When Evelyn MacLeod first visited the Eastside Family YMCA for a tour of the facility, she quickly knew it would be an ideal fit.
“I was looking for a place that was family-friendly and also would help me reach my health fitness goals, and the Y was just that perfect place. It had everything,” she says. “You step in the door, and you’re welcomed with this great, friendly smile. And the people here really get to know you.”
MacLeod and her two children — Ryan, 9, and Ave, 7 — have been members of the YMCA of Greenville’s Eastside branch since 2012. At the time they joined, the family was living in Section 8 housing, and MacLeod didn’t feel comfortable with her kids being outside in their neighborhood. But the YMCA “was a nice place for them to do those kid-friendly things they wanted to do,” she says.
Last year was a challenge for the MacLeod family. After a “series of unfortunate events,” the family became temporarily homeless and didn’t have a car. “All I had was a part-time job, and everything just hit the fan,” MacLeod says. “I had hit rock bottom.”
When MacLeod confided in a YMCA staff member about her situation, “I was worried they were going to judge me,” she recalls. But she was quickly reassured that wouldn’t be the case. One YMCA member let MacLeod borrow a car until she had one again, and a staff member from another branch invited the family to stay at their house.
MacLeod later found a full-time job and was in need of reliable child care for the summer. Through the YMCA of Greenville’s sliding-scale scholarship program, she was able to send her children to the Eastside day camp at no cost.
Ensuring that an inability to pay does not impede anyone from accessing the YMCA of Greenville’s services is crucial to the organization’s mission — to “follow the example of Christ and build healthy spirit, mind, and body for all.” Greenville County residents who have a demonstrated need can be granted a sliding-scale scholarship to afford YMCA membership and other programs.
The eligibility process requires an application, interview, and documentation of one’s current financial situation. The YMCA will then work on a case-by-case basis to determine the scholarship amount provided. Every three or four months, staff will check in with recipients to evaluate if the scholarship is still meeting their needs.
“We don’t want their inability to pay for whatever reason to be their barrier,” says Jamie Inman, chair of mission advancement. “We have people who come in who are in situations where it’s likely they’re going to need long-term assistance by way of the sliding-scale scholarship program. And then we have other people who come in who may have just lost a job and they’re in the middle of their job search and they’re just looking for a place to release stress, to build their health and wellness. The YMCA wants to be available for them during situations like that.”
That level of support is financially feasible mainly through the contributions raised during the YMCA of Greenville’s annual capital campaign, which will end May 4. The campaign “really is focusing on the last two words of [our] mission statement: ‘for all,’” says Dan Eller, volunteer campaign chairman. The money raised will enable the organization to provide 8,000 sliding-scale scholarships.
MacLeod, who is now back on her feet, emphasizes that without the scholarship the YMCA provided, the summer day camp would not have been a viable option. And she raves about the experience her kids had. “One of the day camp counselors was a great mentor for my son. For him to have that outlet — that mentor and positive role model — that’s what I feel has been our Y community,” she says.
In addition to ensuring the availability of sliding-scale scholarships, the annual campaign also helps underwrite YMCA programs that are offered at no cost outside of the facility. This includes the Teen Achievers mentoring program for students at Southside and J.L. Mann high schools and Star Academy. Volunteer adult mentors help students map out a plan to graduate high school and then determine their next steps, whether it’s a two-year or four-year college or a vocational program. Currently, Teen Achievers reaches 450 students.
The program focuses on ensuring a successful transition from eighth to ninth grade and then later from ninth to 10th grade. “If a young person is successful in ninth grade and they move to 10th grade on time — and they’re feeling like, okay, they’ve got this — the chances of that young person dropping out have dropped to almost nothing. But it’s the most difficult transition,” explains Mary Bledsoe, branch executive of teen services. The Teen Achievers program helps teach freshmen vital skills that will help ensure long-term academic achievement, such as effective study habits and time management.
All freshman students at Southside High School participate in the Teen Achievers program. In addition to the adult mentors who visit the school two or three times each month to hold a special class, senior student mentors are also selected. Senior mentors assist adult mentors during the classes, and they provide support to their peers in a day-to-day role “of being that upperclassman that [freshmen] look up to and know,” Bledsoe says.
Kamera Gamble, a student at Southside, says she enjoyed Teen Achievers so much as a freshman that she applied to become a mentor as a senior. “Being in the program as a ninth-grader, I learned about study skills, being able to build my confidence. As a ninth-grader, I was able to find myself,” she says. “And then as a 12th-grader helping them, it helps me be able to talk in front of people and has built my confidence even more.”
Gamble hopes to attend Spelman College in Atlanta and become a physical therapist. She became interested in the profession when she participated in a Teen Achievers workshop as a freshman to learn about prospective careers. “That’s kind of what really made me want to do physical therapy, so I did more research into it,” she says.
Whether it’s through fitness classes, camp, youth sports, or outreach like Teen Achievers, the core of the YMCA’s mission is to build stronger communities, Inman says. “We want to provide a variety of entry points for people to come in and begin their YMCA journey. Then our hope is it becomes a lifetime journey for them and that we can be a support to them and they can be part of the cause, part of the movement,” she adds.
Learn more about Evelyn’s story and others’ here.