CEO Blog | YMCA of Simcoe/Muskoka

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.

Rob Armstrong Syria’s civil war is the worst humanitarian disaster of our time. After 4 years of civil war almost 12 million Syrians are now homeless. There are 8 million internally displaced people inside Syria and 4 million refugees in neighbouring countries. The Government of Canada has committed to resettle Syrian refugees through the Government Assisted Refugee process. In addition, a number of community groups have stepped forward to privately sponsor refugees.

Ys across the country continue to play an important role in supporting new Syrian families upon their arrival to Canada. We are so pleased to see caring Y members, partners, volunteers, and members of the general public determined to help Syrian refugees settle here and make Canada home. Our team at YMCA Immigrant Settlement Services has been working hard to organize their services in support of the Syrian arrivals and teams across our YMCA have been thinking about how we make other supportive YMCA programs and services available to these new Canadians.

For a Syrian family of eight here in Barrie, the Y has already become a popular destination and resource. The YMCA of Simcoe/Muskoka has provided a range of supports to help welcome the new family to the area.

Immigrant Settlement Services

The Y’s Immigrant Settlement Services is a first stop for all newcomers to Canada that provides free information and referral services to new Canadians so they are able to settle into a new life in Simcoe/Muskoka. It’s a place where our staff ensure eligible newcomers to Canada receive appropriate English language training and settlement services including assessment of needs, orientation, information and referral, and labour market information in order to feel welcomed in the community and to participate socially, culturally and economically. These services are supported by Citizenship and Immigration Canada. Learn more about our Immigrant Settlement Services.

Employment Services

Newcomers are eager to find a way to provide for their families with a new job, or by continuing their previous career. The YMCA of Simcoe/Muskoka’s Employment Service Centres located in Midland, Huntsville and Parry Sound offer comprehensive employment and training resources and support to help with securing sustainable employment. Our services are open to all and there is no fee to participate. Learn more about Employment Services.

Literacy Services

Literacy Services can help immigrants improve their French and English skills by providing information and referrals for English or French language assessments for government-funded programs. Our services are offered in Midland, Huntsville and Parry Sound, at no cost to eligible clients. Learn more about our YMCA Community Literacy Programs.

Beyond our existing services, we also want to share with you how we’ve further utilized our resources to extend a warm and supportive welcome to these new Canadians.
• YMCA Child Care support for the family’s youngest child
• Free membership at all YMCA Fitness centres across Simcoe/Muskoka
• Through the YMCA network, the YMCA of Simcoe/Muskoka was able to collect and deliver furniture and household items and    clothes to the family who settled in Barrie
• A YMCA staff member volunteers on a regular basis to provide written and verbal translation for the family so they can take        part in YMCA fitness programs
• The YMCA successfully applied for a grant through IKEA to help the family get household items and furniture
• The YMCA Immigrant Settlement Services staff are ensuring that all of the families needs are being met such as getting OHIP, permanent residence documentation, child tax benefits etc.

Our goal is to make this family and all new families in the area feel welcome. We hope to be part of their Canadian story and a lifelong resource. We are here to provide support not only for the first few months after arrival, but for the duration of the settlement process and beyond for these new Canadians. Welcome To Canada. Welcome home.

How to Develop Yourself as a Non-Profit Leader

June 28th, 2016 by Rob Armstrong

Professional development in the non-profit sector is a vital tool for strengthening organizational effectiveness in the face of continuous change. In most cases, community needs are many, resources are few and both funding and policy parameters are continuously in flux. Leaders who intentionally focus on becoming good managers and who align their approach with their evolving roles position themselves for success.

Non-profits face increased demands for service, expectations to partner and pressure to improve efficiency and demonstrate outcomes. Many people who are working within the ranks of nonprofit organizations could become great senior nonprofit leaders. However, in part because of budget constraints, few organizations in the sector have formal professional development programs to prepare mid-level managers for senior roles.

A recent ProInspire survey of nonprofit managers revealed that, despite demand for professional development programs, such offerings are scarce and access is limited in the sector. Nine out of ten nonprofit managers indicated interest in leadership or managerial training, and believe that it will make them more effective in their roles, yet only half of them have received such training since assuming a role managing direct reports. What’s more, only 39 percent of respondents said their organizations pay for leadership or managerial training.

YMCA of Simcoe/Muskoka’s Not-For-Profit Professional Development Certificate Program

That’s why the YMCA of Simcoe/Muskoka, in partnership with Lakehead University have made it a priority to offer new leadership training opportunities to the community leaders of Simcoe County. While business and community leaders may have access to skills-based leadership training, the YMCA’s Not-For-Profit Professional Development Certificate program focuses on the leadership capacity of the individual. The program explores what it takes to be an effective leader using academically sound and research supported content. The YMCA/Lakehead program provides quality, cost-effective training that is distinctly suited to the needs of our leaders in the area.

Since the launch of the partnership in 2014, the Professional Development Certificate Program has certainly made an impact in the not-for profit world – “Participating in Level 1 of the program really helped me reframe my personality traits in a positive light and helped me understand my leadership qualities,” said Nathan Sykes, Coalition Member, Youth Haven. “The speakers offered a great deal of insight into many pertinent issues, such as employer and donor relations, time management, group development, conflict resolution, mission based prioritization and many other topics. I would recommend the course to anyone.”

Over 70 participants have completed Level 1 of the program from such organizations as – Children’s Treatment Network, Canadian Red Cross, Barrie Public Library, County of Simcoe, Breaking Down Barriers, Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit, Ontario Provincial Police and more.

Level 2 of the certificate program is being offered from November 23-26, 2016 and will focus on emotional intelligence & leadership, resiliency, change management, volunteer management, conflict resolution, and the art of persuasion. Level 3 is being offered from March 29-31, 2017 and will focus on collaboration, succession planning, governance, philanthropic leadership, and cultural diversity. The faculty and panelists combine academic rigor with real world experience and infuse the curriculum with fresh perspectives. Level 2 faculty include:

  • Kathi Wallace, Director of Education, Simcoe County District School Board
  • Jill Tettman CEO, North Simcoe Muskoka LHIN
  • Dale Biddell, CEO, United Way

Let’s keep the conversation going about nonprofit professional development, and raise the standard of offering for our sector. After all, nothing catalyzes change like focus.

For more information about the YMCA Professional Development Certificate Program, please visit