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The Alliance of Massachusetts YMCA’s Walkable Communities Initiative By: Ashley Wright

Posted by: KMRoycroft
Jun 28, 2016

The Alliance of Massachusetts YMCA’s (The Alliance) works tirelessly to promote and support member YMCAs by influencing public policy and advocating on behalf of its member Ys to share their impact with one voice to solve critical social issues in the areas of Youth Development, Healthy Living, and Social Responsibility. The National Y, in conjunction with the Surgeon General’s Office, called upon state alliances to join Step It Up! The Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Promote Walking and Walkable Communities initiative, asking the Alliance to coordinate a statewide event in order to increase physical activity through the promotion of walkable communities. Walkable communities are communities that are safe for people of all abilities who are walking, biking, driving or using any other form of transportation.

Six Ys across the Commonwealth of Massachusetts (Athol, Lynn, Lawrence, Greenfield, Old Colony, and Cambridge) chose to participate in the initiative and held their own unique walkability events where students advocated to improve the walkability of their communities. The general outline of the events was for the students in the afterschool programs to conduct walk-audit scavenger hunts to identify present and missing walkability components that they thought needed to be fixed. They were then asked to create posters or other visual aids to showcase their findings which were to be presented to municipal leaders in press conferences at the municipal hall.

While the Athol, Lawrence and Lynn YMCAs did, not all of the participating Ys followed this outline due to lack of staff, unsafe walking conditions surrounding the Y or other constraints, but all did an excellent job advocating for their communities. Greenfield YMCAs alternative activity was incorporated into their 6-week activity team challenge, where the walk-audits were completed by adult participants during their “kick-off” walk on Saturday, May 21st. Old Colony YMCA educated their students on walkability and its’ importance to the community and completed their scavenger hunts the following day, but were unable to walk to city hall due to weather and held their presentation at their Y location in Stoughton. The Cambridge YMCA conducted their scavenger hunts and took the opportunity to educate the children as they did so. The students presented their findings to the Alliance staff at their Cambridge location.

Through these events, the Alliance was able to educate nearly 200 students, staff and municipal leaders on the importance of walkability in their communities and potentially affected entire communities by advocating for change. Students learned the importance of advocacy work and were the voice of this initiative, speaking to their municipal leaders and educating them on what walkability is and what it means to them. The importance of not only educating students, but involving them in the advocacy process allows them to get involved and understand the positive impact that they can have on their community. During their presentation, two students from the Lynn YMCA stated that their suggested improvements “can help make our streets safer and better for our entire community. They can help lower the chances of accidents and get our children and other community members a chance to go home to their families” (Two students Lynn YMCA). On a walk-audit scavenger hunt worksheet, one student from the Cambridge YMCA stated the following when asked why fixing these problems was important to her and her community: “There would be less accidents/injuries to bike riders and pedestrians who are walking. It is important because we are part of this community and should take care of it” (Mariana, Cambridge YMCA). It is clear that these events were effective in educating children of the Y as well as municipal staff and community members about the importance of walkability and how it can be improved in their communities. The Alliance thanks all those who were involved in making this initiative a success.

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