Ashley Laing and Kim Bentley-MacDonald were thrilled as Niagara’s three YMCAs reopened Wednesday. BERNIE PUCHALKSI

Three Niagara facilities reopened last Wednesday

A degree of normality returned to Niagara this week with the reopening of the region Ys.

Welcoming new and former members Wednesday were the Niagara Centre YMCA in Welland, the Niagara West YMCA in Grimsby, and the Vale Wellness YMCA in Port Colborne.

All the facilities had been closed since the provincial lockdown was last imposed at the end of December.

“First and foremost, Covid has been really hard on everyone and it has been really hard on charities. We need to get our doors open, we need to get people back in using the YMCA because it is important for our physical and mental well-being,” said Kim Bentley-MacDonald, the YMCA’s Senior General Manager Health, Fitness and Aquatics.

“People are craving exercise and social [activities] and it is absolutely critical we get this pool open, get the fitness centre and group fitness classes going, because those are the things people love about their YMCA. They come, we know their name, they know what they can expect and people just miss that so incredibly much.”

Anticipation of the reopening had been building for days.

“We have had people this week knocking on the door, the phones have been ringing and we have had lots of emails so we know people are eager,” she said. “We are just as eager to serve them.”

Welland centre manager Ashley Laing is thrilled with the reopening.

“It’s just having people and staff back and it brings vibrancy and life to this building,” she said. “It was great that we had the vaccine clinics here to service the community but when we are not able to run as the YMCA, it is not just about the fitness and what they do here. They love seeing each other, they love seeing us and they love coming here.”

Bentley-MacDonald was excited to welcome back staff members.

“So far we have only seen smiling faces and people happy to be here. They are excited but we have a ton of change so we are teaching them everything that has changed and adjusting our systems.”

The 45 full- and part-time staff members for the three Ys have been training since Sept. 1 and the preparation work done at the Welland Y mirrored the other locations. Tasks included: cleaning the facility and reorganizing and putting things back where they belong, setting up equipment and the social distancing notifications, refilling the pools, and updating the organization’s website about its new online registration.

People coming to the Y will notice the same Covid protocols that were in place before the last lockdown.

“It’s masking, social distancing and booking your workout times,” Bentley-MacDonald said. “Those are all current for this reopening but there are obviously vaccine requirements this time around as per the government’s directive to have everyone vaccinated by Sept. 22.”

The YMCA has put programs in place for those who are not vaccinated.

“For those looking for accommodation, we will have virtual programming, in-person outdoor programming, and we will look at some other offerings as well so we can support folks who don’t have their vaccine but want to be engaged from a health and wellness perspective.”

The virtual programming has been up for months.

“We turned to virtually programming way back in March of 2020, and this seems like a natural flow for folks who are unable to return due to the directive,” Bentley-MacDonald said.

Members coming to the Y will need to do a health screening. There will be a QR code posted in the lobbies and members will use that to do the health screening.

If they pass the screening, they proceed to the membership desk. If they have pre-registered with the new membership online form, they will need to complete a few final details about the membership. A new card will then be printed, they will be given any information required, and their vaccine status will be noted.

“We won’t need to see that any more once we logged that into the system,” she said.

A hard copy or an image on a phone are both good to show vaccine status.

“Everything we have moved online has been change for folks but we will have additional staff around who will be able to assist people with those processes,” Bentley-MacDonald said. “As much as possible, if people could arrive with some of that done it would be helpful so we don’t get a backlog at the desk but we have staff, we have tablets, we have computers. We won’t turn people away.”

The YMCA has a new membership model with flexible options for people to choose at varying rates. The four options are based on what individuals like to use.

A fitness membership includes fitness floor, open gym, indoor track and virtual programs. The biweekly rates are $14.50 for an adult, $13.78 for a senior and $13.05 for a youth or young adult.

The fitness, group and recreation option includes all the fitness options plus group fitness, drop-in sports and recreation, and fitness and goal setting. The biweekly rates are $17.50 for an adult, $16.63 for a senior and $15.75 for a youth or young adult.

The aquatics option includes Aquafit, lane swimming, indoor track and recreational swimming. The biweekly rates are $19.98 for an adult, $18.98 for a senior and $17.98 for a youth or young adult.

The all-inclusive option includes everything the Y has to offer and multi-branch access. The biweekly rates are $24.98 for an adult, $23.73 for a senior and $22.48 for a youth or young adult.

Visit for more information.

The YMCA survives on membership fees and donations.

“As a charity, we are always looking for donations and there is a Donate Now button on our YMCA website,” Bentley-MacDonald said. “When people donate to the YMCA, they are donating to help someone else belong. Our membership assistance program ensures we turn no one away.”