Where Health and Hope Collide: How the YMCA Can Change Your Life

In the months following New Year’s, it’s easy to find yourself slacking on your resolutions. Fortunately, there is a way to stay on your goals and get a little help with your journey.

Like many fitness centers, the YMCA sees an uptick in membership in early January, says Michelle Polivka, chief marketing officer of the YMCA of Rock River Valley. But the array of amenities and variety of fitness programs provide plenty of incentive for members to stick around.

It’s easy to make New Year’s resolutions and start out strong. But sticking to your resolutions past the month of January can sometimes be a whole other matter.

Oftentimes, we begin the year with goals centered around health, fitness and nutrition. It’s even reflected in the membership uptick at our local branches of the YMCA.

“We do see an influx of members in December and especially in January,” says Michelle Polivka, chief marketing officer of the YMCA of Rock River Valley. “But we’ll take any motivation people may have. And we do have conversations around making sure the experiences people have once they become a member are something they want to stay a part of.”

The three YMCA of Rock River Valley branches offer members and visitors a variety of amenities, which Polivka refers to as “tools” for positive outcomes. Such “tools” include multiple pools, basketball courts, racquetball and volleyball courts, pickleball courts, climbing areas, group exercise classes, weight and cardio training centers, a youth ninja gym, an indoor walking track and more.

Fitness centers are located at the SwedishAmerican Riverfront YMCA at 200 Y Boulevard, in Rockford, the Northeast Family YMCA at 8451 Orth Road, in Loves Park, Ill., and the Puri Family YMCA at 1475 S. Perryville Road, in Rockford. Members can access all three locations.

“I feel that people can find whatever it is that’s going to motivate them at one of our three branches,” Polivka says. “Our three locations vary in size. Some people like bigger spaces – that would be our downtown facility along the river with beautiful views. Our northeast location is what we’d consider a midsize Y – it has more of a suburban feel – and our Puri Family YMCA is what we’d call an express Y. It’s about 15,000 square feet and it’s great if people just want to get in and out. This is also our 24-hour location, so our members have key card access to that facility overnight.”

There’s also an option called nationwide membership, which grants access to all Y’s across the country. This option may help those who travel frequently to stick to their resolutions.

“We’re also very close to the YMCAs in Belvidere, Freeport and Beloit, and it can be fun to pop in and see what other YMCAs are like,” Polivka says. “The only caveat is that you have to use your home Y more than 50% of the time. While we all share an overall mission to strengthen community, we each meet the needs of our community a little bit differently.”

While the new year is a fine time to join a gym, Polivka finds it important to help members meet their needs year-round. Some people just want to work out and be left alone. These members still have access to an app to track their workouts and complete challenges, but there’s no pressure to socialize or interact with anyone.

Other members looking for accountability and interaction with others can take advantage of personal training and various programs that the Y offers, such as the Move2Lose program or The Daniel Plan.

“These are paid programs that are about 8 to 10 weeks long,” Polivka explains. “They’re led by certified trainers who go through nutrition, fitness and mental health. The Daniel Plan weaves in a faith component for those who want their spirituality to be a part of their lifestyle and fitness. We’ve seen great success from people who launch into these programs.”

Now that occupancy is back to pre-pandemic levels, the YMCA is in growth mode, Polivka adds. The facilities have new healthy living programs, expanded group and aqua-fitness classes, and new amenities/tools for kids ages 7 to 12 so that the whole family can have their needs met at the same time.

“I really think as we move through the pandemic, people are looking for motivation, friends, socialization, accountability – whatever it is that has been lacking over the past few years. The Y is positioned nicely to help meet those needs,” Polivka says. “I think people want to get things back under control again. And we’re here for that, whatever it looks like.”

The YMCA is built upon a foundation dedicated to strengthening communities and improving the health and well-being of people of all ages. For nearly two centuries, the organization as a whole has looked to meet the needs of its members.

YMCA facilities support members with a variety of equipment, from full weight rooms and swimming pools to a kids’ ninja gym and basketball courts.

For the Rockford branches, many members may not even realize all the people they’re helping.

“We don’t turn anyone away for an inability to pay,” Polivka explains. “We have choose-your-rate financial assistance that is supported by donors and full-pay memberships. The revenue we bring in from these avenues helps subsidize members who might not be able to afford the full-pay membership. It doesn’t matter what your background is. We are helping everyone here. I really love that about the YMCA. If we can infuse positivity one person at a time, that positivity bleeds into our community.”

It’s about more than just a workout, Polivka adds. It’s about changing people’s lives.

“Whether it’s looking for socialization and connection, looking to make a lifestyle change such as losing weight or eating healthier, or just looking to be around other like-minded individuals to keep you on track, we see so many community groups being built here,” she says.

It’s common for friendships to form at the Y, particularly in group fitness classes. If you find a class you like and start going on a regular basis, you’ll start to see the same people regularly.

“Friendships just naturally form because you might be commiserating over that workout together, or you start to ask each other about weekend plans and check in on each other each week,” Polivka says. “We see that people notice when someone’s not in class. People reach out to make sure they’re OK – text strings start. The accountability, friendship and motivation that come when you find your community are life-changing.”

While the cardio equipment is nice, the pools are a luxury, and all the other equipment and tools are helpful, the most encouraging part of joining the YMCA is the outcomes, Polivka adds.

“The amenities we have here are just the tools for people to use while they’re building community,” she explains. “The outcomes are the increased smiles on faces, the new friends, the increased sense of hope. It’s those things that are life-changing.”

For more information or to become a member, visit rockriverymca.org.