The YMCA serves as a staple in the Blacksburg community and was founded one year after the university in 1873. Many of their programs, like the Open University, Thrift Shop, and International programs date back to the 1970s.
The YMCA at Virginia Tech, including the Lancaster House, located on Washington Street, near the Virginia Tech campus, means a lot to residents like Joanna Sunshine.
“I just think the Y being out there, there’s something for everyone. It’s for the community, it is the community,” Sunshine said.
Sunshine says she first started volunteering with the YMCA at Virginia Tech in the late 70s and resumed volunteering two years ago. She shared it’s amazing to see how much it has evolved over time.
“Back then there wasn’t the outreach they have now. I am just amazed at the things that they do. You walk around this room and the foyer out there — all the activities – this is wonderful,” Sunshine said.
The YMCA facility located on North Main Street in Blacksburg serves as a community engagement facility, where they host the thrift shop for sustainability recycling program, as well as, English workshops to help non-native speakers with interview skills.
Organizers WFXR News the event was to share with the community. The resources they provide celebrate the partnerships they have with university students, and how they plan to continue community programs in the future.
“We’ve really been in the forefront of a lot of social justice in the past 150 years,” said Ryan Martin, the executive director of the YMCA at Virginia Tech. “Today, we really focus on getting Virginia Tech students off of campus into the community, so we can utilize their passions for making a difference to run programs that affect and provide resources for the New River Valley residents.”
From food insecurity initiatives to afterschool programs, organizers say they pride themselves on being a resource to residents of all ages and backgrounds. Students say working with the Y has been a way to fulfill their school’s motto, ‘Ut Prosim’, meaning “That I may serve.”
“Before I joined the Y, I really wasn’t too involved in the Blacksburg community. It’s really given me a lot of opportunities to stay connected with the actual people who live in this town, which is nice to get off campus. It’s really gratifying to give back to the community that houses me eight months out of the year,” said Vivian Peregrino, the president of the YMCA student programs.
As for future plans, Martin explained that they want to do more with the community programs they already have. Namely, the Meals on Main program, which has been important to the community for the past five years. Martin said he hopes to do more with food access in the community. He wants to do more with their international programs as well.
The YMCA at Virginia Tech has been working with internationals for the past 40 years. It has an ongoing program for international women to meet, develop a social support system, and learn resources in the area.
“We’re also looking to do more with refugees and immigrants to the area, helping them to connect and find resources that might make their lives better as they move into the area,” said Martin.
Martin said they work with international youth as well.
The open house was just the start. Over the next year, they will highlight one of their programs each month, giving the community plenty of opportunities to learn about their resources and to celebrate the milestone.
“We keep hearing that we’re the best-kept secret in the region. We love being the best, but we don’t want to be a secret,” Martin said. “So, come out and learn more about us and support what we’re doing in the community to make it a better place.”