J.M. Tull-Gwinnett YMCA: Healthy Happens Here

Joanna Shackelford

On any given day of the week, even during the dog days of summer, the J.M. Tull-Gwinnett Family YMCA on Sugarloaf Parkway buzzes with activity. The Lawrenceville community has watched people scurrying to swim lessons, summer camps, or aerobics in this facility for thirty-one years. Most would assume this Y is just like any other, but there’s something about J.M. Tull that makes it special.

Ask Wellness Director Rhonda Tingle and she will tell you, “Our approach is relationship building.” She believes her staff achieves this, not just through youth development, healthy living, and social responsibility – the three pillars of the YMCA – but through their ability to reach specific populations that are often overlooked in typical health clubs.

Recently, the Y partnered with PD Gladiators, a support group for people with Parkinson’s Disease, and launched a new program called Parkinson’s Movement. Tingle’s wellness instructors attended extensive training at Emory where they learned about Parkinson’s and about the best exercise formats to support people with the disease. Now individuals at any stage of Parkinson’s can participate in group exercise classes at J.M. Tull, including cycling.

Big rewards. Small steps,” reads the motto of the YMCA’s Diabetes Prevention Program, another wellness initiative that J.M. Tull-Gwinnett offers to the community in an effort to reduce the number of new cases of diabetes. Adults 18 and older with prediabetes work together with a trained Lifestyle Coach to learn how to improve their overall health and how to adopt permanent lifestyle changes to reduce their chances of developing type 2 diabetes.

Their efforts do not stop there. Along with the regular schedule of water exercise classes and swim training, the Aquatics Department at J.M. Tull-Gwinnett, led by Tina Henderson, has developed water classes dedicated to those with more specialized needs. Most recently, she added adaptive swim lessons to help children and adults with special needs learn about water safety and how to swim. Henderson has worked with the Gwinnett Division of Family and Children Services, reaching out to foster families in the area to offer “Safety Around Water” classes to children currently in foster care. There are also water aerobics classes specifically tailored to meet the needs of people suffering from arthritis.

In addition, the J.M. Tull-Gwinnet Y connects with cancer survivors through a special partnership with Gwinnet Medical Center. They call it GMC at the Y. Their goal is to provide cancer survivors a support program aiming to address their specific needs through coaching and exercise.

Executive Director Kim Nelson organizes and implements community projects for the club, ranging from Salvation Army Kettle Drives to Blessing Bag donations for the local Women’s Shelter. Her community outreach runs deep. And it’s clear that this YMCA is achieving its mission, “Open to serving all.” Tingle has served as J.M. Tull’s wellness director for eight years, but has been a part of the Y since 1981 where she taught group exercise classes. She says, “The members here are amazing, and the Y’s mission is what motivates me to do what I do.”

Tingle is most proud of one particular signature program called “Coach Approach,” which allows any individual who hasn’t worked out for six + months a chance to build the habit of exercise with help from a wellness coach. This year they introduced the new evidence-based “Weight Loss for Life,” which is an enhancement to the Coach Approach program. Unlike methods like Weight Watchers or Nutrisystem that focus only on nutrition, this program concentrates on the behavioral changes necessary to keep excess weight off for life.

Shannon Campos, senior membership and marketing director, knows that it’s the relationship piece that keeps members coming back year after year. Perhaps it’s also why she has stayed there for seventeen years and counting. “I enjoy the people,” she says. “I love the smiles you see on their faces when they’re here.”

One of only two YMCA’s in Gwinnett County, the J.M. Tull Y is more than just a work-out facility. Its successful anchor programs and membership status of close to 14,000 people prove that health and wellness can be achieved in a diverse community with growing needs.

Undoubtedly, this Y is a place where ALL people are invited to thrive. “We are open to all – regardless of socio-economic status,” says Tingle. “You can really affect community health when you don’t have those barriers.”

More information at http://www.ymcaatlanta.org


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