Newport County YMCA in Middletown, RI

"Where the community comes together"

Players get ready to hit the court at the Special Olympics Volleyball Tournament. (Credit: Dan and Jo Glennings)

The Newport County YMCA is a place where the community comes together. There are programs for all age groups (babies, children, adolescents, adults, senior citizens) and for all abilities (special needs adapted programs, Special Olympics, competitive athletes, week-end warriors, as well active adults). The atmosphere created here is one of carrying and acceptance. It supports all aspects of our community.

Stories About the Newport County YMCA

Our family history is simple: We have two children, Danny and Jordan. Danny likes being at the Y; it’s like a second home to him. For his Middletown High School Capstone project, he built and now takes care of the planter by the front door. Twice a week he organizes and stocks the vending machines in the lobby. He swam for the Wahoos and really likes participating in Adapted Physical Activity and Special Olympics Team Programs. Our daughter, Jordan, also swam for the Wahoos, teaches swim lessons, and lifeguards. Our Y story goes back almost 20 years, and our view of the Y has changed dramatically. In the beginning, we viewed the Y as another gym. Now we understand the Y mission and goal as much more than that. It offers programs that build a healthy spirit, mind, and body while strengthening our community.

We build strong kids:

When Danny was six months old, we decided he needed to learn to swim. This was for his own safety (and recreation), as we live on an island, so we looked to the Y. Danny is non-verbal and communicates with sign language. The aquatics personnel were extremely accommodating and created a warm and accepting environment for Danny. They found staff members who knew sign language or were willing to learn. They taught him to swim before he learned to walk. Today, he swims in the pool three to four days per week and is on the Special Olympics Swim Team. After the wonderful experience with Danny, we brought Jordan to the Y to learn to swim when she was six months old. She progressed from the Baby and Me class, to group swim lessons, to private lessons, and also competitively swam on both the Wahoos and Middletown High School swim teams. We entrusted our children to the Y and they did a great job with them.

We build strong families:

While waiting for Jordan to change after swim practice, we had a conversation with one of the coaches about the previous week’s swim meet. She expressed regret that there were no swimmers in the boys 13 and up age group, as the team was losing points each week. She went on to say, that the boys did not have to be fast, they just had to show up and participate. We decided to see if the coaches would let Danny swim for the team. The coaches said sure. He was the first boy, over the age of 13, to swim for the team in over two years and he won team points in the meets.

Danny was not the fastest, nor does he have the perfect stroke. But you could not tell it by the way the team cheered for him; it was the most exciting 50 meter freestyle in the meets. He loved it. He swam it in 90 seconds, while it took the other swimmers only 30. We could not be more proud. No one cares how long he takes; he is a Wahoo and part of the team. Years earlier, had the staff not been so accommodating and not created a warm and caring environment, we would not have gotten Danny involved with the team. We would have been another set of the parents sitting on the bleachers watching our daughter swim. As a direct result of the staff and the environment they have created, the swim team dominated our lives for almost a decade. It is an entire event for the family. Jordan and Danny swim, and we run the team’s food table.

We build strong communities:

For years, we were interested in getting Danny involved in Special Olympics. We contacted Special Olympics Rhode Island when he was younger, and were disappointed to learn that there was not a team on the island. Newport County children and adults with disabilities had few options, if any, to participate in Special Olympics. In 2008 while waiting for Jordan after a swim practice, we read that the Y wanted to expand programs to reach underserved parts of the community. It got us thinking that it would be great if the Y helped organize a Special Olympics team. We approached the Newport County YMCA CEO and his assistant, Mike Miller, about organizing a Special Olympics team. Their response was immediate and positive. Mike responded to our email, “We are always looking for programming that would meet the needs of the community. Can you get together sometime this week to discuss programming options?” We thought it would be a tough sell as the economy was turning south, but their commitment to serve the community outweighs any budget concerns.

In 2008, there were no local options for Newport County children and adults with disabilities to participate in Special Olympics, but now they have year-round options to participate in the state games for track and field, swimming, bowling, volleyball, soccer, softball, and basketball. Yes, the Y is building a strong community for everyone, of any ability.

Here is an important point: you do not know how something will turn out or what event prompts the next one. For us it started as a warm and accepting environment for our son, and it turned into the Newport County YMCA Special Olympics team that supports all Newport County children and adults with disabilities. The Y is truly building strong kids, strong families, and a strong community.