Read the Latest Articles
  • Northeast Wisconsin
  • August 2018
Written by 

From infant to infinity: The YMCA’s approach to healthy living at every age

You’re probably at least somewhat familiar with the YMCA (“the Y”). It’s one of those special organizations that has a presence in almost everyone’s local communities — in fact, they’re currently found in more than 10,000 neighborhoods in the U.S. But, its mere impressive existence isn’t what makes it so distinctive as a nonprofit.

Holistic health and balancing total wellness has always been the focus, and the mind, body, spirit connection is offered at the YMCA of the Fox Cities and the YMCA of Greater Green Bay for every age.

“That’s our mission at the Y, to help every person through every stage of their life,” Sharna Braucks, Chief Operating Officer for the YMCA of Greater Green Bay, says. “If you’re a child who needs a safe space to be while your parents are at work, we’re here for you. Or if you’re a parent and need some ‘me time’ at the end of your day, we’re here for you. Grandparents who want to stay healthy and vibrant, we’re here for you.”

“People feel more enriched when they have all ages around them,” Dani Englebert, Chief Operating Officer of the YMCA of the Fox Cities, adds. “It fills your heart and your soul. It takes a village to raise a child, and it takes a Y to raise us all. We really depend on each other for the physical, emotional and spiritual support. It’s so much richer because (we) have infant to infinity.”

What you can do at the Y…

Early childhood/youth

The Y has a variety of child care options, from drop-in care while you work out to full day licensed child care, and 4K and Pre-school options offered from birth to 5 years old. It’s a critical time in brain development, and the Y’s Growth & Development Classes include crafts, large and fine motor skill enhancement to help prepare for school and socialization to help aid in creating a foundation that will last a lifetime.

Child care curriculum holds social, emotional, physical and educational components. The spirit, mind, body connection runs throughout, along with character building from the start. Four-character values — caring, honesty, respect and responsibility — are written into programs (and songs!) specifically to enrich the spirit and provide a foundation for lasting integrity.

Creating healthy habits and making it easy to thrive is the fundamental mission of the Y, supported by their program Healthy Eating Physical Activity (HEPA), a set of standards created to encompass nutrition and healthy choices as a part of everyone’s daily routine, beginning with youth.

“We focus on things like, ‘How can the food choices we present to people and serve in our programs be healthier?’ Sharna says. “It starts with our vending not being candy bars and potato chips, instead it’s granola bars and juice. You won’t find donuts at our morning meetings, it’s fruit. It’s about making the healthy choice the easy choice.”

Specific programs like Girls Night Out and Boys Night Out emphasize the importance of support for middle schoolers going through transitions and concentrates on social and mental well-being.

“It’s a fabulous program that’s about anti-bullying, body image/acceptance and social anxieties,” Sharna says. “It’s a program that runs the entire year that supports kids… it makes such an impact on not only that child, but the community of children.”

The Y creates a community, but also collaborates with local outside groups: cities, counties and often schools to get involved and strengthen and reach as many people as possible. With this collaboration comes a naturally holistic and united front for a balance of mental and physical health.

“We have a program that we collaborated on with NAMI, the mental health agency in town, called Artful Expressions,” Dani explains. “It’s a way to take art as a medium — whether it’s photography or pottery or painting — and that helps them express themselves and their emotions. It’s the whole package.”

“People of course understand that we have a lot of physical programs and that’s true, we run the gamut with youth sports,” Sharna adds. “We have soccer, swimming, basketball, anything you can think of.”

Young adult/adult

Among several opportunities for physical activity and group sports, in a safe space to learn new skills, growth and development isn’t reserved for young children at the Y and includes young adult members evolving in educational classes, of which the benefits and lessons will stay well into adulthood.

“Youth in Government, for example, is a unique program in the fact that you’re using many different leadership skills,” Dani explains. “I see middle schoolers who won’t say a peep and by the time they get through a year they’re standing up and presenting.”

“We have teens and 20-somethings who are finishing up their degrees in human services or teaching, physical education, things like that who are able to gain experience working at the Y. It’s not a formal program you’ll see in our program book but provides a lot for our youth.”

Simply being a member of the Y is a great social opportunity for adults, so much so that team members are specifically trained to help connect people, whether that’s through simply working out on the same days, common interest in a group exercise or meditation/yoga class, or perhaps another significant bond like experiencing grief or parenting children with special needs.

“For decades, the Y has been a great place for support groups,” Sharna says. “A YMCA staff member is there who can help facilitate some discussion and then they build relationships with each other. There have been so many different groups. When we hear there’s a need for something, we ask ourselves how we can support it. We’ll host it, and we’ll research how to help. People having a space to be together is what’s healing and healthy.”

Complimentary wellness and lectures are offered to active older adults, along with bus trips and focus on maintaining physical health. Classes like Tai Chi and Chair Yoga are used specifically as a preventative measure against falls and strengthens balance as people age.

“Socially, we have coffee hours, bus trips and opportunities to reduce isolation,” Dani says. “When you retire, people say your friend group changes. Directly after retirement, come and make connections at the Y. It’s critical socially.”

“We love the active older adult population and it’s just going to continue to grow,” Sharna says. “We want to help them stay around for as long as they can and with as much vitality as they can. The definition of “senior” is quite different than it used to be! We like the term ‘live forever well.’”


Programs specifically for “healthy family time” are offered to do just that: spend quality time in an environment without the noise and distractions of a typical day. Community events like races, scavenger hunts and obstacle courses are all a means to an end to make available an opportunity to spend time together to encourage healthy habits.

Now more important than ever, Dani and Sharna explain, is doing so in the outdoors, away from home. The YMCA offers camp in the form of day, overnight and resident camps including a variety of locations and options like family camps, parent/child trips, middle school experiences and more.

“Kids aren’t being exposed to nature like they used to be,” Sharna says. “Being in a canoe in the river and hearing the animals and the rustling and the trickling of the water is magical. It’s such a holistic piece to well-being.”

“Sometimes it’s more the trepidation of parents letting their kids go,” Dani says. “I think it’s a good thing for parents to see that their children can do it, they can be self-reliant. If there’s one gift a parent can give their kids, it’s to send them to camp at least once.”

From infant to infinity, when you spend time at the YMCA – either at your nearest location, camp or in your community at an activity or event, you’re at your best holistically: spirit, mind and body. 
It’s no wonder that staff members feel it too.

“You can see yourself grow, and you can see everyone else grow,” Dani says. “We talk about what the Y does for others, but it does just the same for us.”

“Everyone has a spot at the Y,” Sharna adds. “It’s not just tolerance, it’s that people are learning from everyone else — people of all cultural backgrounds, all walks of life, economic stances — we’re all a part of this community.” 


We are here to meet our community’s needs. If there’s something we’re not offering that you want to see at the Y, tell us. We’re here to serve you, let us know how we can do it best.

— Sharna Braucks, Chief Operating Officer, YMCA of Greater Green Bay

Come and explore. I think folks have a vision of what we are and might not realize all that there is. There’s probably something for you. Or we can create it.

— Dani Englebert, Chief Operating Officer of the YMCA of the Fox Cities


For more information and to discover how you and your family can get involved — at any age! — in your local Greater Green Bay YMCA and YMCA of the Fox Cities locations, visit and , or contact your nearest Y directly:


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


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


380 Broadview Drive, Green Bay • 920-436-9601


1740 S Huron Road, Green Bay • 920-436-1200


235 N Jefferson Street, Green Bay • 920-436-9650


W6931 School Road, Greenville • 920-757-9820


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


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


601 Cardinal Lane, Green Bay • 920-436-9570

Subscribe Today
Community Partners Directory
Find a Complimentary Copy
Community Calendar