In early 2019, our YMCA was poised to begin a fresh new chapter in our charity’s history. Strong Start, Great Future — our plan for 2010–2020 — was coming to an end. We were eager to step up with a new plan and meet a range of exciting possibilities and complex challenges that had emerged in our communities.
Two weeks before launching our new strategic plan, COVID-19 shuttered most of our 450 YMCAs across the GTA. We sprang into action. From emergency child care for frontline workers to a brand-new online community for older adults — to name just two of dozens of examples — our teams pivoted in incredibly innovative ways to help our communities when they needed us most.
Though we dove into new offerings and transformed existing ones, it quickly became clear that COVID-19 was exacerbating many of the needs we had identified in our planning. These included several crises the GTA has been grappling with for years: those around growing mental health issues, affordable housing, accessible child care, our precarious labour market, and isolation among older adults.
Inequity is a common thread, connecting them all. Long before the pandemic, one of the leaders we consulted on this new strategic plan told us quite simply: “The GTA has outgrown its clothes.” Our exponential growth brought welcome diversity and opportunity, but not everyone shares fully in the benefits. Some of our community members are being left behind.
In this context, maps showing COVID-19 clustering in low-income neighbourhoods with concentrations of racialized communities were tragic — but not surprising. Anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism is deep-rooted, systemic and has plagued our communities for centuries. In the spring and summer of 2020, deaths and violence in the US and right here in the GTA were a wake-up call for many. It took the quiet of quarantine for us to hear the alarm, but it’s been sounding for generations.
In the wake of the pandemic and the reckoning with anti-Black racism that swept the world in 2020, we certainly recalibrated. And, we remain committed to Truth and Reconciliation. We know our future holds more uncertainty and change, and we are prepared to continue to adapt. Ignite the Light gives us the flexibility we need to be nimble and respond as our communities’ needs evolve.
But we also have deep roots: core capabilities and convictions that ground us. The new strategic plan you are about to read stays true to those roots, hinging on a few simple but powerful aspirations. Namely, Ignite the Light is about boosting well-being and promoting equity. In the future we see for the GTA, everyone will have opportunities to shine.
Chair, Board of Directors
YMCA of Greater Toronto
President & CEO
YMCA of Greater Toronto