In Memphis, a Mobile YMCA Hits the Streets

Imagine a YMCA and all it has to offer for kids — water safety classes, a place to spark a love of reading and science and perhaps more than anything, a fun and safe place for kids to gather.

Now imagine this YMCA without walls, able to go where a community needs it to be. 

That’s exactly what’s happening in Memphis, with the YMCA of the Mid-South’s Y on the Fly program. This mobile experience provides everything from healthy food to water safety instruction for kids and adults in Memphis who would not otherwise be able to access them.

Although the poverty rate in Memphis has been declining since 2016, 39% of children in the city still live in poverty. This is the second highest rate of childhood poverty in the nation for cities with more than a half a million people. What’s more, a fragmented city-wide transportation system can make getting to a YMCA, library, or grocery store more difficult than it should be. Transportation is a key social determinant of health, and a lack of transportation may lead to poor health outcomes.

The Y on the Fly program helps address this gap by meeting kids in the neighborhoods where they live and play in places like apartment complexes, childcare centers and afterschool programs.    

When the truck comes to a “Fun Stop,” each kid receives a healthy snack, a free book to keep from a mobile library, fun water safety classes and access to STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) tools like a 3D printer.

Y on the Fly also works together with other mobile service partners, which can increase the impact of any given trip. This might mean a mobile dental clinic and an immunization clinic also arriving at the Fun Stop to offer access to an underserved community.

The program was launched through a $90,000 grant from UnitedHealthcare, which helped provide two mobile units to serve the Memphis area.   

“We are looking at this partnership as an opportunity to impact the social determinants of health in the community,” said Keith Payet, CEO of the Community Plan of Tennessee. “The impact of reading is well understood, as well as the impact of food on a child’s development. And in partnering with the Y to bring those things out in the community is really the story that we’re telling here.”