YMCA of the North Homes In on Holistic Health

Adapting to new community health needs requires agility and ingenuity. An $8 million donation from the George Family Foundation enables the YMCA of the North to do just that: innovate.

Well, that and new digitally-centric, holistic health and wellness programs that aim to bridge the gap between conventional healthcare and holistic health practices.

“Because of the pandemic, people are coming together differently,” says Sally St. John, vice president of holistic wellbeing at the North YMCA. “So that was a call to action for us to become more agile.”

Since 2018, the YMCA of the North — the country’s second-largest YMCA system — has been testing the concept of expanding its gym and swim membership to incorporate a more holistic approach to health that encompasses all parts of human health: mind, spirit, body, environment, and community. The $8 million donation supports an initiative called George Wellbeing and is the leading contribution to the North’s $29 million fundraising campaign to meet these goals.

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George Wellbeing integrates five dimensions of health – connect, nourish, move, reflect and restore – into a robust blend of in-person, digital and hybrid experiences including acupuncture, chiropractic, nutrition, gardening, health coaching, massage therapy, mental health therapy, mindfulness and physical therapy. They launched virtual health coaching at the height of the pandemic, which has now morphed into a hybrid wellbeing platform offering health coaching on topics such as immune resilience, mental and emotional wellbeing, mobility and gut health.

“We really say we want to be partners with healthcare, to be able to look at healthcare as a holistic model where we can value the whole person. By valuing the person, you begin to create more diversity in healing.” –Sally St John

Minnesotans with a chronic health condition spend eight times more on healthcare costs, according to the state. “We really say we want to be a partner in healthcare,” says St. John, “to look at healthcare as an integrated model where we can really value the whole person. By valuing the person, you begin to create more diversity in healing.”

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The program recently partnered with Fridley Public Schools, offering group yoga and acupuncture to teachers and staff. That’s not the only type of community work the initiative seeks. Equality-based public good is an integral part of the George Wellbeing Program mission. A grant program, still in development, will soon encourage BIPOC individuals to become certified health coaches to address the lack of diversity in health practices across the country.

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“I am very excited that we are aiming to create a space where people can find encounters in the human experience again. By that I mean there is so much to do, but we really need the energy and well-being to get it done.”


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