The Wheels on the Bus
Young Men's Christian Association of Northwest Florida, Inc. dba YMCA of Northwest Florida
The mission of the Young Men’s Christian Association is to put Christian principles into practice through programs that build healthy spirit, mind and body for all. The YMCA (the Y) of Northwest Florida’s local history can be traced back to the early 1880s. The Y developed the first day camp program, first water safety program, first night school, and first gymnasium in the community. Over the past 130 years, the Y has served families through programs such as childcare, aquatics, youth sports, wellness, special events, and community outreach. Through programs at two branches in Escambia County and one in Santa Rosa County, and additional programs at school sites, the Y reaches more than 15,000 men, women and children each year. All the Y programs have a strong focus on values, character development, family, and inclusion. They believe that the opportunity to build a healthy spirit, mind, and body is an opportunity that must be accessible to everyone; therefore, the Y is committed to accepting everyone by offering an income-based assistance program which provides membership and program opportunities to all. The construction of the Bear Levin Studer Family YMCA elevated the Y’s local profile, but none of the campaign dollars flowed to the Northeast Branch, which has its own significant needs.
IMPACT 100 funds would be used to replace three 20-year-old vehicles with three 11-passenger vans that will transport children from schools to YMCA afterschool programs during the school year and to dynamic field trips and special events year-round. The Northeast Branch, where the vans will reside, serves as the base of the afterschool and camp programs in Escambia County for the Y. Increased vehicle breakdowns have affected the ability of the Y to deliver a quality experience. Parts for these vehicles are no longer manufactured and must be custom made. The old busses will have to be retired as they have become a danger to the children and too costly to maintain even if parts can be found. They have been experiencing frequent breakdowns, and children and the bus drivers have been stranded along sides of roads. Receiving the new vehicles will also expand opportunities for collaborative programs and provide a way to transport volunteers. With smaller vans, instead of large buses, the Y will gain flexibility and eliminate the need for the specialized commercial driver’s license (CDL) required for staff to drive the bus currently in use as their primary vehicle.
In 2018, 1,719 youths experienced enriching after-school and camp programs at the YMCA. Out-of-school programs annually reach more than 1,000 school-age children from Escambia and Santa Rosa Counties – children representing all backgrounds, abilities, religions, races, and family structures. “The Wheels on the Bus” project will directly impact 345 children for whom transportation is provided from four elementary schools to the Northeast Branch, and also the youth that will be transported from Ferry Pass Elementary to the Y program at the Ensley Church of the Nazarene. These vans will enhance the annual Halloween at the Y. For nearly 20 years, this event has brought together about 300 children with special needs for trick-or-treating, face painting, dancing, and fun. The vans will be used to transport volunteer groups that are vital to a safe and enjoyable experience for all involved. Having reliable and consistent transportation will allow the Y staff to focus on higher level program activities and goals rather than being faced with occasions when their entire program is derailed by a vehicle performance issue as well as ensure no parent will worry about their children arriving safely at their destination.