Cayman YMCA celebrates fifth anniversary

Five years since its creation, the Cayman Islands YMCA finds itself ingrained in the local community. More than 30 percent of school-age children are involved in at least one of the YMCA’s programs, and the next five years could see a rapid expansion of the activities available to the public.

The community will get a chance to celebrate the YMCA’s success on Saturday, when the service organization holds a free Five-Year Family Fun Celebration at the Field of Dreams. The party, which will run from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., will include kickball, music, tasty treats and carnival activities.

More than 100 part-time and full-time staff work to deliver the YMCA’s various programs, and Greg Smith, the YMCA’s chief executive officer, is thrilled by the progress made over the last five years.

“It means a lot,” said Mr. Smith. “It’s a good milestone for a lot of the community volunteers who helped to rally and establish the Y. Five years ago is when it actually became a legal organization in the Cayman Islands. There’s a lot of ground work behind the scenes that went into doing that.”

The concept for the local YMCA originally came from founding board chairman Pastor Randy Von Kanel, who was inspired by a branch of the service organization in Ocean Springs, Mississippi.

Mr. Von Kanel visited that Mississippi branch in 1996, and he immediately began to wonder how the Cayman community could be impacted by the same type of organization.

That idea would lay dormant until 2011, when a group of community-minded individuals met over their concerns regarding Cayman’s youth and violent crime. The YMCA was established in 2012 with a Family Fun Day, and it took over sponsorship of the government’s sports camp programs in 2013.

Greg Smith

“I didn’t arrive until the end of 2013 and realized that the volunteers are the ones that actually made it happen,” said Mr. Smith. “I had been in the YMCA for 18 years before I came here. My job was really to get the program started. I’ve been extremely excited to see how far we’ve come since then.”

Mr. Smith, who began working for the YMCA as a camp counselor in 1995, believes that the organization flourishes as a place where young people can begin a voyage of self-discovery.

The first YMCA programs – such as day camps, family fitness, teen leaders and teambuilding – were introduced in 2014. The YMCA began operating the government’s Extended After School Program in 2015, and now it represents 15 government primary and high schools and impacts up to 1,600 kids.

“We are making lives better,” said Mr. Smith. “We are inspiring young people – plus a few adults too – to become the best version of themselves.

“We are helping the island become healthier and stronger. Putting character values into practice have always been, and will always be, the key to us sharing rich and meaningful lives. We’re blessed to be in a very special place, and wise to do all we can to preserve and improve it.”

The YMCA launched a traditional Day Camp in Cayman Brac and a Summer Camp Exchange Program for Cayman Brac campers/Counselors In Training this year. The hope for the future, the organization says, is to build at least one YMCA facility that can offer a wide range of programs for youth, adults, families and seniors.

“It continues to amaze me how the people of this community get behind so many different initiatives,” said Mr. Smith. “It’s so nice to see how many people have made the Y one of their causes.”

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