Westchester Family YMCA offers members chance to get healthy while building sense of community

Westchester Family YMCA staff (from left to right) Robert Higgins, Matthew Brown, Rae Jin, John Loussararian, Danny O’Neill and Jade Fackler have fun demonstrating the variety of workouts and equipment available at the gym.

Many people will be hitting the gym this month, some for the first time, in a bid to shed pounds, get healthy and gain muscle. For those looking for a new health club to join in 2018, the Westchester Family YMCA is encouraging the community to come check out their programs and offerings that can benefit the health of the whole family.

“What makes us different is that we target the entire family instead of individuals,” says Westchester Family YMCA Executive Director John Loussararian. “At the Y, everyone can get their health and fitness needs met at the same time, instead of having to split up to different places.”

At the Y, the goal is to give families a one-stop option, where everyone can show up together and find their exercise niche. While most gyms just cater to adults, the YMCA offers programs for members of all ages–from kids to seniors. While adults are taking advantage of the weight room, ellipticals or classes, including indoor cycling and water aerobics, kids can participate in the “Itty Bitty Sports” league, youth gymnastics, martial arts, soccer, swim lessons and more. When kids learn about the benefits of a healthy lifestyle at an early age it provides a good foundation for making healthy choices through adulthood according to Matthew Brown, the Y’s Director of Sports and Recreation.

“Kids are getting a base of physical literacy at the Y,” said Brown. “That helps them make better, healthier choices later on in their lives because they already have these behaviors.”

Activities that the whole family can participate in include a yearly family camping trip to Camp Whittle. There’s also the Adventure Guides, which helps parents and children bond through group activities like crafts, weekend events, camping, pine wood derbies, hiking and more. Groups meet once a month for weekend activities, allowing busy parents a special chance to pause and create lasting memories with their families.

Brown says that the experience people have at the Y as kids–whether it’s in sports or camps–often have them returning as adults to help volunteer and mentor others.

Another thing that sets the Westchester Family YMCA apart from other gyms is the sense of community built between members, according to Associate Executive Director Rae Jin.

“The community built between our members is great. Members are a fantastic support system for each other and lifelong relationships are formed here,” said Jin. “People aren’t just walking in and getting on a treadmill, and coming in and out of the facility. They’re also building relationships.”

For many, the Y becomes a second home, says Healthy Lifestyles Director Jade Fackler, with members and staff supporting each other, championing each other’s causes and becoming like an extended family.

“At the Y, people support each other, laugh together and cry together,” said Fackler. “They even raise their kids together. People create deep and meaningful relationships here. Some of our members have been here for decades. It’s inspiring to see.”

The closeness of members and staff allows them to make introductions and connections that might not otherwise be made. For example, when Fackler heard a member was interested in training for a triathlon, she was able to introduce them to a member that is a successful triathlete for tips and support. Loussararian, who just celebrated 25 years of working for the YMCA, even met his wife at the Y.

“The Y is an environment for like-minded individuals,” said Loussararian. “People join for different reasons, but end up staying for common goals and purpose. Many find a sense of community at the Y.”

Not content to just stay within its four walls, some of the Y’s most successful programs happen outside of the Westchester building. The Y’s P.L.A.Y. (Physical Learning Activities for Youth) Program brings a traditional PE program to 12 local schools and more than 1,300 students with the goal of preventing childhood obesity and diabetes, all while teaching about fitness and having fun.

“Some kids think that sports are only for athletes,” said Brown. “We work to show that all kids can enjoy PE and become engaged.”

By having an all-inclusive strategy, where kids are picked for teams at random and a premium is put on character development, the program is having a positive impact on the students P.L.A.Y. serves. Brown says students who previously didn’t like sports are excelling and finding activities they enjoy.

Unique to the Westchester YMCA is its partnership with the Drollinger Family Charitable Foundation, which has brought yoga to 9 local schools–Visitation, St. Anastasia, Wright STEAM Magnet, WISH, Westport Heights, Playa del Rey, Paseo, Kentwood and Cowan. Now in its fourth year, the yoga program is having a big impact on students.

Loussararian says a common theme he hears from administrators is that students–even kindergarteners–are more stressed out than ever, and the yoga classes are teaching them skills to remain calm, centered and in control of their actions and feelings.

“There is the reoccurring theme of mindfulness in the classes and students are becoming self-aware,” said Loussararian. “They are gaining the ability to cope with life’s pressures. Yoga has brought a safe environment to schools where students are comfortable in their own skin and are able to work through their emotions and handle stress better.”

He says that teachers and administrators are noticing a positive difference in student behavior since yoga has started. One told him about a situation where two students had a conflict and the situation became heated. One of the students remembered what he had learned from yoga and was able to walk away from the situation, collect himself and reenter the situation to solve the problem. The students were then able to talk through their issues instead of resorting to fighting.

Instructors Melvin Boyce and Liberty Bradford modify the classes at each school to fit the needs of the students, but each class starts with a check-in to see where students are emotionally that often involves music. Then, the classes often practices poses and quiet time, where students are encouraged to be present and reflect on how they want their day to go. At the end of class, students are given a positive message to leave with. During a recent yoga class at Visitation School, third grade students gleefully left their yoga class repeating “I’m so successful!”

“Some kids would never have the chance to take yoga,” said Jin. “But it’s making a world of difference that they can take these classes and behavior is improving in the classroom.”

In 2018, the Westchester Family YMCA is focusing on offering more holistic wellness options to their members, realizing that well-being and good health is more than just physical progress, but also mental and spiritual. They are hoping to grow their partnerships with the Airport Marina Counseling Service and Westside Pacific Village, which provides services to seniors. Loussararian says he is always looking for strategic partnerships with local organizations to help provide even more benefits to the Y’s members and the community.

“We are so appreciative of the community’s continued support of the YMCA. The Y is built on the backs of volunteers, members, donors, our staff and all those that have come before to help bring us to where we are today,” said Loussararian. “It has been inspiring that the Y has been supported all of these years. The Y is stronger with the community’s support and our community is stronger with our Y.”

Through January 15, the YMCA is waiving its membership fee for new members. Thanks to donors and fundraising, no one is turned away at the YMCA for inability to pay.

For more information about the YMCA, its programs or joining, please visit ymcala.org/westchester. The Westchester Family YMCA is located at 8015 S. Sepulveda Blvd. in Westchester.

Posted January 2018.