CEO Blog | YMCA of Simcoe/Muskoka - Part 2

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


Did you know that Canadian kids spend just under 8 hours a day in front of a screen?  That’s almost the same time parents spend at work! With a little over one month of school remaining, now is the time to start thinking about how your children will spend their summer.

Helping our kids lead healthy, active lifestyles can sometimes be challenging for families – especially during the summer months when kids may not benefit from programs they participate in during the school year.

YMCA Canada recently conducted an online survey among Canadian parents of children ages 18 and younger about their children’s development. Their insightful findings point to parents’ concerns and challenges in keeping their family on a healthy path.

According to the survey, Ontario parents acknowledge that there are barriers keeping them from leading a healthy active lifestyle, including: a lack of time (45%), work/life balance (39%) and energy or motivation (28%).

When it comes to their children’s healthy development, parents are most concerned about their children’s mental/emotional health (50%) followed by physical (28%) and social health (22%).  Time and money are the main barriers holding Canadian parents back from leading healthy, active lifestyles with their family.

We know that planning is a very important part of a healthy lifestyle, yet 75% of parents have not yet enrolled their children in programs for the summer. Even more alarming, 39% do not intend to sign their children up for programs over the summer, a time when the risk of learning loss, boredom and disengagement are high.

With more than 33% of Canadian children aged five to 17 being overweight, leading a healthy, active lifestyle should be a family priority driven by parents.

Your partner in nurturing healthy kids

The YMCA’s mission is to improve the health and well-being of Canadians, in body, mind and spirit. Our research has shown that there are many positive effects of belonging to the YMCA – people tell us they feel less alone, find it easier to make friends, and have better health.

We believe health is holistic and interconnected. It’s the power of community found through activity together and a supportive network that helps people achieve greater health in every way. For children, participation in organized, summer activities helps them make new friends, giving them a sense of belonging and confidence which boosts their energy levels and leads to more activity.

At the YMCA of Simcoe/Muskoka, children are encouraged to take part in activities and camps that not only allow them to build skills in the arts, sports, leadership or recreation but to also learn soft skills such as listening, cooperation and team building. We offer summer programs that allow young people to excel in their area of interest while connecting them to caring adults who nurture their skills.

For many parents, the cost of sports and activities is holding them back from living a healthy active lifestyle. That’s why the YMCA is committed to making sure that a family’s financial situation is not a barrier to a child’s health by providing financial assistance to those who need it.

To learn more about the YMCA of Simcoe/Muskoka summer camps and how to keep your kids active and healthy this summer, please visit

YMCA CEO Rob Armstrong talks about Peace Week at the Y

In response to changing healthcare needs, I’m pleased to announce that the YMCA of Simcoe/Muskoka has partnered with the Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre (RVH) to deliver an innovative, community-based health and wellness service.

YMCA of Simcoe/Muskoka Healthy Hearts Program

The YMCA of Simcoe/Muskoka Healthy Hearts program is currently located at the Barrie and Innisfil YMCAs, and is a community-based cardiac prevention, rehabilitation and maintenance program. RVH currently provides an intensive 12-week rehabilitation program for moderate- to high-risk heart patients.

The YMCA Healthy Hearts program will focus on low-risk patients who do not need to participate in a hospital-based program and for patients who have been transitioned from RVH’s rehabilitation program.

Heart Disease in Canada

Heart disease is one of the leading causes of death and hospitalization in Canada, affecting over 1.3 million Canadians. Multiple studies have shown that people who do cardiac rehab live longer, have fewer heart attacks, and need repeat hospitalization less frequently.

That’s why we believe that community support like the YMCA Healthy Hearts program is crucial to recovery. It’s not just about learning how to exercise, it’s about learning how to eat well, learning how to stop smoking, controlling your stress factors, and ultimately, improving your quality of life.

Is YMCA Healthy Hearts Right for You?

The YMCA Healthy Hearts program offers a customized plan to help individuals regain their strength, prevent their condition from worsening and reduce the risk of future heart problems. Once the participant completes the Healthy Hearts program, they are transitioned to a YMCA Wellness Coach, who will continue with their existing program and work on improving all fitness levels.

Health isn’t just an individual thing, or limited to physical fitness. It’s about the holistic, positive development of people on a physical, emotional and spiritual level. It’s about the connections between each person, family and community, over time. As a longtime leader in healthy living and prevention, we are so pleased to provide this community based program to embrace healthier lifestyles.

Together, we can have a greater impact on addressing preventative care and a better quality of life.

Learn More About YMCA Healthy Hearts

For more information about the YMCA of Simcoe/Muskoka Healthy Hearts Program, please contact the YMCA Healthy Hearts team at 705-726-6421 ext. 231 or

Tips for Maintaining a Healthy Heart

Here are some tips from the Heart and Stroke Foundation to help you get physically active:

  • Try to make physical activity a part of every day. Walk to work, take a physical activity break at lunch time, or go for an after-dinner stroll. That way it’s easy and fun, not a time crunch.
  • If you’re just starting out, go slow and work up gradually. Make sure you have an action plan for each season, so that the weather doesn’t get in the way. Work physical activity into your daily life.
  • List the activities you like (swimming, bowling, biking) and the rewards you hope to gain (better heart health, reduced stress). Then plan how to make them part of your daily routine. At work, carve out 10 minutes to walk during lunch. If you have children, ask your family, friends or neighbours to pitch in to watch the kids while you take that fitness class you’ve always wanted to sign up for.
  • Involve family and friends in your physical activity program. You’ll gain support and companionship. You don’t need to do it alone!
  • Keep at it, and within three months or less, you’ll notice a big difference in your fitness level. You’ll feel better, have more energy, sleep more soundly and reduce your stress.

Looking Forward to an Exciting 2016

January 22nd, 2016 by Rob Armstrong

YMCA CEO Rob Armstrong.

January is almost over, and 2016 is in full swing. Looking back at 2015, we have come a long way in building healthy communities. It’s exciting to see the impact we continue to make through all of our programs and services. Looking forward to 2016, I know we will continue to open doors, inspire youth, and strengthen our association.

June 2015 marked the end of year three in our five year strategic plan. We are now over half way through our plan that focuses on three key elements:

  1. My Y Opens Doors by creating more opportunities for children, youth and families to learn, lead, work and play
  2. My Y Inspires Youth by engaging youth and young adults to feel a sense of belonging and community leadership
  3. My Y is Strong by investment in people, programs and places to impact community health

By following these goals over the past three years, we’ve made major headway in helping to make Simcoe, Muskoka and Parry Sound a better and healthier place to live.

Here are some highlights from 2015:

Facility Development

The opening of a new kitchen and renovated dining hall at Camp Kitchi marks the last piece of a renewal and refurbishing strategy that ensures our camp facilities are updated and in “as new” condition as possible. 2020 marks the 100th anniversary of the camp! A group of volunteers are working hard to raise a $1 million endowment to help secure the future needs of the camp.


The fall of 2015 saw our Y take another step in our vision of establishing Geneva Park as a major leadership and learning centre for Central Ontario. With our partner, Lakehead University, we offered a second session of our Professional Development Certificate Program for the not-for profit sector. We believe that continuous professional development is essential to building a strong not-for-profit sector and ensuring that leaders in Simcoe County are provided with programs and services of the highest quality.

Child Protection

Since early 2013, Child Protection Protocols have been a major emphasis of all YMCA’s across Canada. Through strong local leadership, our association worked exceedingly hard to achieve a 97% compliance score on Child Protection in 2015. This is truly an association wide accomplishment and something we are all very proud of.

The Future of the YMCA of Simcoe/Muskoka

Our future is bright and our opportunities are endless. Throughout 2016, the YMCA of Simcoe/Muskoka will continue to work hard to lead our community as experts in health, fitness and youth development. Please join me as we look ahead to a new year filled with exciting, new opportunities.

The YMCA of Simcoe/Muskoka’s Year in Review

December 17th, 2015 by Rob Armstrong

YMCA Simcoe/Muskoka CEO Rob Armstrong.YMCA supporters from across Simcoe County, Muskoka and Parry Sound came together to celebrate the YMCA and raise vital funds at the YMCA of Simcoe/Muskoka’s inaugural Spotlight Gala: Illuminating The Potential of Youth, on November 20th at the MacLaren Art Centre in Barrie. Through the generosity of the 140 guests in attendance, the YMCA of Simcoe/Muskoka surpassed the fundraising goal for the evening to help support youth in our communities and highlight the resiliency that burns bright in youth overcoming barriers.

Reaching the YMCA’s Ultimate Goal… Together

The YMCA’s ultimate goal is to empower children and youth to develop the skills and support needed to become contributing members in our community. Through the YMCA financial assistance, the YMCA remains accessible to all. Last year, with the help of our donors and supporters, here’s what we accomplished together:

  • $1.2 million in YMCA financial assistance enabled 6,705 individuals and families to benefit from YMCA activities
  • $162,980 raised through YMCA fundraising sent 378 kids to camp
  • $156,064 in donations supported families with kids in YMCA Child Care
  • Helped youth launch 62 small businesses in Simcoe/Muskoka and helped 60 youth gain meaningful employment in Barrie and Orillia
  • YMCA Youth Justice Program served approximately 150 youth who were on probation, helping to decrease the likelihood of re-offense
  • Helped high school students in Simcoe County receive 245 high school credits through the YMCA aquatics and camp leadership programs
  • 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

We are overwhelmed with the generosity of our Board, our gala sponsors and everyone who attended the Spotlight Gala. The YMCA is so much more than just a place to work out. Y programs are transforming lives of so many youth in our communities and the support of this event will enable the Y to continue to be a place where youth can learn valuable life and leadership skills, get the chance to meet new friends, build confidence and make memories that last a lifetime.

On behalf of the YMCA of Simcoe/Muskoka, I want to sincerely thank you for your continued support and send you best wishes for a safe holiday season and a happy and healthy New Year!

What does Peace Week Mean to Me?

November 6th, 2015 by Rob Armstrong

YMCA CEO Rob Armstrong talks about Peace Week at the Y

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.

YMCA Peace Week

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 14-21. 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 centres. You can view schedules and events taking place during Peace Week on our website.

What kinds of actions create PEACE?

P   Participation: getting involved and encouraging others to get involved in community-building activities
E   Empathy:  listening and understanding diverse perspectives to create a sense of belonging for all
A   Advocacy:  making the case for positive change in the community
C   Community:  building and strengthening community connections and capacity
E   Empowerment:  inspiring others to foster peace and helping them gain the skills and tools to succeed

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.

Building Peace in the Community

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 consultations and participate
  • Participate in peace-building activities at your local YMCA and in your community
  • Follow us on Twitter and Facebook and share your thoughts about peace building

Visit our website for more information about the YMCA of Simcoe/Muskoka and Peace Week.

Engaging Our Communities

September 29th, 2015 by Rob Armstrong

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 in the community, we intend to continue to 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.

As always, our YMCA will continue to serve the whole community and welcome people of all ages. We believe that young people involved with the YMCA benefit not just from our programs and services, but from belonging to a community in which people of all ages participate, connect and find opportunities to grow.

YMCA Annual General Meeting

At this year’s Annual General Meeting, our keynote speaker, Paul Born, will touch on exactly that – how to deepen our community.

Paul Born is the cofounder and President of Tamarack – An Institute for Community Engagement, and a global leader on issues of place, collective impact, and community innovation. The author of four books, including two Canadian best sellers, Born is internationally recognized for his community-building activities that have won awards from the United Nations and as a senior fellow of Ashoka, the world’s largest network of social innovators.

Paul Born Speaks About How Community Shapes Our Identity

A master storyteller, Paul Born will take this opportunity to speak about how community shapes our identity, quenches our thirst for belonging, and bolsters our physical, mental, emotional, and economic health. He will touch upon how the chaos of modern life can lead to the unraveling of communities, leaving many feeling afraid or alone in the crowd.

He will describe the four pillars of deep community and the tools needed to find joy together:

  • Sharing our stories
  • Taking the time to enjoy one another
  • Taking care of one another
  • Working together for a better world

YMCA of Simcoe/Muskoka Continues To Build Strong Communities

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 our communities. We will strive to make our YMCA leaders more visible and accessible within all of the diverse segments of the communities we serve. We will work hard to connect, adapt, communicate and grow our culture to build strong communities.

Please visit one of our health and fitness centres for more information about our Annual General Meeting being held in Barrie on October 21st.  

For more information about Paul Born, please visit

Recently, I had the privilege to read to the kids who attend our Child Care Program at the Barrie YMCA. It was an opportunity to experience the many things the Y does to provide early learning opportunities for our youngest members.Rob Armtrong Reading to Child Care

Collectively, YMCAs across Canada are the largest provider of child care in the country, dedicated to developing and operating the highest standard in children’s programming – and the YMCAs of Simcoe/Muskoka are no exception. With over 80 licensed Child Care facilities across our region, the YMCA of Simcoe/Muskoka provides exceptional programs focused on children between the ages of birth and twelve years of age.

YMCA Playing To Learn Curriculum Lays Foundation For Future And Ongoing Achievement And Success

Through our nationally recognized YMCA Playing to Learn curriculum, the Y addresses the holistic development of young children by supporting brain development, early literacy, healthy habits development and strong parenting skills. Just as importantly, it lays a foundation for future and ongoing achievement and success.

We also integrate early learning techniques into other Y programs, such as our drop-in-child care service for members who are participating in programs and activities. Through this outreach, we’re able to meet the needs of families to include fun physical activity, positive relationships and enriching programs.

Learn More About YMCA of Simcoe/Muskoka’s Commitment To Their Youngest Members

Our commitment to our youngest Y members stands firm in their preparation for future success.

As we start thinking ahead to the next school year, many parents ask us about the types of child care and curriculum the Y provides. We want to help answer some of your questions and make your search a little easier. For more information about YMCA Child Care curriculum and locations, please click here.