CEO Blog | YMCA of Simcoe/Muskoka - Part 2

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.

Summer Day Camp Programs for Kids

To many people, summer camp for kids might appear like nothing more than fun and games.

However, a study conducted in the past few years by the University of Waterloo supports what camp directors have been saying for decades – camp is a setting for positive youth development where invaluable life skills are acquired and nurtured.

“The major changes in campers’ growth speak tremendously of the summer camp experience,” says Troy Glover, the director of the University of Waterloo’s Healthy Communities Research Network.

Canadian Summer Camp Research Project Results

Glover spearheaded the Canadian Summer Camp Research Project, the first-ever nationwide and international research and evaluation project of its kind. Conducted in the summer of 2010, the study tracked 1,288 campers, aged three to 18, from 16 overnight and day camps across Canada.

The research stage was divided into two parts: one-on-one interviews with camp directors to gather anecdotal evidence, followed by camper surveys to measure behaviours, attitudes and values.

The results demonstrated that for “bubble-wrapped” youth who have been over-programmed and overprotected, camp provides a safe environment to freely learn, grow and develop their capabilities.

Summer camp, according to the study, fosters emotional intelligence (or EQ), self-confidence, independence, healthy living, environmental awareness, leadership and other skills that prove beneficial long into adulthood.

Life Skills Fostered At Summer Camp

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

  • How to Get Along With Others – 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 camp.
  • How to Overcome Challenges – According to the recent ParticipACTION Report Card and Position Statement on Active Outdoor Play, over-supervising kids or keeping them indoors to ensure they are safe limits their opportunities for physical activity, endangering their long-term health – read more here. Camp provides a safe environment, allowing children to freely learn how to overcome challenges and develop and grow their capabilities.
  • How to Get Fit – A recent Statistics Canada study found that only seven percent of youth aged six to 19 got the recommended hour a day of exercise they need. YMCA Canada released a study in May, 2015, reporting that 85 percent of parents say it takes effort to be a healthy role model for their kids. The survey also revealed that parents are more likely to cite outside influences as excellent role models for their child. 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.
  • How to Love the Earth – According to Richard Louv, children need nature for the healthy development of their senses, and, therefore, for learning and creativity. We know that when children are connected with their environment, they are healthier and happier. They also learn how to independently and cooperatively deal with whatever adversity they face through the year, be it a rain storm, winter winds, adversity in life, or disagreements with others.
  • How to Lead – When it comes to developing strong leaders, camp provides both implicit and explicit training including morals, ethics, problem solving, teamwork, and life skills.

So while our conveniences make life easier in so many ways, there are experiences missing that provide growth, strengthening of values, confidence, and development for times of adversity. Those experiences need to come from somewhere, and I encourage my own children to go to camp and absorb all the life benefits they’ll find there.

Learn more about YMCA Summer Camps

To learn more about the YMCA of Simcoe/Muskoka summer camps, please click here.

Join Us for Healthy Kids Day on June 7th

June 1st, 2015 by Rob Armstrong

What does it take to raise a healthy child?

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.

Parents as healthy examples for their children

On May 28, the YMCA released the 2015 YMCA Healthy Kids Report which unveiled that parents are finding it difficult to set a healthy example for their children with 85 percent stating that it takes effort to be a healthy role model. Nationally, 35 percent of parents do not think their 6-12 year old is getting enough physical activity per week.

To encourage families to get out and be active, the YMCA of Simcoe/Muskoka will join YMCAs across Canada in celebrating YMCA Healthy Kids Day on June 7 – a national day dedicated to improving the health and well-being of kids across the country.

The study revealed that parents feel they are the most important influence on their young children; however only a few identify themselves as healthy role models:

  • 71% of parents who said they were a role model to their child state that they have a lot of influence on their child
  • Only 28% of parents who said they were a role model to their child identify themselves as ‘excellent’ role models for their children, ranking outside influences as higher including athletes (56%), coaches (51%) and teachers (38%)
  • Parents said that they find it difficult to lead healthy and active lives, with only half of those surveyed stating that they get more than the recommended 2.5 hours of exercise per week
  • Only four in ten parents across Canada (42%) say their child gets the recommended 7 hours of physical activity per week
  • 46% of parents cite lack of time as the biggest barrier to participating in activities with their children
  • In discussing peak activity levels for their child, 30% of parents said their child was most active at school or after school, 23% said during the summer and only 17% said weekends

The theme of this report focused on children aged 6-12 and the importance of role models in promoting their healthy development and activity levels. Additional findings from the report found that while parents know where to find programs and services that promote active and healthy living, 54 percent do not have the time or money to access them.

YMCA supports families raising healthy children

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.

Celebrate YMCA Healthy Kids Day with us

We hope you’ll join us on June 7 when we celebrate YMCA Healthy Kids Day across Simcoe/Muskoka.

For complete schedules of what’s happening in each community, please visit click here.

Developmental Assets: Preparing Youth for Success

April 23rd, 2015 by Rob Armstrong

YMCA Simcoe/Muskoka CEO Rob Armstrong.

Do you ever wonder why some kids seem to grow up with ease while others struggle? Are you surprised that some kids thrive in spite of difficult circumstances?

Developmental Assets

Through studies involving hundreds of thousands of young people across North America, The Search Institute of Minnesota has found 40 factors that are essential to young people’s success. They call these 40 factors “Developmental Assets.”  They are traits such as skills, relationships, values, and self-perceptions.

External Categories

External Categories are relationships and opportunities that young people experience in their families, schools and communities (things that other people provide for youth):

  • Support
  • Empowerment
  • Boundaries & Expectations
  • Constructive Use of Time

Internal Categories

Internal Categories are skills and values that youth develop within themselves to guide behaviours and choices:

  • Commitment to Learning
  • Positive Values
  • Social Competencies
  • Positive Identity

The more Developmental Assets young people have, the more successful they become.  They have more school and relationship success, live healthier lifestyles and make better choices. The Search Institute has found that the average student in grade twelve averages only 17.8 of the 40 Developmental Assets.

Commitment to Developmental Assets at the YMCA of Simcoe/Muskoka

The YMCA of Simcoe/Muskoka has committed resources to increasing the assets of young people through our youth programs and services. At the YMCA, youth take part in leadership development classes where activities and special events help prepare them for future volunteer and employment opportunities. Children are encouraged to take part in activities and lessons 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.

Programs allow young people to excel in their area of interest while connecting them to caring adults who nurture their skills. Our values are evident in all program areas and interactions — from our Board to staff to volunteers and members – we treat all people with respect and dignity.

The YMCA of Simcoe/Muskoka is committed to promoting developmental asset-based community work throughout our region. Preparing young people to become thriving and contributing adults requires strengthening commitments and capacities of communities as a whole.

As a member of the Child, Youth and Family Services Coalition in Simcoe County, the YMCA of Simcoe/Muskoka is working with other local organizations and the Simcoe County District School Board, to engage and support the community in building resiliency for youth of all ages.

Learn More About Developmental Assets 

If you’re interested in learning more about how to implement developmental assets in your home or how to create developmental communities, please visit the Search Institute.

Do you see opportunities to collaborate in this shared agenda? Do you have suggestions or ideas you’d like to share with us? We value your input! Contact us to share your questions, comments, or to request more information.

Leading Together at MyY

July 24th, 2014 by wptest

YMCA of Simcoe/Muskoka CEO Rob Armstrong shares an update on MyY's vision for connected communities.

Over the last number of years, YMCAs across Canada have been using a relatively new phrase for describing our Health, Fitness and Aquatic facilities as “Centres of Community.” As we think about renewing our YMCA facility in Barrie, we have begun trying to define what a Centre of Community might look like.

As an organization we have a lot of good ideas, but we realized this was our perspective, our lens. What we needed was a broader understanding of what people envision as a successful and healthy community.

So we came up with the idea of the “Community Big Think.”

The MyY Community Big Think

We invited a group of community leaders to a session in June where we began a group examination of the Barrie community. The first piece of work was for each table to mind map their ideas of what a healthy and vibrant Barrie might look like, which resulted in some very insightful visions of our community.

This began a morning of exchange that demonstrated to all just how powerful and visionary our community leaders are. Even with a diverse group, it was incredible how common themes and ideas kept emerging. We will now take the material produced and share it, first with those who attended at this leading together session, and then to the broader community.

From this and other sessions, we will begin to harness the good ideas into concrete, shared directions that will frame our vision of the YMCA as part of a “Centre of Community” in a healthier and more vibrant Barrie.

My Y – My Barrie Y

May 9th, 2014 by wptest

YMCA Simcoe/Muskoka CEO Rob Armstrong provides an update on the Barrie YMCA Renewal Strategy.

As the YMCA of Simcoe/Muskoka continues the journey of our strategic plan, “My Y For Good,” we near the end of our second year of the plan. As many of you know one of our key objectives in the 2012-2017 plan is to focus on the redevelopment of a new YMCA to serve the Barrie Community.

Often, as I walk through the Barrie YMCA and as I travel throughout the community, I get asked about the progress we are making on the Barrie renewal, and would like to share some updates.

Barrie YMCA renewal strategy

Your YMCA has been working through a Barrie renewal strategy that is based on 4 fundamental principles:

  1. Maximize the value of our Grove Street property

  2. Explore ALL opportunities available for the site

  3. Work with partners to build a “Centre of Community”

  4. Ensure the viability of the YMCA of Simcoe/Muskoka

Over the last 2 years, these principles have led us to thoroughly review 2 options: our current Grove Street site as well as the ongoing development discussions around a site in downtown Barrie.

With either of these options, we believe our vision of a 75-80,000 square foot state of the art “Centre of Community” YMCA is alive and well. We are making headway on sourcing the $30+ million dollars required for this project and are currently establishing a workable time frame for development.

Over the next several weeks, we anticipate sharing more updates and will be inviting members to participate in an open forum discussion as our direction becomes clearer.

Our commitment to you and to our community is to listen, and to partner with our community to bring the YMCA to the best site, with the most affordable plan, to ultimately create the Community you told us you want, with the YMCA you told us we need, all to build healthy communities… Together!