The YMCA at Schilling Farms is more than just a gym. It’s provided 65,000 meals per week to children and families who are in need due to COVID-19 restrictions. Lane Walberg, Executive Director, explains how the “Y” is committed to serving the local community and will continue to offer childcare services for essential workers, doctors, city workers, and others despite uncertain times.
00:12 Anna Bell: Hello everyone, I’m Anna Bell and today I’m so thankful to have Lane Walberg, Executive Director at YMCA Schilling Farms in Collierville with us today to kinda talk about how his branch is operating in today’s new normal. Lane, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us today.
00:31 Lane Walberg: Oh, absolutely thrilled to be with you. Thank you for inviting me.
00:34 AB: Absolutely, so let’s get started. Lane, how things been going for you? What has the last couple of months been looking like for you under the shutdown and kinda getting back into business? How have you been?
00:46 LW: Yeah, well, we’re doing really well now. Obviously, we were caught in the craziness of the pandemic. There is no playbook on how to respond to that or how quickly things have changed. So we were with everybody else trying to figure out what does this mean? And unfortunately, when it all happened as the shutdown began, our branch in Collierville also had to shut down as well as our branches across the Memphis region. And so, we found ourselves in a very challenging uncertain time with how long would we be shut down? And a lot of decisions had to be made as we’re trying to disseminate information but also trying to understand all the information that’s coming in to us. And we had to make some hard decisions and we’ve had opportunities to really continue to serve in the communities, and so that’s been really fantastic.
01:42 AB: Yeah, no, it has been a tough time. Like you said, nobody really has a playbook right now, we’re all just trying to figure it out and keep on trucking. So tell us about opening the doors initially back into phase one. What was it like opening the doors? Was there are a large volume of your members ready to work out or has it been a steady flow? Kind of talk to us about what phase one look like with your members coming for the first time back into the gym.
02:12 LW: Yeah, we are very excited about opening up, obviously, and our members, we’re also very happy as we begin to phase approach, and there’s challenges that come along with opening up any business. Certainly, a health and wellness facility has different challenges maybe than other businesses, but we were very concerned and very aware of social distancing and making sure that the safety and well-being of, not only our staff team but also our members who would be coming in, is the utmost importance to us. And so, we obviously are following occupancy guidelines and only allowing a certain number of people into the building, and we have additional staff who are there cleaning.
03:00 LW: We have not been able to open up our entire facility yet, so we just began opening up some group exercise classes this week. And so, a really cool story about that is I was actually at the branch this morning. You can see I’m in the car now, but I was in my office this morning and I could literally hear just screams of excitement, and I was like, “Wow, that’s a lot of yelling, what is it?” And when I investigated, it was actually some of our members who were so excited to see some group exercise instructors that they have formed these amazing relationships with and the family… It was almost like family reuniting. And so, that has been absolutely amazing to be just a small part and really maybe understand that how important the relationships are between our staff team and the members and also the members who have become friends and family with each other as part of it, that has been really cool to be a part of.
04:08 AB: That’s very cool, I know it. Kind of tell us you started to tell us about the group exercises, what has been the difference now that we’re facing into phase two, the difference between phase one and phase two, what does that look like at the gym?
04:21 LW: Well, for us, we are able to begin open up other parts of our facility. Initially, we opened up and it was specific to our wellness floor which would have our cardio and our strength equipment only. We have been able to open up very limited group exercise classes which… So a group exercise class like Zumba, or body pump or yoga. And so in the past maybe where we were able to have 40 or 50 people on a class, obviously, we had to reduce the number significantly and have limited spots because we wanna make sure that we are practising the 6 feet of social distancing while we’re still able to provide that service. There’s been where there is much excitement, there are probably lots of folks who still have some apprehension about coming out, who have been quarantining or might be the vulnerable population. And so, we have seen this week as group exercise classes have continued over the last few days that the numbers are growing, and we view that as a good sign that maybe people are feeling more comfortable about coming out and have more confidence and trust that we are disinfecting and cleaning appropriately and the practises of social distancing that we put in place are very helpful.
05:44 AB: One thing that has kinda been a big topic in the last few weeks that has been publicised is about wearing masks in public. Have you had any pushback on health screenings from your members as they come into the door? So I know you guys are doing your health screenings, has there been any pushback at all?
06:02 LW: We are doing our health screenings. Everybody gets asked set questions to make sure that they do pass the health risk assessment. All of our staff team are wearing gloves and masks in the facility as well. We encourage our members to wear those masks, that is not then… This is not mandatory, but we do recommend it. And so we have some people who are wearing masks and we have other people who are not. From the member’s perspective, I think it depends on their comfort level, but all of our team, just to ensure that we are doing everything we can to provide that safe, clean environment, all of our team members are wearing gloves and masks as well.
06:42 AB: I gotcha. So while you guys were under shutdown, before we got started in today’s interview, you and I were talking about something really special that your branch has been doing. You’ve kind of been tapping into others in the region. Can you kinda tell us about what you guys were doing when the doors were shut at YMCA Schilling Farms?
07:01 LW: Yeah, absolutely. So like many, we found ourselves on the shutdown, about to shut down and, literally, probably a God thing, as I tell people. It was in the news, Shelby County schools, the largest school system in the state, I think, and certainly in our region, they had a COVID outbreak or an illness in their nutrition services, and so that did not allow them to serve their meal programme. And so the meal programme provides food to thousands of children who otherwise might not have that basic necessity of food, something that maybe many of us take for granted that we’re gonna have a lunch or we’re gonna have a dinner. And so we found out on a Thursday that this was not going to happen, and we were able to step in. Our entire organisation, our full-time team members at Schilling Farms as well were part of that. And from literally the Thursday before the Monday, we were able to begin serving meals throughout Memphis and the Mid-South to kids. And we started out maybe 2000 meals a day and we’re now serving 65,000 to 70,000 meals every week. And since we took up…
08:22 AB: That’s a big number, Lane. That’s a big number, wow.
08:25 LW: It’s probably one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done in my career, be it at the Y or other, the ability to provide food to these kids. And I work at the sites as well, as well as kind of some of the logistics behind the scenes, but when kids walk up and they receive their meal, and they open it up, and they get excited to see the food that is inside, and they light up and start laughing and running, it’s just, it’s really hard to communicate what that feeling is like. And for the YMCA to be able to step in and fill that gap and fill that need over the last, gosh, six to eight weeks, we served more than… Maybe I think we’re running on 400,000 meals during that time. It’s been amazing. And the team at Schilling Farms, our full-time team, has been an integral part of making that happen and it’s such a wonderful… It’s just a wonderful thing to be a part of.
09:27 AB: Absolutely. It sounds like you’ve been using this what we might call downtime and doing something really good with it. I really like hearing that and I know others in the community will, too. Hey, guys, I’m Anna Bell, and I’m here today with Lane Walberg, Executive Director over at YMCA Schilling Farms in Collierville. We’ve just kinda been talking about how they handled phase one and going into phase two of reopening but now we wanna talk about the upcoming months, going into what they’re gonna be doing over at the Y. So, Lane, I know you guys host a lot of programmes, really awesome programmes, from aquatics to youth programmes. Kinda paint us a picture of what you think summer months might look like at the Y this year in particular.
10:12 LW: Yeah, I think it’s gonna look a lot different than it has in the past, to be quite honest. They’re still waiting… We’re all waiting on what phase two and moving into phase three and what happens beyond that. And so there’s a lot of information we do not have as far as how many kids can we have in camp or can we run camps, and we depend on partners to be able to do camps as well in different locations. And so there’s a lot of unknowns still for us. One thing I do know is we have been, also during the shutdown and we continue into the future, in the summer, we have been running child care for essential workers, which is the other part of what we’ve been doing in Schilling Farms, as well as some of our other branches. But we have provided care for first responders, for doctors, for city workers, for those that, while the quarantine was happening, still had to go to work. And many of those people are making sure that we are still safe and that the businesses of our lives and the supports that we’re getting as a community were still happening. And so we were able to provide this emergency child care for essential workers.
11:28 LW: That has been approved and extended is my understanding and we’ll continue to offer that. We’ll have anywhere between 40 to 50 children everyday at our YMCA to provide that opportunity for parents to have a safe place for their children, so that they can go out and continue to support and keep us safe. So that has been also something that has been amazing, something that we plan to continue into the summer as well. It might look a little different as our branches reopen as far as the location of that but right now we are serving kids both in our location and also at an offsite location, too, so that will be a big part of what we continue to do. We are eager to open up more of our facility. We’re trying to figure out and, again, waiting on information and direction, and trying to plan for what does the summer look like as it relates to pool? What does it look like as it relates to kind of our aquatics offerings and those kind of things? Yeah, I think a lot of it is gonna depend on the guidelines and the guidance that we receive from our local and state government and obviously, the mayor and the government in Collierville, as far as what we can do.
12:45 LW: There’s a guideline. Like I said, we’re eager, we’re eager to try to return back to as normal as we can, but we certainly understand the need for patience and the need of making sure that the safety of our community and our members and our staff team are the priority. And so we, as eager as we are, we also understand that patience is probably the key here, but I think as soon [13:11] ____ get more direction and we’re able to provide services, we’re very eager to do so. We’re not certain yet. Only thing I am certain about is that change happens and it will continue to happen [13:25] ____ Learn more about this. But we’re [13:28] ____ continue to serve and hopefully provide services that are needed.
13:30 AB: That’s awesome. Okay, so kind of a tough question but how has membership been affected through all of this? I mean, has there been any change compared to previous years, and are you allowing potential new members to join at this time?
13:47 LW: So, great question. I think we all know the economic landscape is tough right now, and so it does affect our membership. I think a lot of people have either lost their jobs or are uncertain about their jobs moving forward. And so I believe that that is causing people to put memberships on hold or to cancel or to maybe push off holding, right, as we all try to figure out how back to business and opening up helps. I think the [14:21] ____ approach in business is beginning to open back up now and into the future. I think that will be helpful to maybe ease some of the concerns, but we also understand that our community is hurting. We understand that there are a lot of people that are going through some of these financial challenges and other challenges. And, honestly, that does affect membership, that we have seen a decline in membership in Collierville and really across our association and so we understand that.
14:52 LW: We’re hopeful that as the guidelines ease and people get more confidence and go back to work that… Hopeful that more people will see the Y and consider us to meet those needs that we have been for the 21 years since we’ve been in Collierville and the 170-plus years that we’ve been serving Memphis. So, yeah, it’s been tough on that side for us, but we were very optimistic that we’re gonna bounce back and that the community will bounce back. And I believe that the Y and the community is a very symbiotic relationship. The Y serves the community and the community supports the Y, and it’s been that way since we’ve been in Collierville. I’m confident it will continue that way. And as you’ve heard me say before, we’re so pleased to be a part of the community in whatever ways that we can.
15:41 AB: So awesome. I totally agree with you. I mean everything right now is so important that we focus on community and helping each other out and that’s the only way we get through this, right? That’s the light at the end of the tunnel, just working together.
15:55 LW: That’s the way that it’s gonna happen, and as I mentioned, some of the cool parts of this, I mean there’s a lot of bad, but there’s a lot of really good things that are coming from this. I mean I think relationships have been strengthened. I think there’s a deeper understanding of how important we are to each other, and that contact and the ability to communicate with each other is probably more important, and I think we’re realising that. So together is how we get through it, and we’re hopeful to be a small part of that. And like I said, we’re excited for the bounce back, we’re excited to welcome people back in our community, and we’re just thrilled to be a part of this ability to serve.
16:34 AB: That’s good stuff, Lane. Kinda wrapping things up, what has been your biggest takeaways? Maybe from a business and a personal standpoint, from all of this that we’ve been experiencing for the last few months, what might be your biggest takeaways that you’d be willing to share with us?
16:53 LW: Yeah, some of the takeaways are not our plan, right? We all have a plan. This is a personal takeaway, that sometimes we all have too much control or we think we’re actually in control of what’s going on. And who would have thought two months ago, three months ago that anything like this could have happened? I’ve been in the Y over 15 years and there’s been economic depressions and recessions but nothing like this. And the ability to plan for something like this is… The takeaway is, “Wow, we’re not really in control as much as we think we are,” and that’s a personal takeaway. The other takeaway from maybe the business community side of things is that I alluded to this is how important we are to each other, and that’s from a business standpoint. The businesses are supporting businesses and our community is supporting those businesses, and those businesses are in turn supporting the community.
17:49 LW: I mean it’s literally kind of this circle of support and relevance to each other. And I’ve really seen it in Collierville how many people have stepped up to say, “Look, I wanna do some good. Even though there’s a lot of bad, I wanna support the nurses in the healthcare.” Businesses have said, “How can we support the food programme or how can we support the school child care that’s being provided to these families that we need right now?” And it’s been really amazing to watch our community in Collierville come together. And there’s certainly a lot of bad and a lot of anxiety, but my gosh, there’s… I think we’re really seeing a lot of good in people and kind of mankind again and so that’s been refreshing to see.
18:37 AB: Oh, absolutely, I couldn’t agree with you more. Lane, I just can’t thank you enough for your time and your insight today. We really do appreciate it.
18:45 LW: Well, thank you so much for having me and again, thank you for allowing the message to get out there. And thank you for all the good that you’re doing, pulling people together to see what people are doing and some of the good work happening so thankful for you.
19:00 AB: That’s what it’s all about, spreading a positive message. Thanks again, Lane.
19:03 LW: Thank you.
19:04 AB: Until next time, I’m Anna Bell, sending you all well wishes.
19:16 AB: This episode of Main and Mulberry is sponsored by Tour Collierville Magazine. If you like Main and Mulberry, you’re going to love this hyperlocal lifestyle publication in Collierville, Tennessee. Check out local content at www.tourcollierville.com or by downloading the Tour Collierville app in the Apple App Store or Google Play Store.