Tommie Spackeen and Bailey Caraccioll

Tommie Spackeen and Bailey Caraccioll, both 6, study at the Ahwatukee YMCA.

The past year has been challenging for the Ahwatukee Foothills Family YMCA.

The nonprofit has struggled to meet its fundraising goals while at the same time meet new demands as closed classrooms had parents sending their kids to the Y.

But the Y, at 1030 E. Liberty Lane, nonetheless confronted those challenges head-on and managed to prevail to a large extent.

“We’ve been shut down two times altogether but the whole time that we were shut down, both times we were still running emergency childcare as well as our senior services through our Y OPAS program,” said Ahwatukee Y Executive Director Sandra Franks.

Y OPAS – the acronym for YMCA Outreach Program for Ahwatukee Seniors – provides free transportation to seniors to medical appointments, grocery stores and even some much-needed social time with the volunteers who drive them.

But COVID-19 has impacted that service in several ways, especially the ranks of volunteer drivers.

“We’re still struggling for drivers,” Franks said. “We are only at 30 percent of our volunteers that we had before and we’re desperately looking for volunteers.”

While the Y has been able to meet the essential needs for seniors – such as medical appointments – the social time that some volunteers provided, taking seniors out for coffee or lunch, are virtually nonexistent. This impacts seniors especially hard, given that many seniors already have been left isolated by the pandemic.

The pandemic also has impacted schools, and closures in the spring and fall have made the Y’s services especially important for working parents who turned to the club to keep their kids engaged while they went to work.

Franks said that the Y Academy was averaging 30 to 40 kids, ranging from kindergarten to eighth grade, offering them a chance to do their online learning.

“As a thought leader and best-in-class provider of education and youth development, the YMCA has become a reliable and trustworthy partner to families across the state during COVID-19,” the nonprofit says on its website. 

“Through our experience of providing emergency child care to essential workers, we have already helped families return to work by providing remote learning in a child care program developed under the most stringent health and safety guidelines. We are prepared to ensure that your child receives the nutritious meals, genuine attention, access to technology, and appropriate schedule management that he or she needs to succeed academically.”

The Y staff, all vetted through a rigorous background check, also is certified in basic emergency procedures such as CPR and has been training in COVID-19 protocols.

When the learning hours are completed, the Y also provides, 6:30 a.m.-6:30 p.m., traditional enrichment programming kicks into high gear: crafts, STEM and games.

Although there is a cost to parents, the Y also offers scholarships based on a family’s ability to pay.

Like virtually all nonprofits, the Ahwatukee YMCA also has taken a hit on fundraising, although Franks said, “People still give very generously because like I said, we’re still running these programs in the community.

“But we have a big goal for 2021,” she added, eyeing a goal of $160,000 so that “we can continue to use that for scholarships for families and individuals that need it for things like the Y Academy.”

Fundraising has been hampered, Franks said, “because you couldn’t really have much face-to-face kind of interaction with potential donors and not only that but we’re also the lead recipient for a lot of different programs out in the community that didn’t happen.”

Among them are the Festival of Lights Kick-Off Party and Wine, Beer and Culinary Festival that the Festival of Lights Committee holds annually. Both were canceled, hindering not only fundraising for the FOL Committee but also eliminating the grants it gave to groups like the YMCA for providing volunteers to help run the events.

The YMCA’s fundraising drive is already in progress. People who want to help or learn about its many services and activities can go to valleyymca.org/ahwatukee.

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