YMCA of the North Homes In on Holistic Health

Adapting to new community health needs requires agility and ingenuity. An $8 million donation from the George Family Foundation allows the YMCA of the North to do just that: innovate. 

Well, that and incorporate new digitally focused, whole-person health and wellbeing programs that aim to bridge the gap between conventional health care and holistic health practices. 

“Because of the pandemic, people are convening differently,” says Sally St. John, vice president of whole-person wellbeing at YMCA of the North. “So that was a call to action for us to be more agile.” 

Since 2018, the YMCA of the North—the second-largest YMCA system in the country—has tested the concept of expanding their gym-and-swim membership to incorporate a more holistic health approach, encapsulating all parts of human health: spirit, mind, body, environment, and community. The $8 million donation fuels an initiative called George Wellbeing and is the lead contribution to the YMCA of the North’s $29 million fundraising campaign to achieve those goals. 

George Wellbeing incorporates five dimensions of health—connect, nourish, move, reflect, and restore—into a robust mix of in-person, digital, and hybrid experiences, including acupuncture, chiropractic, nutrition, gardening, health coaching, massage therapy, mental health therapy, mindfulness, and physical therapy. They launched virtual health coaching at the peak of the pandemic, which has now transformed into a hybrid wellbeing platform that offers health coaching on topics including immune resilience, mental and emotional wellbeing, mobility, and gut health. 

“We’re really saying: we want to be a partner with healthcare, to be able to view health care as an integrated model where we can really value the whole person. By valuing the person, you begin to create more diversity in healing.” –Sally St. John

Minnesotans with a chronic health condition spend eight times more on health care costs, according to the state. “We’re really saying: we want to be a partner with healthcare,” St. John says, “to be able to view health care as an integrated model where we can really value the whole person. By valuing the person, you begin to create more diversity in healing.” 

The program recently partnered with Fridley Public Schools, offering group yoga and acupuncture to teachers and staff. That’s not the only type of community work that the initiative aims to do. Equity-based community wellbeing is integral to the mission of the George Wellbeing program, A scholarship program, still in development, will soon encourage BIPOC individuals to become a credentialed health coach, addressing the lack of diversity in health practices across the country. 

“I’m most excited that we are aiming to create a space for people to find meeting in the human experience again. What I mean by that is that there’s so much work to do, but we really need the energy and we need the wellbeing to get it done.” 

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