Lacey Peters is constantly on the move.
Whether it is shouting out instructions over the top of pop music as she instructs a Zumba class, running from meeting to meeting to help out with civic groups and volunteer projects, or transporting her children to afterschool activities, the member experience director for the YMCA of Southwest Michigan is full of energy — and she needs it.
Much like Lacey, the newly formed YMCA of Southwest Michigan (which consists of the Niles-Buchanan YMCA and St. Joseph-Benton Harbor YMCA) is constantly moving, and the organization as a whole wears lots of hats.
“We are more than just a swim and gym,” Lacey says. “We are so much more.”
Most commonly known for its fitness center and community pools, YMCA has evolved nationally to bolster youth development and social responsibility in the communities in which they serve, in addition to promoting healthy living.
“A good example of this is our lobby area that has that community feel,” Lacey says.
The Niles-Buchanan YMCA offers all sorts of fitness classes, preschool and daycare, and a variety of afterschool programs. As people hustle and bustle to these various opportunities, they find a calmer, more relaxing atmosphere at the large open space in the entryway of the building.
“We serve the socialization piece through that front lobby area,” Lacey says. “It’s a place for people to come together, talk and halve coffee, play board games and have fellowship.”
In the summer, the YMCA sponsors a Summer My Way program in which Niles Community Schools youth can participate in day-camp style hands-on learning free of charge. Activities throughout the day encourage brain growth and physical activity, which keeps participants up and moving during the summer months. Throughout the school year, the YMCA hosts a number of afterschool programs with similar focus. A long list of other programs help people of various ages and backgrounds overcome a variety of challenges.
“We have hundreds of impact stories that are very personal and individualized. We have helped people grieve losses of loved ones, lose substantial weight and keep it off. We have helped people overcome eating disorders, we have given resources for those going hungry, we have partnered with other businesses and organizations to raise money for families or organizations in need,” Lacey says. “I feel we are a hub for resources and for friendship and support and being we are a non-profit organization our membership fees and program fees help others who are financially strained and unable to afford a membership for themselves or their family.”
Each year, before people stuff their faces with turkey, mashed potatoes and green bean casserole, an army of people fills the chilly streets of downtown Niles to participate in the popular Thanksgiving Day Run/Walk.
“We see roughly 2,500 runners, walkers and volunteers every Thanksgiving morning to make this event possible and all proceeds go to our annual campaign, which is used for scholarships and programs,” Lacey says, explaining how the event epitomizes the organization’s mission.
The Y hosts a number of other events throughout the year, including the annual fall festival, summer fitness events, senior dances and more. During the holidays, the YMCA adopts at least a dozen families each year and, together with its members, provides those families in need with presents and food to warm their holiday season.
Lacey says, like herself, YMCA staff members are very involved in the community and serve on a variety of boards, councils and civic organizations.
“We are committed to growing this community and keeping it healthy,” Lacey says.
How to give:
To donate to the YMCA of Southwest Michigan, visit ymcaswm.com/support-y/donate. Donors may choose how their dollars are allocated, or make a general donation.
Photography by Wes Jerdon/Westley Leon Studios