By Lizann Lightfoot
One of my favorite tools when preparing for a deployment is the local YMCA. There are YMCA community centers and fitness centers across the country and near most military bases. The YMCA even has a special branch dedicated to military locations, called the Armed Services YMCA (ASYMCA). No matter where you are and how you will spend deployment, the YMCA has a program that can benefit your family.
YMCA Military Outreach Initiative
The YMCA Military Outreach Initiative allows military families to have free membership enrollment at participating YMCA locations. Over 1,500 Community YMCA’s currently participate in the program. The monthly membership fee is paid, up to $50 a month for an individual adult and up to $70 a month for a family membership. To qualify for the military discount, applicants should get an eligibility form on militaryonesource.com. They can present this form at participating YMCA locations. Qualifying categories include:
- Active duty personnel and their families
- Family members of deployed National Guard and Reservists
- Relocated spouses and dependent children of deployed Active Duty personnel (minimum six month deployment; not geo-bachelors and family that has moved “back home,” away from a duty station).
Free child care
Free child care is included at YMCA locations for any member, including military families. Members can use the on-site child care for up to two hours per day. You don’t even have to be enrolled in a class or using the gym during that time! Some military spouses use this option to get a short reprieve from their children during deployment. It is also a great solution for spouses who work from home and need a location with childcare and wifi to run their business. And if you want to get in shape before homecoming, it’s a great option for that, too.
Military discounts for classes and camps
If you are a military family that does not meet the eligibility for the Military Outreach Initiative, you can still enjoy discounts on some of the programs offered at your local YMCA. Most locations offer military discounts when members enroll in paid classes such as fitness classes. swim lessons, dance, gymnastics, and sports. Military children can receive discounts on summer camps. Call your local YMCA to learn more about their military family rates.
Operation Kid Comfort
Operation Kid Comfort, run by ASYMCA, offers free deployment quilts to military families whose children are going through a deployment. Each handmade quilt contains photo squares of the service member and the military child’s name in a customized pattern. Photos can be collected and submitted by the family either before or during a deployment. The quilts take a few weeks to make and can usually be picked up at military base locations. If it needs to be shipped, the recipient must pay a shipping fee; otherwise, the quilt is completely free.
The deployment quilts are a wonderful gift that helps military children stay connected with their deployed parent. They can go to sleep with their mom or dad’s pictured snuggled close to their heart. This was especially useful for us when the children were babies and toddlers. We have only had a few Skype opportunities during the past six deployments, so the quilt was a helpful way to keep young children familiar with their dad’s face.
Operation Hero is a free after-school tutoring program offered by the ASYMCA to military children from grades 2nd through 8th, typically at schools located on military bases. The program believes that military children age 6 to 12 deal with tremendous stress from deployments, PCS moves, and wounded service member parents. If the stress of military life begins to affect their school work, Operation Hero provides a safe environment where children can not only get help with homework, but also learn to express emotions and find support from fellow military kids. The program is run by ASYMCA volunteers who are screened to work with children. It is sometimes extended into a summer program called Camp Hero.
Parent and Me classes
Parent and Me classes are an ASYMCA program offered on military bases for children ages 2 to 5. These preschool classes offer age-appropriate songs, activities, and crafts that military children can do with their parents. Because at least one of the parents attends each class, the program strives to connect children and parents to others in their community. This is especially helpful to military families who have PCSed away from their families and other support systems. There is a monthly fee to participate in the class which pays for the instructor and the classroom materials.
For more info about military appreciation events and holiday programs for military kids, visit the ASYMCA website here.
Lizann Lightfoot is a writer and Marine Corps spouse. She can be reached at LizannLightfoot@gmail.com.