Actress Jane Lynch, right, is one of the A-list influencers enlisted by the YMCA for its popular My Y Story. series on YouTube.
YMCA / Provided
With more than 2,600 locations serving 9 million youths and 13 million adults per year, the YMCA of the USA is one of the largest nonprofits in America.
With their popular ‘My Y Story.’ YouTube series, the organization has struck viral video gold, earning more than 4.6 million cumulative views across just eight short videos.
Each video features the celebrity re-visiting their personal experience with the organization, through reflective interviews and meaningful interactions with current YMCA youths. The series, which launched last February with a feature on olympian Allyson Felix, has brought massive traffic to the organization’s YouTube channel, with more than 4.6 million cumulative views.
Valerie Barker Waller, Chief Marketing Officer for the YMCA of the U.S.A., offered some insights into how the series came to fruition.
Chris Strub: Why did you start the My Y Story. Series?
Valerie Barker Waller: When people think about the Y, a place to exercise is often their first thought. But the truth is, for over 160 years, the Y has been one of America’s most impactful nonprofits. The Y is one of the only remaining community organizations left in the country that provides safe spaces, youth development programs, mentorship and volunteer opportunities, healthy meals, education resources and more. The goal of “My Y Story.” is to drive awareness around the extensive services and programming the Y offers, ensuring people see it as much more than a pool or fitness center. The stories highlight all the great work that happens every day at the more than 2,600 Ys around the country and the impact this work has on the communities.
Strub: Have the various celebrities been enthusiastic about sharing their stories?
Waller: One of the most heartwarming aspects of the Y is how broad our reach is; millions of people across generations have a Y story. Whether they were a Y camper as a kid, came to the Y while recovering from an injury or illness, received support from a social service program at the Y, or are a Y employee or volunteer, each person’s Y story carries with it its own unique experience but with the common thread of being a part of the Y family. The celebrities we worked with on these videos are no different, and they brought with them incredible enthusiasm and passion for telling their Y story and showing how impactful the Y has been in their lives.
Strub: Are there any meaningful anecdotes that didn’t make the cut in the final videos?
Waller: What we hope to convey in each of the videos, but is sometimes hard to capture, is the emotion of the celebrities when they walk back into their hometown Y and soak in the sights, sounds and smells they look back on so fondly. We called the series “My Y Story.” for a reason. Each person has a very personal connection to his or her Y. We heard that a lot – “My Y was…” “When I was at my Y, I…” We did our best to make sure this came through in the videos, but being there with them at the moment they return is very special. It was also very touching to see how the celebrities interacted with everyone at each Y when the cameras weren’t rolling. They fell right into the community culture – chatting with members, playing with kids, lending a hand to staff. It showed that they were a part of their Ys as much as their Ys were a part of them.
Strub: Whose story do you think has made the biggest impact?
Waller: I think each of the videos has its own special impact because, in addition to telling a unique story, each focuses on a unique Y program or offering that has a direct impact on the community. When Andrew Zimmern talked about food insecurity affecting 200,000 children in Minnesota and 12 million kids nationwide, that put a real face to the issue of hunger and the importance of our Summer Food Program. When the Edmunds brothers assisted with our Safety Around Water program, it showed to people of all ages the importance of being safe around water and learning to swim, and that water can be fun and not feared. Ethan Hawke’s emersion into the kids’ art, teen theater and senior dance classes showed that there really is something for everyone in the community at the Y. And when Jane Lynch sat down with teenagers from our fine arts programs and hel