Unprecedented. This is the word that I have been hearing repetitively on the news. Indeed, it is the word used by all our federal and state leaders regarding COVID-19 and the necessary changes we have needed to make in our day to day lives.
But that word doesn’t fully express the feeling and magnitude of the impact the coronavirus is having across the world right now. It doesn’t capture the deep sadness I have felt as YMCA centres, programs and services have closed so we can protect our most vulnerable and slow the spread.
It doesn’t convey the hard work and the resilience of the Y leaders, working tirelessly behind the scenes and around the clock, not because I have asked them to, but because they care so very much.
We have learnt so much in the past few weeks about how we as an organisation need to respond to this health crisis. And in every step of the way, we have ensured we place our YMCA community – staff, volunteers, families and customers – at the heart.
But while I feel a wave of emotion, I’ve never been more sure about the purpose of the YMCA.
In 1844, the YMCA was founded in London by a man named George Williamson, who was concerned about his community in crisis. There was high unemployment, poor health and disconnection. As a result he set-up affordable accommodation and services that supported the most vulnerable in the community. It quickly spread globally, with the YMCA adapting to the needs of communities across the world. YMCA Victoria was founded here in 1853.
And while the Y has changed since this time, the need for community has never been more important.
This virus has showed us sharply which matters come into focus.
Community matters. Family matters. Health matters. Generosity matters. People matter.
The most important thing we do during this time is to come together as a community. The Y is incredibly proud of connecting people and creating healthier and happier communities. While so many of our physical spaces are shut at the moment, we are working through how our support will continue so we can be there for those who need us most.
While it can be hard to step back and see the big picture, I want to remind you that everything we do during this period of time is about protecting the health of all Australians. It is our most vulnerable and at-risk groups that need us to rally behind them and take these measures.
Apart from physical distancing, the best thing you can do is practice kindness and patience and look for ways to reconnect with your community. This community may be your neighbourhood, or an online community.
This will be a lonely time for many, so do not underestimate the power of a phone-call, or a smile on the street (while practising social distancing).
The next few months are going to be tough and challenging, but we are rising to the challenge.
We are all in this together.
Carolyn Morris, CEO YMCA Victoria and Kingswim