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  • Northeast Wisconsin
  • November 2017
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Total wellness at the YMCA of the Fox Cities: spirit, mind and body

What constitutes healthy living is subjective, and is often based on a variety of things that essentially add up to an overall balanced existence. Physical fitness, mental and emotional well-being, and connecting to a deeper sense of self and spirituality are often parts of such a life.

No one quite understands the significance of this holistic approach more than The YMCA of the Fox Cities (the Y). The group includes five locations: Apple Creek, Appleton, Fox West, Heart of the Valley and Neenah-Menasha, and all carry a strong focus on the spirit, mind and body connection. To describe the group as a “fitness center” is technically accurate, but also only one miniscule piece of multi-dimensional and impressive puzzle. In fact, the establishment doesn’t even mention the two words but instead offer an all-encompassing message in its mission statement:

To put Christian principles into practice by promoting youth, adult and family activities that build a healthy spirit, mind and body for all.

“There’s no other organization that focuses on the total person like the Y does,” Joel Zeiner, a YMCA Mission Emphasis Committee member and local pastor, says. “It encompasses all. People can focus on the physical and be very strong, but their mental or spiritual state might be completely absent.”

“The Y is a place to nurture everyone at every level of their self-development,” Maeghan Johnson, Arts and Humanities Director for the Neenah-Menasha Y location, adds. “We provide tools to really find life balance. We’re all-inclusive and a positive place for all of our members and staff.”

“The members set the culture,” Scott Schanhofer, Executive Director for the Neenah-Menasha location, says. “The staff is great, and our whole philosophy is that we want to leave something better than we found it. It’s a home and there’s a sense of ownership. It’s really cool.”

“We have programs of all types — fitness is truly only a portion of what we do,” Kourtney Kositzke, Arts and Humanities Coordinator in Appleton, says. “We always say ‘cradle to grave’ because we have child care, we have programs for active older adults, youth sports, visual arts. Across the board we have a wide variety.”

Spirit

One of the ways the YMCA of the Fox Cities encompasses the “something for everyone” mantra is by providing healthy practices for spirituality. And for both longtime members and new visitors, it’s more than the words that make up the mission statement that create the environment that conjures up warmth and a genuine sense of acceptance. It’s a feeling.

“When you walk into the YMCA, we want you to feel it, to feel welcome,” Joel says. “We have a Christian foundation but all faiths are welcome — no matter who you are or your condition — we want you here.”

The YMCA is committed to helping members on their spiritual journeys and make sure to do so in a natural and organic way. Meetings are begun with invocations, inspirational quotes are found on the walls and there are Bible verses littered throughout; however, they are mindful to present spirituality and spirit health in a natural, respective manner.

“We have a spiritual exercise board so people can engage with it at their own leisure. It doesn’t have to be intimidating or a part of a program,” Joel says. “We also have a devotional booklet that we give every leader that provides a lot of different material to use — whether it’s starting a cycling class with music to inspire people spiritually or starting a workshop with a devotion.”

Spiritual workshops vary from all-purpose adult Bible studies at the Appleton YMCA to more focused groups such as Fellowship and Friendship: A program for seniors to join other members for coffee, treats and fellowship; Conversations on Scripture; and Women’s Bible Friendship Group, focusing on spiritual practices of rest and simplicity for women of all ages.

“The one thing that really makes a strong Y is a leadership team that believes in the full holistic focus: spirit, mind and body,” Joel adds. “(The YMCA of the Fox Cities) team does. I’m so proud of that.”

Mind

Arts and humanities have long been considered a vital part of a person’s development, and the Y provides a variety of programs for children and teens to set the tone for mental and emotional well-being and growth as early as two years old.

“There’s a lot of diversity in ages,” Maeghan says. “We have a working pottery studio, painting, drawing, stop motion, stain glass working. You name it, we probably do it.”

The art classes are presented in an array of ways and curriculum, like the complimentary program developed at the Y called Artful Expression, encompassing the idea that art has the power to heal and provide coping mechanisms for those who may struggle to express themselves in other ways.

“It’s a program focused on teens, grades 5-12,” Kourtney explains. “It’s great for kids who are battling a mental illness, or it could be as simple as suffering from a lack of self-esteem or confidence. They learn to use art as a form of expression.

“Each child is different but our idea is that by giving them art techniques and making sure that when they’re doing the art they feel good, when they’re struggling and they’re not in our classroom, they can start drawing and feel better inside.”

Participants in the Artful Expression program are often referred by school counselors or teachers, and classes can be accommodated for all schedules: both during the day for homeschooled students, after school and on weekends.

The Y also offers family programming in the form of one-day workshops and progressive week-long courses.

“We love hosting family classes for an intergenerational group to come together. It opens family dialogue. Once you start creating something, you really start to see the conversation flow. I’ve heard so many parents say, ‘You actually got my teenager to talk to me!’” Maeghan laughs. “They’re able to connect in a face-to-face, engaging way.”

The Growth and Development program helps children prepare for school and focuses on fine motor and gross motor skills, and socialization. Private (one-on-one) and semi-private (two students to one instructor) music lessons for piano, violin, drums and voice — to name a few — are offered as well as humanities courses for safety in the form of classes teaching the importance of safety in technology to babysitting certification and bike safety.

“We can start to see the trends in our community and parents really set the pathway for us by letting us know what they’d like to see and what our next curriculum should be,” Maeghan says.

“I personally oversee the dance program. We offer every genre you can imagine: ballet, tap, jazz, hip hop, ballroom — baton is making a comeback. We have both recreational and competitive programs. Every student is welcome and everyone is a part of a team. We work a lot with special needs clientele and we hold a great sense that there’s nothing that can’t be accomplished.”

“Mental health concerns can start as early as young childhood,” Kourtney adds. “Finding things that kids enjoy and make them happy will help them in the long run and can help them get past some of the struggles they might face… You never know who is going to walk through our doors. It’s really neat to see young kids connect and interact with older adults.”

Body

The physical aspect of health is no doubt a focus of the YMCA of the Fox Cities. The state-of-the-art fitness center provides physical fitness for all levels and ages. Youth sports programs can begin as early as 4 years old, and encompass core sports: flag football, basketball, indoor soccer, track and field, volleyball, as well as lesser available offerings in our community like fencing, “Jedi training,” rugby, archery and more.

While it’s an impressive list in itself, Scott explains that there’s an added component to the program that incorporates all three of the aspects of health that the Y focuses on: spirit, mind and body not readily found in other clubs.

“We do value talks and huddles in all of our youth sports. One team or both teams talk about our core values – caring, honesty, respect, responsibility and what it means to them in school or within the game. It makes them think about the sport but also their experience overall. Winning and losing is only a small part of what sports are.

“What we’re finding is that club sports and competitiveness is forcing some kids out of sports because they’re not as engaged,” he adds. “We want them to have fun. We want to teach them to compete against themselves, to learn new skills and to understand that failing isn’t fatal. We want to give sports back to the kids.”

The Y approaches sports and all aspects of health with the belief that while promoting skills and lessons within the program, the bigger picture includes volunteer coaches and staff teaching life lessons in a natural and organic way that’s easy to understand: fun.

“If kids aren’t having fun, they’re not putting in effort or getting better,” Scott explains. “Having fun means more easily developing skills. If you come to the Y and participate in youth sports, you’re getting the benefit of developing as an athlete but so much more.”

Meet some of the YMCA of the Fox Cities family!

Bill Breider

President/CEO, YMCA of the Fox Cities

“The YMCA of the Fox Cities is a mission-driven organization bringing people together from all walks of life and at all stages of life, around a common and inclusive set of values by providing programs, services and facilities that improve spirit, mind and body. Our purpose is to strengthen the foundation of our community by providing opportunities for everyone to reach their highest potential in all areas of health.”

Maeghan Johnson

Arts and Humanities Director, Neenah-Menasha

“I love the sense that I’m connecting with people and making a difference. And they’re giving to me too. I love interacting with our members and my co-workers. We have a sense of family. There’s something for every age, every family — every internal need.”

Kourtney Kositzke

Arts and Humanities Coordinator, Appleton

“I really like being able to bring my creativity to different programs and see children grow and flourish. Knowing that a child went home better from just meeting with me and knowing I made an impact is huge. Our art program has grown into so much more. It has been really rewarding.”

Scott Schanhofer

Executive Director, Neenah-Menasha

“One of the unique things about the Y is that it’s a community organization. We attract many different people to our facility. Visitors always say we’re a very warm place, welcoming and friendly. And that’s important to us. Coming to the Y is a great way to start your day. People care. Impact isn’t necessarily changing someone’s life, it can be as simple as putting a smile on someone’s face.”

Joel Zeiner

YMCA of the Fox Cities Mission Emphasis Committee Member

“Physically you can be strong, but if you don’t spend time on spiritual health and trying to connect with God you’re going to miss a really important, joyful and life-giving part of your experience. We want everybody at the Y, no matter their religious background, no matter their lifestyle. This is a place where the community gathers. And they’re connecting in meaningful ways.” 

“You can thrive at any age”

The YMCA of the Fox Cities offers a wide range of ways focusing on spirit, mind and body health to prove that you can be happy and healthy – and active! – at any age. Their Active Older Adults (AOA) program offers activities such as:

  • Land and water exercise classes
  • Health screenings
  • Use of workout equipment/walking track/pools
  • Yoga/Pilates/Tai chi/Qui gong
  • Enrichment Classes: Language/computer/music
  • Clubs: Knitting/Book/Chorus
  • Social events/luncheons

The YMCA of the Fox Cities collaborates with the Menasha Senior Center and the Thompson Community Center to provide the above programs. For more information, visit www.ymcafoxcities.org/ymca/aoa/aoa.asp.


For more information and to discover how you can get involved in your nearest YMCA of the Fox Cities location, visit www.ymcafoxcities.org or contact:

Apple Creek YMCA

2851 East Apple Creek Road, Appleton • 920-733-9622

Appleton YMCA

218 East Lawrence Street, Appleton • 920-739-6135

Fox West YMCA

W6931 School Road, Greenville • 920-757-9820

Heart of the Valley YMCA

225 West Kennedy Avenue, Kimberly • 920-830-5700

Neenah-Menasha YMCA

110 West North Water Street, Neenah • 920-729-9622

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