Paul Vest, president and CEO of the YMCA of Western North Carolina, recently witnessed what his organization, its employees and its members truly mean to those in the local community.
The nonprofit has been hit just as hard as any other organization amid COVID-19 shutdowns, having to temporarily close some of its doors earlier this year amid stay-at-home mandates by the Federal Government.
For example, a staff member told Vest about a gentleman in his 80s who used to go to breakfast every morning at a local restaurant with other members, then come to the YMCA to "be with his friends," said Vest.
With several of the YMCA's locations closed because of COVID-19, the employee saw the man's car in the parking lot and went over to see if everything was OK.
"That gentleman was just sitting in his car, eating his breakfast, knowing that's the place where he would normally go every day," Vest explained. "So, he was trying to keep some continuity in his life."
That's what the YMCA means to people on a "human level," Vest explained.
"We have senior citizens coming into our doors every day who are looking for that social connection, where they know they're going to be safe and they can share a cup of coffee with somebody," he said.
But there's also the ripple effect that goes beyond just the members, and impacts the YMCA family of dedicated employees, Vest added.
The YMCA of Western North Carolina is based in Asheville, North Carolina. It has eight locations across three counties and the state's largest licensed childcare operation. Vest said the local community in Asheville is a close-knit one, where people sometimes work two or three jobs to make ends meet.
Now with most service jobs shut down, Vest sees both Y members and employees suffering from the economic side effects of COVID-19.
Enter TD Bank and the much-needed Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), administered by the Small Business Administration (SBA), as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
Vest said he had admired TD Bank long before this situation, but how the Bank and TD's Western North Carolina Market Leader Charles Frederick helped them through COVID-19 has made him a fan for life.
Charles has served on the YMCA board for years and has been a confidant to Vest during this troubling time. Vest said Charles recused himself from the PPP loan process to make sure there was no conflict but helped the Y secure the resources and information it greatly needed when applying for the loan.
"He's been a great banking friend for me and the organization," Vest said. "TD really stepped up to the plate during this time."
Charles said Senior Relationship Manager Mike Cortes really brought this home for TD and the YMCA.
"I acted almost as a consultant to the Y and Paul. Mike was doing the day-to-day process with the application. He did a really good job with that, helping a key customer who is also crucial to the community," Charles said.
With the funds, the Y was able to bring back hundreds of employees and keep others working. While some staff focused on preparing to reopen safely, others served on the front lines to meet community needs. For instance, the Y greatly expanded its feeding programs.
The YMCA's employees distribute fresh fruits and vegetables, at no cost, to those who need them most to give them healthy food options and a needed boost to their immunity. They also work with a variety of local partners to prepare and deliver meals to thousands of children, families, veterans and senior citizens each week. The community needs this assistance now more than ever, Vest explained.
Now, the YMCA is ready to open its pools with limited access, start outdoor exercise later and open summer day camp on June 1. It will expand services as state and local restrictions begin to lift.
"Paul and his staff are very strong leaders and have done an incredible job working through all of the challenges with this pandemic," Charles said. "Paul cares so much about his staff and all the people the Y serves in so many ways."
Another area of major impact the YMCA has supported is caring for the children of first responders and other essential workers.
These frontline healthcare heroes are risking their lives every single day in the face of the deadly virus, but who cares for their children while they are busy caring for us?
"Nurses that needed childcare to go to work had the opportunity to drop their kids off at the Y and we were caring for them during the day," Vest said.
The YMCA has been lifting a huge burden off these heroes' shoulders through engaging activities, which of course meet health and safety guidelines.
Vest is most proud of the "sense of normalcy" his organization and its employees are bringing "to a kid's life while their parents are doing some incredible services for our community."
Support for first responders and children is something that really hits home for Vest.
"My wife's a kindergarten teacher; she spends her day teaching 20 plus children, now virtually," he said. "I'm just fascinated with how she's able to adapt and handle it. That's why she's skilled and talented to do the things she does. For us, it all comes back to our incredible staff. They're really in it for the right reasons and knowing what's in the best interest of these kids and the community."