- Our foundation is investing $6.4 million to build a BlueCross Healthy Place at the Northwest Family YMCA in Nashville
- This is the first BlueCross Healthy Place in the Nashville area
The Northwest Family YMCA in Nashville traces its roots back to 1969 when an integrated swimming pool opened in the area. The full community center officially opened its doors two years later, and today it serves approximately 5,000 residents of the city’s Bordeaux and North Nashville neighborhoods.
Over the years, the community has struggled with a lack of development and economic growth. There are more senior citizens and minors than a typical Nashville neighborhood, as well as a lot of grandparents raising grandchildren. Community members also lack access to public spaces and amenities, which correlate with health disparities in the area.
When the leadership team of the Northwest Family YMCA heard about the BlueCross Healthy Place program, they saw a chance to help change all that.
“Since the YMCA opened in 1969, we have worked hard to ensure the children, adults and seniors who call our community home have a place to care for their health and wellbeing, a place to learn to swim, a place to be safe after school, to connect with one another and to feel like they are on a level playing field with the rest of Nashville,” says Jessica Fain, chief strategy officer.
Understanding community needs
The YMCA chose to apply for a BlueCross Healthy Place grant following a research process they began in 2017. YMCA leaders organized a variety of community assessments and dialogue sessions to better understand the area’s needs and more effectively determine how to meet them. The results indicated a need for services and amenities for both children and senior citizens, as well as additional public recreational spaces.
“When our team visited the site, we saw several community members using the existing multi-purpose field and walking track, but we realized those features could be enhanced and access could be improved by bringing a BlueCross Healthy Place to the area,” says Roy Vaughn, executive director of the BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee Foundation. “The project was in development before COVID-19 hit the U.S., but we know a day is coming in Nashville when this updated space will be more important than ever.”
While the walking track and field are available to the public, a highway expansion project will cut into portions of both amenities, so the chance to redesign and bring new, bigger recreational spaces to the YMCA couldn’t have come at a better time. And the leadership team has big plans for the use of its new facilities — all with community as the focus.
“We are immensely grateful for this transformational grant, and it could not come at a more pivotal time for our city,” says Dan Dummermuth, YMCA of Middle Tennessee president and CEO. “Although we cannot celebrate the news in person amidst the pandemic, this is certainly a powerful reminder that there are brighter days ahead and that our community will emerge stronger with an incredible new resource in the Bordeaux-North Nashville area.”
YMCA executive director Johari Matthews adds, “This will only increase our ability to host community recreation and athletic groups, hold more community events like Jazz on the Lawn, community health fairs and Tennessee Titans Fan Day.”
Putting plans in motion
Based on the YMCA’s community research, the BlueCross Healthy Place at the Northwest Family YMCA could include these proposed features:
- Water features
- Inclusive play areas for children ages 2-5 and 5-12
- Challenge course
- Basketball/pickleball courts
- Multi-purpose field
- Walking path
- Adult fitness equipment
- Shade structures
“North Nashville residents will see a park that includes community health amenities and outdoor recreation opportunities for people of all ages,” Johari adds. “Children, teens and seniors will be able to engage in outdoor activity in the same space at the same time, which is an essential component in breaking a multi-generational cycle of health disparities in the area.”
Expanded access, expanded resources
Another result of the YMCA’s initial planning process was a partnership with the area’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HCBUs), which aims to increase access to health care services through health and dental clinics, as well specialized programming like civic education and workforce development.
The staff at the YMCA hopes the BlueCross Healthy Place will put community members in closer proximity to these services, as well as its outreach programs that are available regardless of membership status, including no-cost literacy tutoring; after-school, college and career readiness programs; a no-cost cancer survivor program that will launch soon in partnership with Meharry Medical College; and a low-cost weight management program.
“The BlueCross Foundation will take a flagship role in providing equitable opportunities for health and wellness in Nashville. As the most visible health investment in this community in decades, the BlueCross Healthy Place will not only create a destination outdoor recreation facility, but it will also attract residents to a hub of health and wellness resources that can transform health outcomes for this community,” Jessica says.
A future full of opportunity
The BlueCross Healthy Place at the Northwest Family YMCA will mark the beginning of a new chapter for the community of North Nashville. Work is tentatively slated to begin later this year. In the meantime, the staff at the YMCA is looking optimistically toward the future.
“We look forward to the community having the kind of public recreation space that, frankly, has never been seen here before. We’re excited about the opportunities it will create for individuals and families to enjoy something so positive in their neighborhood,” Johari adds. “To have even a small part in seeing this overdue access come to this community is an honor and a privilege for our YMCA.”
For more on the project, watch the video below from our partners at the Northwest Family YMCA.