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Building Generations: The Legacy and Impact of Valdosta-Lowndes YMCA

Beyond the treadmills and weights, for nearly 60 years, the Valdosta-Lowndes Family County YMCA has been a cornerstone in fostering healthier lifestyles, nurturing youth, and instilling social responsibility, all to enhance the lives of children, teens, and adults.

The YMCA, commonly called the "Y," originated in London, England, in the mid-1800s. George Williams, the organization's founder, established the first Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA) as a place of refuge for men struggling with poverty and social challenges.

On a global scale, the Y spans 120 countries, with over 2,500 facilities in the U.S. alone; however, each Y is unique and deeply integrated within the community it serves. 

Lawrence “Larry” S. Tobey, III President/CEO of the Valdosta-Lowndes County Family YMCA, emphasizes the importance of the Y's autonomy, enabling it to tailor programs that best meet the needs of its community.  

While the Valdosta-Lowndes Y is known for after-school, gymnastics, and swimming programs, it also offers a range of specialized programs, including the Champions League, Teen Leaders, and Silver Sneakers for senior adults.

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Larry Tobey,

III President/CEO of the Valdosta-Lowndes YMCA

Reflecting on his journey of over 30 years with the Y, Tobey expressed his pride in the respect the Y has earned in the community, its accomplishments, and particularly the generational success. "I think about all the children that have come through the Y since I've been here," he said. "I'm seeing them as adults bringing their children back or out in the community as leaders doing great work."

Like many nonprofits, Tobey believes that the Y can take pride in its efforts to help local children and families succeed. "Almost everyone in this community has a positive Y story, even if it's just a small part of their life," he said. "They recognize the profound impact of the Y's programs."

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From Cardio to Gymnastics: Fitness for All

The Y offers an extensive schedule of individual and group fitness and wellness classes for all ages and activity levels at its two main facilities in Valdosta and Lake Park. Classes include swimming, yoga, strength training, aerobics, dance, cycling, boxing, and cardiovascular exercise sessions. 

As part of its commitment to youth development, the Y operates a vibrant gymnastics center. Last year, this center was a hub of activity, serving over 3,800 children and teens. The Y also helped more than 22,000 children, teens, and adults improve and extend their healthy lifestyles through various services, including personal training, group fitness classes, health screenings, and initiatives to address prevalent health issues in the community, like diabetes and high blood pressure. 

Unlocking Potential: Fostering Growth

The Y's mission is deeply rooted in fostering youth development. Through a wide range of programs and services, the Y creates a nurturing and secure environment where children, teens, and adults can flourish. 

From after-school and summer programs to water safety courses and sports leagues, the Y empowers youth to realize their full potential and positively impact their lives. 

Operating within the City of Valdosta and Lowndes County schools, plus a site at the Valdosta Y facility, the PrimeTime after-school program is available to children aged four through twelve. Recognized as a Georgia Quality Rated program, PrimeTime provides a secure, engaging, and enriching social interaction and personal growth environment. 

Drowning in the U.S. is the second leading cause of unintentional injury death after motor vehicle crashes. Children ages 5–14 are particularly vulnerable. In response, the Y sponsors a four-day Safe Around the Water (SAW) course for Valdosta City and Lowndes County school second graders. Since its start in 2017, more than 8,000 children have gained skills to reduce the risk of drowning and confidence in and around the water.

Tobey said youth development includes building the next generation of leaders. "When you look at the Y and the services we offer, it is not just athletics or winning; it's a journey to make yourself a better person, respecting your community, and advancing in life."

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Through the Teen Leaders program, youth ages 13-18 learn skills that enhance their self-esteem and contribute to their overall development.

The Teen Leaders program offers diverse opportunities for teens to volunteer in the Y's childcare programs, aquatics, youth sports, and membership services. Last year, teen leaders volunteered more than 500 hours in the community, including working at the Second Harvest Food Bank.

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Empowering Inclusion

The Y is committed to social responsibility and believes in inclusivity and empowerment. They provide equal opportunities for all individuals to thrive and succeed, regardless of age or abilities. 

The Y's Champions League is a transformative platform for children and adults with physical and mental disabilities. The program helps them develop social and athletic skills while building meaningful connections. 

The league follows the motto "Everybody plays, everybody wins" to ensure everyone feels included and valued.

Since its start in 1997, the Champions League has been a free community service. From basketball to indoor wheelchair soccer, bowling, and swimming, more than 300 individuals and their families experience the opportunity to play each year regardless of limitations.

Building Stronger Communities

The Y relies on charitable donations from individuals, businesses, and organizations to provide programs and services that help children, teens, and adults of all ages experience healthy and productive lives.

"While there are membership fees for people who can pay, we also gift memberships to individuals and families who can't," Tobey said. "We don't turn anyone away from our facilities and programs for the inability to pay. We find a way for them to participate."

Tobey emphasized the Y's decades-long partnership with the Greater Valdosta United Way, which has been instrumental since the Y's inception in Lowndes County. 

"Funding from the United Way goes toward helping children in need participate in after-school programs and summer camps," he said. "Some children are homeless or raised by grandparents, and at the Y, they get help with their homework and a meal." - Larry Tobey

The United Way funding supports swim lessons, water safety programs for local children, and other services that make the Y's programs more accessible for children and families.

For more information on the Valdosta-Lowndes County Family YMCA, visit https://valdostaymca.org/ or call 229-244-4646.

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