Find Your Why

Find Your Why at the YMCA of Coastal Georgia. Not a gym, a way of life.

Photography by John Alexander

In the words of Joel Smoker, CEO of the YMCA of Coastal Georgia, “The Y is bigger than a gym, it’s a movement and a community,” For the more than 83,000 members who walk through the doors of the 10 area locations, to those benefiting by the Y’s outreach programs.


In partnership with the LIVESTRONG Foundation, the YMCA has developed a small-group cancer survivorship program for those who are living with, through or beyond cancer. Nazira “Nana” Waldo is one such survivor-turned-wellness and “LIVESTRONG at the YMCA” coach, who teaches spin and Zumba at the Tybee and Habersham locations. In 2012 Waldo got a call saying she needed to come in for surgery for a lifesaving lumpectomy. Her response? “I can’t. I have to teach a Zumba class.”

She had the surgery of course, but that strength is what made her perfect to take on LIVESTRONG, the program she says is for “cancer warriors and survivors. They come to us going through chemo or radiation, or having completed it, and we customize the program to their needs.” Waldo is the perfect leader of the pack because, “I’m able to look them in the eyes and say, ‘I’ve been there, I’ve been through it – we can do this together. We’re a family.’”


That sense of family reaches out through programs like A Place to Dream (APTD), run locally by Pastor Herb Hubbard, one of less than 30 remaining YMCA chaplains in the US.

Hubbard, a former foster child, is deeply moved by APTD which, in partnership with the Housing Authority of Savannah, provides “a space of their own” for children sleeping on floors, couches, chairs, or several to a bed. This includes beds, bedding, toys, hygiene items, Bibles, and a flashlight – both a literal and symbolic light in the darkness. 

Hubbard understands this, being placed in five foster homes as a child, sleeping on floors or in tough situations before he landed in a good home. He remembers thinking, “If I ever get out of this, I will never sleep in the dark again.” To this day he doesn’t and he’s making sure other kids don’t either.

This December, the 111th bed will be delivered locally, and Hubbard hopes that in 2022 the Y will be able to do even more. The cost for each is around $300 but this effort changes everything from peace of mind to health, growth, and wellbeing. The APTD program is also expanding to Statesboro, with a delivery of approximately 10 beds before the end of the year, and also has plans in place for more deliveries in the new year.

“We’re to be a light to the world like Matthew 5 and that’s what the Y is working hard at,” said Hubbard. “Our CEO, Joel, strongly believes the Y is not just a fitness center but here to be a light in people’s lives, not with sympathy, but empathy.”

“Health is more than fitness or spending time in a gym. It’s about wellness and what wellness can mean,” said Smoker. It’s in the YMCA tagline: “Youth Development. Healthy Living. Social Responsibility.” When you connect the dots between that mission and their programs, you find the YMCA is at the heart of so much good and life-change, especially here in the heart of the Coastal Empire.

Learn more about the YMCA of Coastal GA at 912.354.6223 and

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