South Charlotte

Sara’s YMCA launches Togetherhood charitable efforts

In the spring, volunteers stuffed 2,000 fire safety door-hanger bags for the American Red Cross, full of information about how to prevent fires in the home.
In the spring, volunteers stuffed 2,000 fire safety door-hanger bags for the American Red Cross, full of information about how to prevent fires in the home. YMCA

The YMCA has long been the default location for workouts, pick-up basketball games, kids sports, and after school programs.

However, the organization also has a charitable side.

Thanks to Togetherhood, a national YMCA volunteer program, the YMCA’s charitable efforts are being highlighted.

Sara’s YMCA in Ballantyne is the first in the Greater Charlotte YMCA system to adopt the initiative, according to Brian Vest, senior membership director of the Morrison Family YMCA and Sara’s YMCA.

“Over the last couple of years the national YMCA worked to help people understand that we are a cause driven organization, not just a place to work out or play soccer,” Vest said. “While we do offer these things, they are just tools to engage and connect with the community that we are serving.

“The goal of Togetherhood is to activate YMCA and community members in civic engagement such as volunteer projects or charitable drives. It can take whatever form we want. We want to bring people together to employ them out to do good work in the community,”

Vest said the program officially launched last year when Sara’s YMCA opened.

The Togetherhood volunteer committee, the group that plans and guides the program, was formed with YMCA members and employees from Ballantyne Corporate Park, where the new Y is located.

The partnership is a boon to the Y and the Corporate Park employers. It helps them consolidate their charitable efforts.

“Our partnership with Togetherhood enables Ballantyne Corporate Park to maximize its resources to make a stronger collective impact on the community. We love the collaborative nature of the initiative, as participants all have a voice in determining the causes that are important to them,” said Hailey Rorie, community director of Bissell.

Vest agrees.

“When we get everyone together we get more volunteers, more synergy. We can make a bigger impact on the community,” Vest said.

The original goal was to implement one project each quarter, but Vest said the group is averaging a hands-on service opportunity every other month.

Last spring, Togetherhood volunteers stuffed 2,000 fire safety door-hanger bags for the American Red Cross, full of information about how to prevent fires in the home. Red Cross volunteers then distributed those bags to apartment complexes and other areas where it was determined residents could benefit from fire prevention education.

“This was a neat partnership because it was something that needed to be done to serve the community and we were able to bring in the volunteers. Then we handed it off to Red Cross volunteers to complete,” Vest said.

June’s Togetherhood project, dubbed Operation Sandwich, brought YMCA volunteers and volunteers from Carolina Premier Bank together to assemble and deliver over 600 sandwiches -- that’s 62 loaves of bread -- along with chips and treats from Snyder’s-Lance, to the women and children at the Salvation Army’s Center of Hope shelter.

The latest project, Flashcard Creation, happens 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Aug. 3 at Sara’s YMCA.

To supplement Ballantyne Corporate Park’s Color the Park school supply drive, volunteers will bring in index cards and, using templates provided, will create flashcard sets of addition facts, colors, and site words. Those flashcards will be added to the supplies collected and donated to Classroom Central so students in poverty can get the school supplies they need.

Before the end of the year, the Togetherhood committee hopes to build bears and stuffed animals for police and fire officers to give to kids on domestic calls, create cards and care packages for veterans and host a giving tree and paper drive for kids in need during the Christmas season.

Togetherhood projects are open to the entire community. You do not have to be a YMCA member or Corporate Park employee to participate.

Howard Bissell, Bissell senior vice president and director, said the program demonstrates the power of collaboration.

“Togetherhood helps bring a new meaning to the term ‘corporate community’ and demonstrates the power of what can happen when everyone works together to make the community stronger,” Bissell said.

Vest said the Togetherhood project demonstrates what the YMCA is all about.

“For me, one of the most exciting aspects of Togetherhood is the opportunity for us to tell the city that we are much more than a gym,” Vest said. “We care about our community. We want to make sure that the City of Charlotte is improving everyday.”

Melinda Johnston is a freelance writer:

Want to help?

Grab some blank index cards and drop in to Sara’s YMCA, 15940 Brixham Hill Ave., from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Aug. 3 to make flash cards. Templates, markers, stickers and other supplies will be provided. Details: Sara’s YMCA , 704-716-4680.