Inspiring Movement

The YMCA of Greater Fort Wayne is working to put life-changing programs within reach of everyone.
Apr 1, 2024
Heather Herron
Jeffrey Crane & Provided

The YMCA of Greater Fort Wayne has an ambitious goal when it comes to our community’s health. 

“According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 60% of Americans are living with a chronic disease, and the pandemic only made things worse. People report worsened exercise habits, diets and financial barriers to health care post-pandemic,” says CEO Andrew Gritzmaker. “If you look specifically at our region, we rank near the bottom not only in overall health outcomes nationally, but also in the amount of money that we allocate toward comprehensive community health initiatives.” 

The American College of Sports Medicine’s recent American Fitness Index report ranks the health of America’s 100 largest cities. It considers health behaviors like exercise, diet and nicotine use; health outcomes like obesity, asthma and diabetes; and community infrastructure like recreational facilities, playgrounds and pools. Fort Wayne ranked 75th just two years ago, and dropped to 88th in the most recent report.

As part of the YMCA’s strategic plan, Gritzmaker and the organization’s board of directors set a lofty goal to become a Fitness Index Top 10 city. He says the Y is uniquely positioned to create movement, remove barriers and move the needle in the right direction by putting it within reach of everyone.

“We need to participate in conversations around comprehensive community health, and be humble and willing to leverage our resources in ways that we haven’t done previously,” stresses Gritzmaker. “Collaboration is the foundation of success in this strategic plan. When you dream this big, you have to ask for help.”

“It’s a community issue,” says Tom Kimbrough, chairman of the board. “If we can be a convener, get people talking, do our part of the puzzle and get other people doing their part, we’re confident that we can build a coalition to get it done.”

As the YMCA of Greater Fort Wayne develops those partnerships, its working with organizations like Turnstone, which provides services to individuals with 

physical, visual and developmental disabilities. In addition to expanding adaptive programming, members of each organization will have access to the other. Gritzmaker says efforts are also being made to not just eliminate physical and financial barriers, but geographic ones, too, by entering into agreements with other entities.

“What if we can spread out our membership? We don’t overwhelm our existing facilities, we share the deferred maintenance of these spaces, we access lower occupancy rates through zero sum lease agreements, and we increase the value proposition to being a YMCA member along with all those amazing things,” proposes Gritzmaker. “How do we add access points to the community and put the Y within reach of everyone? Those are the partnerships that will give people the access to physical activity opportunities and remove geographic barriers to ensure their success.”

Y leaders are also looking at ways to expand childcare services, which not only helps parents but also exposes kids to a healthy lifestyle at an early age. 

Gritzmaker says what makes the YMCA of Greater Fort Wayne special is its ability to provide access to world-class gyms and pools, as well as programming that offers opportunities for the whole family to remain active. Leveraging those resources will help those who have health challenges and want to reverse them, but will also serve people who want to prevent issues before they arise. Chief Operating Officer Tabitha Ervin agrees, saying you’re never too young or too old to start focusing on your health and wellness. 

“I think we have an opportunity to impact our overall community health, starting with little ones all the way up to active older adults. We serve the whole family through various activities that affect the physical and mental health of participants such as swimming, exercise, basketball, cooking and more,” says Ervin. “I think it’s important for future generations that we start looking at that ranking and take it seriously.”

The Y offers a variety of Healthy Living Programs that address issues like diabetes, cancer and high blood pressure. There are also corporate wellness programs that help support businesses that want to help their employees get and stay healthy, which benefits the entire community.

“We can keep our economic engine going by making sure that we have the healthiest people in our community working at our organizations and our businesses. Everybody has a part to play — to make sure they focus on the health of whomever they serve,” Ervin says. 

“If you look at it from an economic development standpoint, there’s no question that it’s going to have an impact,” adds Kimbrough. “The new young talent that employers are trying to recruit to Fort Wayne are looking for a healthy lifestyle and environment. We don’t have mountains and we don’t have an ocean, so we have to be attractive in other ways.”

Local YMCA leaders admit that moving Fort Wayne to a Top 10 Fitness Index ranking isn’t going to happen overnight. It’s an effort that requires collaboration, innovative thinking and money. 

“The Indiana legislature just recently allocated a huge injection of funds, to the tune of $225 million over the next two years, that would be administered through community-based health departments. We’re in the process of distributing these additional funds and putting them to work to help toward onset of chronic illness and conditions,” Gritzmaker says. “In 2021, Indiana ranked 45th out of the 50 states for health funding, so this represents a huge shift going forward.” 

Though it may be years – or even decades – before Fort Wayne is able to break into the Top 10, the efforts made now by the entire community can have an impact in the short term. That’s crucial for generations to come. 

“Young people are our future, and we need to make sure they’re healthy so they can grow through elementary, middle school, high school and college, and come back to be productive citizens and a part of our workforce,” says Ervin. “I think talking about health throughout someones life, from the very beginning, helps to extend their life. People need that message everywhere; in churches, businesses, nonprofits and schools so that they can focus on total health.” 


YMCA of Greater Fort Wayne

Address: 347 W. Berry St., Fort Wayne, Indiana 46802

Phone: (260) 422-6488

Website: fwymca.org

Email: hereforyou@fwymca.org

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