over-supervising kids or keeping them indoors to ensure they are safe limits their opportunities for physical activity and endangering their long-term health. Camp provides a safe environment, allowing children to learn freely about how to overcome challenges and develop and grow their capabilities.

Staying Active 

A Statistics Canada study found that only seven per cent of youth aged six to 19 got the recommended hour a day of exercise and about 62 per cent of their waking hours are spent sedentary. According to a 2016 YMCA Canada Healthy Kids Survey, when it comes to their children’s healthy development, Canadian parents are most concerned about their children’s mental/emotional health (50%) followed by physical (28%) and social health (22%). Summer camp is a great way for kids to stay active all summer and ensure they are surrounded with great role models and supportive friends.


According to Angela Hanscom, a pediatric occupational therapist who writes about the links between time spent in nature and child development – “a disconnect from nature is creating sensory issues in children all over the world. On average, children are spending less time outdoors and more time in buildings than ever before.” We know that when children are connected to their environment, they are healthier and happier. Camp provides children with an opportunity to unplug from technology – giving them a much-needed break and a chance to be outside and reconnect to life.


When it comes to developing strong leaders, camp provides both implicit and explicit training including morals, ethics, problem-solving, teamwork, and life skills – giving them the opportunity to grow more independently, which ultimately builds confidence and self-esteem.


The YMCA of Simcoe/Muskoka summer camps play an important part in the YMCA’s vision of building healthy communities. As Canada’s largest camp provider, the YMCA is empowering the next generation to lead healthier, happier lives by helping them learn how to handle life’s curve balls. When kids and teens believe in themselves, the whole community wins.

To learn more about the YMCA of Simcoe/Muskoka summer camps, please visit

YMCA Healthy Kids Day

May 1st, 2017 by Rob Armstrong

YMCA Healthy Kids Dayth!

YMCA Healthy Kids Day is a national day dedicated to improving the health and wellbeing of kids across Canada. On Sunday, April 30th participating YMCAs opened their doors even wider, encouraging families to discover how simple and fun healthy living can be with the YMCA as their partner.

The majority of children and youth in Canada are not getting adequate access to opportunities for active recreation and healthy living. In 2015 YMCA Canada released a Healthy Kids Report, which unveiled that parents are finding it difficult to set a healthy example for their children, with 85 per cent stating that it takes effort to be a healthy role model. Nationally, 35 per cent of parents do not think their 6-12 year old is getting enough physical activity per week. Only 7% of Canadian children and youth are meeting Canada’s guidelines of 60 minutes of physical activity a day (Source: 2013 Active Healthy Kids Canada Report Card). Rising rates of obesity and related chronic disease tell us that getting kids healthy should be a top priority.

To encourage families to get out and be active, the YMCA of Simcoe/Muskoka joined YMCAs across Canada to celebrate YMCA Healthy Kids Day. This free event offered open swim and gym for all ages while providing families with simple tips and resources on how to live a healthier and more active life.

The YMCA believes healthy kids are the foundation of healthy communities and gives children and youth, no matter what their financial situation, the support they need to learn, play and grow in a safe and nurturing environment. That’s why we offer programming and advocate year round for the healthy growth of children and youth in our community. As the school year comes to an end, it is the perfect time to enroll children in activities to avoid summer learning loss and help them develop new skills, improve their overall health and make new friends. The YMCA of Simcoe/Muskoka offers Youth Leadership, Day Camps, and Overnight Camps that provide fun, and developmentally appropriate experiences for children and teens of all ages.

We believe that everyone deserves the chance to grow and flourish in spirit, mind, and body. With the right support and opportunities, everyone can.


Join Us for Move to Give on April 1!

March 14th, 2017 by Rob Armstrong


According to a report from the Ontario Heart and Stroke Foundation, for the first time in history, today’s youth will live shorter lives than their parents. This is a staggering statement and we strongly believe that the health of our children should not be a luxury. We know that children who start out strong, stay strong. The adults in their lives are committed, informed and connected. Their homes are nurturing and safe. Their parents, teachers and neighbours work together to ensure access to services, programs and experiences needed for optimal development from infancy to adulthood.

On April 1, the YMCA of Simcoe/Muskoka is holding its third annual fundraiser, MOVE TO GIVE.  The fundraising event will take place simultaneously in eight YMCAs within our region: Barrie, Collingwood, Wasaga Beach, Gravenhurst, Innisfil, Midland, Orillia and Parry Sound, and at all YMCA of Simcoe/Muskoka child care centres. The goal of the campaign is to raise money in an effort to promote better health and physical activity and to help our local youth who require financial assistance to participate in YMCA programs.

To encourage families to get out and be active on April 1st, we’ve got activities for all ages. From walking 5km to running a half marathon, massive indoor cycling sessions, mini-triathlon, family swim challenges, and more— participants will have the opportunity to challenge themselves physically while at the same time, give back to their community.  

The YMCA gives children, no matter what their financial situation, the support and opportunity they need throughout the year to learn, play and grow in a safe and supportive environment. YMCAs are important partners of families in raising healthy kids. As a leader in the development of children, the YMCA is committed to continually assessing the needs of families in our communities to understand how to serve them best.

Collectively, YMCAs in Canada serve more than 2 million people including 574,100 children and 239,500 youth up to the age of 17, in more than 1,000 communities across the province. We believe that everyone deserves the chance to grow and flourish in spirit, mind and body.  And more than that, we believe that with the right support and opportunities, everyone can.

We hope you’ll join us on April 1st to help raise money for this important cause. For complete schedules of what’s happening in each community, and to register for events, please visit

Building Healthy Communities: A Successful 2016

February 3rd, 2017 by Rob Armstrong


Building Healthy Communities:

Looking back on a successful 2016

With 2017 in full swing, it’s exciting to see the impact we continue to make on our community through all of our programs and services. In 2016, we opened doors, inspired youth, and strengthened our association. Today, more than ever, the YMCA of Simcoe/Muskoka’s mission continues to focus on Building Healthy Communities – where people look to us for support in their efforts to improve their lives.

Here are some highlights from 2016:

Supporting our Community

  • Last year, over 800 people swam, ran, biked, and walked to raise funds for Move to Give helping My Y create access to camp, child care, fitness and aquatics programs for over 6900 kids and families who couldn’t otherwise afford it. This year, we hope to see even more members of our community come out and support such a great cause!

Community Partnerships

  • My Y launched the Healthy Hearts Cardiac Rehab Program in partnership with the Royal Victoria Hospital. In just seven months, 55 people invested 900+ hours improving their quality of life.
  • My Y and Lakehead University launched a new leadership development program. Together, we’ve trained 70 leaders from 29 organizations.

Employment Services

  • Last year My Y connected 431 youth to jobs by offering free job coaching services to the community.

Youth Support

  • 12.5% of young adults in our community didn’t graduate from high school. Last year 250 youth earned high school credits through My Y programs.

Immigrant Services

  • Nearly 30,000 Syrian refugees have settled in Canada. Locally, My Y welcomed Syrian refugee families with open arms. We even taught swimming lessons in Arabic.

Looking Ahead

Thank you to all who are helping us build healthy communities!

  • 135 Community Partners
  • 1,200 Staff
  • 3,800 Donors
  • 1,000 Volunteers

Our future is bright and our opportunities are endless. Throughout 2017, the YMCA of Simcoe/Muskoka will continue to work hard to lead our community as experts in health, fitness and youth development. On behalf of the entire YMCA of Simcoe/Muskoka staff, thank you for your continued support!

Strengthening Communities Through Youth Engagement

December 28th, 2016 by Rob Armstrong

Many of today’s youth are faced with serious challenges – youth unemployment, low income, childhood obesity, and a lack of social belonging. By empowering our youth and providing them with the opportunity to participate in the community, we know they have the potential to make a better future for themselves and their communities. Through engaging our youth, communities can do a better job at creating the services, opportunities and support that young people need to develop in healthy ways.

Youth engagement is critical to youth development and healthy lifestyles. When youth actively contribute to their community they build confidence and gain a strong sense of pride but they also garner a sense of belonging and connection to their communities. That’s why the YMCA of Simcoe/Muskoka is dedicated to providing our youth with empowering programs where they can learn valuable life and leadership skills, get the chance to meet new friends, build confidence and make memories that last a lifetime. With mentorship and encouragement, we can support our youth as they develop into role models and leaders in our community.

Helping Youth in our Communities

Over 3400 youth in Simcoe/Muskoka have participated in the YMCA’s Youth Leadership Development Program. Last year, the YMCA of Simcoe/Muskoka helped youth in our communities in the following ways:

  • Helped 250 high school students in Simcoe County receive high school credits through YMCA leadership programs
  • With youth unemployment in our community being 20.3%, the YMCA helped 431 youth gain meaningful employment in Simcoe County
  • Helped youth launch 62 small businesses in Simcoe/Muskoka
  • YMCA Youth Justice Program served approximately 150 youth who were on probation, helping to decrease the likelihood of re-offense
  • With 6.9% of youth between the ages of 18-24 in Ontario having a gambling problem (twice the amount among adults), the YMCA Youth Gambling Awareness Program provided gambling education and prevention to over 1000 youth

Get Involved in Youth Leadership Programs!

The YMCA of Simcoe/Muskoka offers youth leadership programs, camps, volunteer opportunities, international travel and more to open doors for our youth and give them the opportunity to:

  • Meet other youth in your community
  • Build leadership, problem solving and communications skills
  • Participate and get involved in your community
  • Earn volunteer hours for school
  • Travel to other countries
  • Attend exciting camps and retreats
  • Acquire training and certifications and more!

To learn more about youth engagement programs at the YMCA of Simcoe/Muskoka, please visit


YMCA Peace Week

November 17th, 2016 by Rob Armstrong

YMCA Peace Week

I have always regarded November as a month of reflection and gratitude. The sight of poppies and wreaths serve as a reminder of the brave men and women who have fought for peace and freedom.

The month of November also plays host to a nationwide YMCA initiative called Peace Week. This is a time when we can celebrate the presence of peace in our local and global communities. Peace Week offers activities and opportunities for people of all ages to explore peace from personal, community and global perspectives.

Peace means more than the absence of violence and conflict. Peace is an ongoing process of building fairness, equality, security and respect for diversity. Simple actions like sharing, being patient or smiling and saying hello can have a far greater impact than we think.

Peace Week at the YMCA of Simcoe/Muskoka

This year, YMCA of Simcoe/Muskoka celebrates Peace Week from November 19-26. As an advocate for peace, I invite everyone to be part of the conversation. Share something you do to foster peace in your home, school, workplace or community. Take a moment for yourself and join Yoga for Peace. Record your Acts of Peace on a leaf and help build the Peace Trees that will be present in all of our YMCA centres. Or, join us in spreading kindness throughout our community with the “Be Kind Bells.” These bells will be hidden in locations throughout our community. If you find one, perform one kind act, then hide it for someone else to find. Share on social media with the location you found it, your kind act, and encourage someone else to do the same!

You can view schedules and events taking place during Peace Week on our website or at your local YMCA centre.

Building Peace in the Community

Acts for peace tend to grow outward, creating ripples through the whole community.  An act for peace may affect only one person directly—but it may show many more people what is possible. Peacemakers challenge and inspire others to pursue acts for peace.

How can you “act for peace” daily? There are many ways that everyone can participate in peace-building:

  • Speak up when you or someone else is being mistreated
  • Get to know your neighbours and fellow community members
  • Stop when you see a demonstration, rally or walk. Ask a participant about the cause
  • Have a talent or skill? Donate it to a person, organization or cause
  • Find out when your municipality is holding community meetings and participate
  • Participate in peace-building activities at your local YMCA and in your community

Visit us at for more information about YMCA of Simcoe/Muskoka Peace Week. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook and share your thoughts about peace building! #YMCAPeaceWeek #YMCAsimcoemuskoka

Building Healthy Communities Together

October 13th, 2016 by Rob Armstrong

What is the first thing you think about when you see the YMCA sign? It’s more than just a building. It’s about community, a sense of belonging and providing stability to the neighbourhood.

The YMCA of Simcoe/Muskoka currently serves over 125,000 people in Simcoe and Muskoka counties in Central Ontario. Our ultimate goal is to empower children, youth and adults to develop the skills and support needed to become healthy and strong. From child care, recreation, fitness, leadership development, camp, youth, immigrant and employment services, the YMCA designs programs to help families build stronger bonds, spend more time together and become more engaged in our community. In keeping with our commitment to inclusiveness and accessibility, the YMCA provided almost 1.2 million in financial assistance last year to those unable to afford program fees.

With the help of our donors and supporters, here’s what we accomplished together last year:

11.3% of local children come from low-income families

Last year, over 800 people swam, ran, biked, walked to raise funds at our Move to Give event helping My Y create access to camp, child care, fitness and aquatics programs for over 6900 kids and families who couldn’t otherwise afford it.

59% of adults in our community are overweight or obese

In partnership with RVH, My Y launched the Healthy Hearts Cardiac Rehab Program. In just 7 months 55 people invested 900+ hours improving their quality of life.

Youth unemployment in our community is 20.3%

Last year My Y connected 431 youth to jobs.

There is a lack of affordable training for local charities

My Y and Lakehead University launched a new leadership development program. Together, we’ve trained 90 leaders from 35 organizations.

12.5% of young adults in our community didn’t graduate from high school

Last year 250 youth earned high school credits through My Y programs.

Nearly 30,000 Syrian refugees have settled in Canada.

Locally, My Y welcomed Syrian refugee families with open arms – we even taught swimming lessons in Arabic.

The YMCA is so much more than just a place to work out. Thank you to all who are helping us build healthy communities.

  • 135 Community Partners
  • 1,200 Staff
  • 3,800 Donors
  • 1,000 Volunteers

Together, we can help transform the lives of so many youth and families in our communities.