By Thomas Sellers Jr.
Strange things are happening around Millington, the Mid-South, across the state of Tennessee and even the world.
Many places are resembling a ghost town during the outbreak of COVID-19/coronavirus. The normally buzzing Millington Family YMCA located at 7725 E. Navy Circle is eerily quiet. As all levels of the United States government deemed establishments like gyms and workout facilities unessential, the hundreds of members of the Flag City Y had to bid a temporary farewell.
With no children splashing in the pool, senior citizens congregating for classes or the general public sweating on the cardio machines, Millington YMCA executive director Lizzie Kelly is facing a new challenge during these uncertain times.
“I’m doing fine. I am tired but fulfilled,” she said recently. “The crew is doing well. We all miss our members and full branch team. I know we are ready for some normalcy.”
The COVID-19 outbreak officially closed gyms, salons and other businesses that fall into that category in late March. Then last week Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee announced schools across the state will remain closed ending the 2019-20 school year.
Lee said April 15 that Tennessee school buildings should remain closed and he also announced plans to create a task force led by Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn to make sure students are safe and fed during the public health crisis.
Lee’s recommendation to close schools meant the state’s nearly 1 million public school students are expected to finish their classes this spring using distance learning methods that are mostly online, on paper, or on public radio and television.
Since March there has been a need for meals for those less fortunate students. Millington Municipal Schools started to provide lunches for children a month ago.
During the same timeframe the area YMCAs stepped up to help feed Shelby County School student. Kelly and her colleagues stepped up to the need while facing everyday challenges of their jobs.
“I have definitely been tested in very different ways during a time like this,” Kelly acknowledged. “I wish I could make it better for my team and our members but I realize the weight of the situation of COVID19.
“However, on the other hand, being able to feed the communities where food insecurity is the most prevalent,” she continued. “It has been such a rewarding experience for me and my Y team. We have experienced more team bonding in pulling together for the betterment of the youth than ever before. There’s always a silver lining.”
The YMCA has developed a reputation for years of community outreach from senior programs to the Y on the Fly. These spring was going to kickoff the 2020 year of giving back for the Y but the annual banquet scheduled for March 24 was cancelled.
“Over the past two weeks, it was very difficult to adjust,” Kelly admitted. “However, I have definitely learned to be flexible and also grateful for the pace I was at before. This time has been filled with constant changes but has really helped me see the big picture when I felt like I was stressed before at the pace of the world.”
On March 11, the coronavirus came front and center in America with the NBA shutting down. Over the next three weeks the trickle effect hit closer to home.
Schools were on the closure list by March 13.
Kelly and member of the Y leadership identified the problem of area children needing meals during the onsite of school closure.
The Y stepped up to help with school meals when Shelby County Schools had to shut down its meal program because an employee testing positive for COVID19.
“SCS has been a valued partner of the YMCA,” Kelly said. “When they could no longer do the program, we wanted to make sure that kids were fed. One of our core missions is to combat food insecurity.
“This situation aligned for the Y to do what we do best and make sure the kids were served,” she continued. “SCS is still able to make sure the kids get their academic packets and the Y makes sure they receive a meal.”
Kelly said being one of the official sponsors of the SCS meal giveaway was a natural fit for the Y.
“The Y is a place that breaks barriers and creates opportunities,” she said. “We are constantly living up to this mission even when the world is now in a crisis. This crisis has led to some wonderful community partnerships that has allowed us to feed the kids of SCS and other municipalities.
“You can imagine the amount of kids that would go hungry if SCS food program was shut down,” Kelly added. “The Y stepped in to help during this uncertain time to ensure the kids were fed.”
As the YMCA, SCS and the world strive to get back to normalcy during this crisis, Kelly said her work family will stay on her heart.
“We miss all of you so very much,” she said to the Y members. “Please stay with us. Not only does your support help us carry our mission forward but we are able to serve more kids and families. Thank you for supporting our mission to feed kids and families.”
Kelly said with the support of the Y members and staff, when it’s back to business as usual, the Millington Family YMCA will bounce back.
“Our community has banded together to support us as we feed the kids through the SCS food program,” she concluded. “We have a fund that you can contribute to to offset the cost. The Y will unapologetically serve the community. That is our promise. We will bounce back thanks to our members and donors that make it possible.”