All posts by Chad Baird

YMCA Partnership in Bogota, Colombia


YMCA Calgary CEO Helene Weir and CFO Jhamily Estrada spent a week alongside our colleagues from Edmonton visiting our YMCA partnership in Bogota, Colombia.  It was the 39th year of our partnership which is an amazing accomplishment.

The YMCA in Bogota has a very significant impact on the lives of the children, youth and adults in their programs. One of the unique things about the YMCA is our connection to YMCA’s in other countries around the world and we can always learn from those we partner with. The Bogota YMCA builds their prevention programs on a foundation of developing skills to cope with the difficult life situations their children and youth may be living in.

Through the children they also work with the parents. The prevention programs are the programs that our partnership supports. The YMCA runs programs in very difficult neighbourhoods in Bogota which is a city of 10 million people. They run half day before and afterschool programs that focus on the prevention of the sexual exploitation of children and the prevention of children and youth getting involved in gangs.

The YMCA builds resiliency to help the children and youth to face the future with hope. The programs are run in safe YMCA spaces that provide a reprieve from the challenging life on the streets. The leadership skills and self worth the children and youth develop are critical to having a better future.

Our partnership with YMCA Bogota will celebrate 40 years next year so more details to follow on that later in the year.The partnerships we have with YMCA Bogota, and YMCA Ukraine, are a special part of being the YMCA.


YMCA Calgary President and CEO Helene Weir Stepping Down, National Search Commences

After nearly nine years leading the organization through robust change and growth, and a 34-year career with theYMCA, YMCA Calgary President and CEO Helene Weir will be leaving the role effective May 6, 2017.

Ms. Weir became YMCA Calgary’s President and CEO in August 2008. Since that time, she has lead the Association in thesuccessful opening of the Saddletowne and South Health Campus YMCAs. The Saddletowne YMCA is part of the City of Calgary-built Genesis Centre, a partnership with the community, the United Way of Calgary and Area and the Calgary Public Library. The South Health Campus YMCA is a partnership with Alberta Health Services in a purpose-built YMCA in the South Health Campus hospital. This is the first of its kind in Canada.

More recently, Ms. Weir led the Association in being selected by the City of Calgary to operate three new large health, wellness and recreation facilities as YMCAs. The first of the three facilities, the Remington YMCA, opened successfully in July 2016 and the Rocky Ridge YMCA and Brookfield Residential YMCA at Seton facilities are currently under construction. When open in 2018 and 2019, respectively, these 300,000 sq. ft. plus facilities will be the largest health and wellness centre YMCAs in the world. With the development of these new facilities, YMCA Calgary is poised to double in size and considerably expand its impact in the community. In 2016, under Helene’s leadership, YMCA Calgary was also selected to operate the 36,000 sq. ft. Quarry Park Child Development Centre which is licensed for 348 children.

Helene Weir established the Community YMCA branch in Calgary, which provides a variety of community outreach services including after-school programs, language and integration opportunities for newcomers to Canada, supports for aboriginal children and youth and a variety of other programs fostering growth and leadership, particularly in vulnerable populations.

To fund significant growth and impact, Ms. Weir provided leadership to a volunteer cabinet in a successful capital campaign, the Power of Potential, which has raised over $27.5 million to date for new facilities, to improve infrastructure at YMCA Calgary’s resident camp, Camp Chief Hector and to expand YMCA’s community outreach programs.

After beginning her YMCA career with the YMCA of Edmonton in 1983, Ms. Weir spent 13 years working with YMCA Calgary as a Branch Manager, General Manager and Vice President of Operations. She then left Calgary in 2000 to become Vice President of Membership and subsequently Senior Vice President of Operations at the Valley of the Sun YMCA in Phoenix, Arizona. Helene then spent two and a half years as CEO of the Westport Weston Family Y in Westport Connecticut.

Helene Weir has provided leadership to several YMCA Canada and North American YMCA committees. She is the current Chair of the YMCA Canada CEO Technology Committee, the YMCA Canada Global Initiatives Committee and is also the Chair of YNAN, the CEO group of the 70 largest YMCAs in North America. Helene has also provided leadership to International Y partnerships with YMCA Ukraine and YMCA Bogota, Colombia and has represented YMCA Canada at YMCA Europe General Assemblies and at YMCA World Council. Helene is also on the Executive of the World Urban Network.

Helene is passionate about the ability of the YMCA to have a significant impact on communities around the world through opportunities for people of all ages to belong, grow, thrive and lead. In 2011, Helene was recognized as a Global Woman of Vision and in 2015 by WXN Women’s Executive Network as one of Canada’s 100 Most Powerful Women.

Narmin Ismail-Teja, Chair, Board of Directors, YMCA Calgary said, “I have had the incredible pleasure of working very closely with Helene these past years and feel honored and privileged for this opportunity.”

“On behalf of the Calgary YMCA community, we thank Helene for all her work with the YMCA and the Calgary community and wish her the absolute best of luck for future endeavors.”

Helene Weir will next take up a position with YMCA USA as Vice-President, Large YMCA Resource Group working with CEOs, COOs and other senior level staff of the largest 90 YMCAs in the US.

Shortly, the Nomination and Board Governance committee of the YMCA Calgary Board of Directors will commence a national CEO search to fill this important position in the Calgary charitable landscape.

2017 Strong Kids Campaign Kick-Off



March is the official kick off to our annual Strong Kids Campaign. Our 2017 goal is to raise $1.4 million  to provide more than 23,000 subsidized experiences for children and youth in Calgary! Your donation will help kids engage in healthy activities. Throughout the month visit your local YMCA branch to learn more about Strong Kids and join in fun activities to support kids in your community.

A snapshot of activities happening at YMCA’s throughout the city is below. Check with your branch for more details.

South Health Campus YMCA

  • Week of March 13th – Push up challenge

Melcor YMCA at Crowfoot

  • March 21st – Cycle for Strong Kids

Saddletowne YMCA

  • March 24 – Swimming Strong Kids Event (3-6pm)

Remington YMCA

  • April 2nd – Wibit in the pool and family movie event

Shawnessy YMCA

  • March 20 – 26th Loonie Toonie dive for last week of swim lessons
  • March 22nd 8-8:45am Aquafit class – $5 donation class
  • March 24th 7:30-9:00pm Grade 6 Wibit – $2 donation per person
  • March 31st 5:30-6:30pm Yoga – $5 donation class


Did you know 100% of all Strong Kids donations directly support children and youth’s participation in YMCA experiences!


Donate Today!

Developmental Hearing Milestones in Young Children

41393038 - mother reading with young daughter

Part 1 of 4

Being a new parent is one of the most exciting times of life, but it can also be really overwhelming. Understanding what is normal, and what is cause for concern, is something that has to be learned. There is no one-size-fits-all guide to development in infants and children, because no two children are the same.

The same goes for hearing development, but there are certain checks you can do to ensure your child is responding in a manner that is expected for their age. Hearing is key to almost every part of a child’s development in regards to social, emotional, and cognitive function, so even mild hearing loss left unaddressed can hinder their ability to learn speech and language.

How and when hearing develops

Your baby is born with fully developed hearing, and should respond to your voice or loud noises from birth. How they respond will depend on the individual baby’s temperament, with some jumping at every sound and others taking it in stride. For the first three months, don’t worry if your child doesn’t look towards noises, but focus more on whether they respond to your voice and are trying out some cooing noises of their own. This is the most important time for development, and catching hearing loss in this stage means it can be more easily addressed, so be sure to have your baby’s hearing checked regularly.

Around four to six months, he/she will start to follow sounds with their eyes, respond to your tone of voice, and pay attention to music and toys that make noise. If your child passed the newborn hearing test, it does not necessarily mean they are not at risk in the later months and years, so it is important to pay close attention to their development in regards to their hearing. However, babies naturally have the ability to sleep through loud noises, like a phone ringing or a doorbell, which is completely normal. They simply need their sleep.

At seven months to a year, your child will begin to communicate through hand gestures and “baby talk,” and will start to respond to and try imitate certain words. Over the following one to three years, he/she will begin to get a handle on language, and will be able to understand and answer simple questions. Again, no two children are the same, so these time frames are flexible, and if you are keeping up with regular checkups then there shouldn’t be any cause for concern.

What you can do

From a young age, introduce you baby to a variety of sounds to get them used to the noisy world we live in. Reading to your child, singing nursery rhymes, and introducing them to your favourite music (at an appropriate level) are all great ways to start introducing your child to the cadence of language. Far before they understand what you may be seeing, your child will watch your mouth and begin to imitate language, which is a very important part of their development.

If you have questions or concerns about your child’s hearing development, don’t hesitate to visit an audiologist or specialist to ensure there are no underlying issues.


For any questions, feel free to contact Cherie Yanke, Doctor of Audiology at

Strong Kids Month Kickoff!


March is quickly approaching- which means the kick-off of YMCA Calgary’s Strong Kids Month!
One signature event will be the Cycle for Strong Kids event on Monday March 6th at the Gray Family Eau Claire YMCA.

This event is open to all. Past participants have included YMCA members, staff and volunteers, local business’s, local cycling groups, etc. The purpose for the event is simple… rally a team together, compete against other teams for calories expended and raise money for YMCA Calgary’s annual Strong Kids Campaign.

Participation is based on two categories, “Pro” and “Not So Pro.” The Not So Pro teams can select an hour time slot that works for your team. The “Pro” teams will ride head to head in the evening starting around 6:30 pm.

The goal of the cycle is to raise funds for YMCA Calgary’s annual Strong Kids Campaign. Team registered will receive instructions on how to set up an online donation page to share with friends and family to raise awareness and donations for the Strong Kids Campaign.

The winning team is determined by the amount of calories expended (tracked by the bike) and the amount of money raised. The winning team will be celebrated at an event following the cycle. YMCA Calgary will recognize any team that raises $1,000 or more with a banner to be hung in the Gray Family Eau Claire YMCA to thank the team for their efforts.

Please contact Gord Beach (Strong Kids Committee Special event volunteer director and cycle organizer) for more information. Once you have your team confirmed Gord will forward race details and timeslot options. 

Gord Beach
(403) 554-2894
Interested in cycling without a team? Individual participants are welcome!  Contact Gord for more information.

If cycling isn’t your thing mark your calendars for April 29 and join us for the YMCA Calgary Family Fun Run at the Eau Claire Plaza. Registration is open       

Father and Son: The Santos Family

Football Star.

What does it take to be great? All-Star high school football player Tyler Santos believes he and his father have found the answer to these questions working out together at YMCA Calgary.  They have seen first-hand what makes an athlete great is the drive to get up every morning and better themselves physically and mentally. Tyler was introduced to this concept at a very young age and it is what has enabled him to be so prosperous on the football field.

Tyler started playing football at eight years old and was a skilled athlete right from the beginning. He was always the starter and that is why it was such a jarring switch when, at age 12, Tyler moved divisions and positions, becoming the rookie. He was no longer his coach’s first choice and his natural talent alone was not enough to be the star of his new team. After a full season of little field time and ample bench time, Tyler felt defeated.

Joe Santos realized that this was the tipping point in which his son could quit or push on to excellence. Joe made the suggestion that would change both of their lives for the better: “Tyler, let’s go workout. Let’s go to the Y. I challenge you to challenge yourself.”

Tyler agreed to let his dad become his trainer and started slowly with light weights. Under the careful guidance of his father, Tyler began to build himself into a better athlete. Every day, Tyler got a little bit stronger and a little bit faster. Tyler learned that excellence is not a quickly-reached destination, but slow progression to the goal through consistent activity.

Across the next several years, Tyler and Joe went together to the Shawnessy YMCA most days of the week and put in the work needed to become great. Together, they mapped out the path to achieve Tyler’s fitness goals and that path included consistently working out at the Y.

“I love the weight room and the whole place really influences me to do better,” says Tyler. “The YMCA is a place to get healthier and improve yourself.” Also, working out with his dad strengthened an already strong bond between the two. “It is great to have my dad train me and it was just great to work out together” says Tyler.

Joe believes that it wasn’t the weight floor alone that benefited his son’s life, but the entire family atmosphere of the YMCA.  The family environment allowed Tyler to interact with kids his age to encourage healthy competition and realistic goal setting.

It has now been five years and Tyler and Joe still frequently work out together. Tyler went from the bench to an all-star football player because of his dedication to healthy living and physical fitness. Joe got to hang out with his son more and stay in excellent shape. YMCA Calgary was their win-win. Now, Tyler is looking ahead and his future goals include playing competitive college football in the United States. Tyler and Joe plans to keep training together at YMCA Calgary and become a better athlete, one workout at a time.

Recovering from Adversity: The Gwynne Family


When Marcy Gwynne was five months pregnant, her husband Paul was diagnosed with cancer. During the next six years they fought through chemotherapy, radiation, and surgeries. On October 16, 2014, Paul passed away. The first person Marcy called after relatives was Jenni Thompson from YMCA Calgary. Marcy wanted her boys to stay involved with the Y.

Marcy, Paul, and their six-year-old twin boys Max and Alex started coming to the YMCA when the boys were two. Paul told Marcy, “I want to be here. This is a place for families.”

During Paul’s illness, YMCA staff volunteered to take care of the boys before and after their programs so their mom and dad could get to the hospital on time for treatments. After Paul passed away, YMCA staff volunteered to watch the boys again, this time to give Marcy a break and some alone time to grieve.  

Originally from Ontario, many of Marcy’s friends and family expected her to move “home” after Paul’s death. But through it all, she says, she’s never felt alone.

“We call this the YMCA family,” Marcy says. “I have so much support and community at the Y. There are people here who are helping me and my boys.”

Paul would wait in the YMCA lobby while his boys were in swimming lessons and sport classes. Marcy remembers how staff would check on him and how other members, parents and kids, became their friends. When there was concern that Paul’s treatments wouldn’t be covered by health insurance, other YMCA families offered to fundraise for them.

“We were chosen as a family in the Adopt-a-Family program twice,” Marcy says. And even though they are low-income because of Paul’s inability to work, they’ve never felt discriminated against.

“The people here have been so good to us.
If someday I can pay it forward to the Y, I will.
Right now, my way of paying it forward is to keep coming because the programs and opportunities are so wonderful for the boys.”

Max and Alex celebrated their sixth birthday at the YMCA in April 2015. The loss of their dad has been difficult beyond words. But their mom sees how being at the Y has helped them during their dad’s battle and through their time to grieve. They have been making friends and building skills, not just in basketball and swimming, but also through increased social skills, dedication, and confidence.

For Marcy, having her sons continue to participate in YMCA programs is an important part of her husband’s legacy. After attending family camp at Camp Chief Hector YMCA in 2014, Paul confided in his wife his dream that his sons would one day be camp counsellors there. She remembers him saying “We can afford to give them everything because of the YMCA.”

Thank you YMCA Calgary Strong Kids donors!


Thank you YMCA Calgary Strong Kids donors!

Together in 2016, we raised $1,442,700 to support the positive growth and development of children and youth through YMCA programs and membership. We are pleased to share that Strong Kids helped provide over 23,000 YMCA experiences.

As our city continued to be hit hard by the economic downturn, it was more important than ever to be able to support children, youth and families. The need for financial assistance to register for YMCA programs and membership increased by 19% from 2015. Because of our donors we were able to meet this increased need. Your support provided children and youth with opportunities to develop physical literacy, engage in positive relationships, build community and support their individual overall wellness in this crucial time.

Philanthropic support is vital to support children, youth and families who come to the YMCA for opportunities to lead healthier, happier lives. 100% of every donation goes towards giving kids the chance to reach their potential. Thank you for continuing to make such an important impact in the community. We greatly appreciate your partnership as we all work toward building healthy communities.


2016 Annual Impact Survey



The results of the annual impact survey are in! Thank you for your feedback.  We learned how you view YMCA Calgary’s facilities, programs, services and the delivery of all three. We also learned what influences your health and well-being. Your feedback is vital to us as we move forward so we can continue to improve on the quality and impact of our programs and services to help promote your health and wellness.

Here are a few things that we heard from you through this survey:

Adults & Seniors

  • Being active at the Y impacted respondents’ whole health – and their kids too.
  • The majority of respondents feel healthy and have seen health improvements in themselves as a result of participating at the Y.
  • As a result of participating in YMCA activities, 82% of the respondents have increased sense of happiness and vitality.
  • More than two thirds of the respondents are further engaged with activities related to personal interests or goals (73%), have enhanced self-confidence (71%) or are more resilient as a person (68%).
  • Respondents revealed that it pays to keep at it and keep going: Those who participated at the Y more than three times per week or for longer than 5 years tend to achieve more positive outcomes than those who participated less.

Children & Youth

  • The majority of the survey respondents believe YMCA helps their children try new activities & explore new experiences (83%), become more confident (81%) and interact with people of different age and background (79%).
  • The average satisfaction scores for YMCA aquatic/recreational sports programs and preschool programs are both 87%. Around 90% of the parents express that their children liked going to the program and the program instructors encouraged their children in a positive and respectful manner.
  • This year’s average satisfaction score for YMCA Child Minding services is 89%, a 2% increase from year 2015.


Thank you for taking the time to complete our annual impact survey. 

Survey responses help us evaluate our facilities, programs, services and our impact on the health of individuals and the community.  Your feedback helps us evaluate how we develop and deliver programs and services and shapes what we do in the future.

You don’t need to wait until the next annual survey to influence positive change at the YMCA and in the community.  Visit us online at and share your feedback/suggestions/comments anytime!

Individual impact on youth in the Y7G program


The high school drop-out rate in Calgary and Alberta is the highest in the country. Research shows that male and female students stop attending for very different reasons, but one key contributing factor is a lack of connection to their school.

Research shows that after-school programming can support the positive development of at-risk youth when it includes appropriate supervision and structure and competent qualified staff.  Practices that support the healing journey of Aboriginal youth involve addressing issues of cultural identity, social inclusion and mentoring.  They promote protective factors in youth and include Aboriginal cultural identity, adults modelling a healthy lifestyle, good physical and mental health, and healthy peer modelling.   Youth can reach their potential when connected with a positive adult, when they are connected to school and their community and when they can envision a positive future for themselves.

Our YMCA 7th Generation (Y7G) program is offered to aboriginal high school students in Calgary. It operates at three Calgary high schools and encompasses cultural teachings through storytelling, traditional activities, leadership skills, 7 Sacred Teachings, Medicine Wheel Teachings, Elders and cultural field trips.  Our partnership with the Calgary Board of Education enables the students in the YMCA 7th Generation Program to receive high school credits. It is a great opportunity for Aboriginal youth to reconnect with their heritage while building pride, a positive self-identity, and a positive connection to school.

Y7G participants connecting to culture through the program

On a blistery cold day in November 2015 the Y7G cohort gathered and made the journey to Blackfoot Crossing. This historic site is on the traditional land of the Blackfoot Confederacy and is where Treaty 7 was made between her Majesty the Queen and the Blackfoot people. There, the group was able to explore the life of the Blackfoot people before the signing of Treaty 7 – a rich cultural life that revolved primarily around their most important source of food, shelter, clothing, tools and spiritual connection with the buffalo. The group learned how drastically their ancestor’s lives changed when they no longer had buffalo to sustain their semi-nomadic way of life, and in turn how this led them to make Treaty with the federal government and its royal head of state. The chiefs and elders who were present on that historic day in 1877 had to struggle with a decision that would determine the well-being of generations to come – a true test of leadership that is difficult to imagine.

This was an unforgettable experience for both staff and participants alike. It was evident that the group was connecting with their history in ways that would not have been feasible in a classroom. The youth were able to walk the very ground where their ancestors made an enormous decision that would without a doubt have an immense impact on the generations that were to follow. Now, seven generations after this fateful event, the current generation of youth will soon step up as leaders and make decisions that will impact the next seven generations to come.
In spring 2016, the Y7G participants went to Writing on Stone Provincial Park. The bus ride to Writing on Stone was filled with chatter and laughter, as lasting friendships had flourished between the youth. This field trip was just south of Calgary where the land was still, quiet, and hauntingly beautiful. The river at Writing on Stone is surrounded by hoodoo rock formations (which legend tells were once people, petrified into the landscape), sacred hills where many had gone on vision quests, and massive rock faces filled with ancestral art. It was expressed by staff that you could “feel the land speak to you here, and it would tell you stories of the hundreds of ceremonies that had taken place in this sacred site.”

The group toured through paths that wound alongside rock faces that held the traditional ancestral art of the Blackfoot people. Incredibly this ancient form of communication was still evident, withstanding the test of time, bullet hole markings from Mounted Police target practice, and modern graffiti. Each picture tells a different story and can be interpreted many different ways by the various eyes that looked upon them. Consistently though, the images tell the story of the perseverance of Aboriginal people.

Being able to offer these types of experiential learning opportunities to our YMCA 7th Generation youth has had a tremendous impact on them. Connecting to the land, culture and history of indigenous people in a profound and meaningful way allows the youth to gain a sense of pride and self confidence in who they are. This is an essential building block for their successful transition into adulthood.

Thank you to our donors who have generously supported the Aboriginal Programs and Services department at YMCA Calgary.

  • United Way of Calgary and Area
  • The City of Calgary – Family and Community Support Services
  • MEG Energy Corp.
  • Anonymous Donor
  • The Calgary Foundation – The Moffat Family Fund
  • The Calgary Foundation – Anonymous Family Legacy Fund


To support YMCA Community programs, donate today.