Serving Those Who Serve Us All
The Armed Services YMCA makes military life easier by providing programs and services to the young men and women of all five armed services: Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard.
These Ys support more than 500,000 young enlisted soldiers, sailors, airmen and their families each year with the help of gracious donors and stalwart volunteers.
They have served since the Civil War and their banners have been seen in every conflict since. On the battlefields of Europe and in far flung reaches of China, they have been there taking care of the military fighting for our freedoms.
The Alaska Armed Services YMCA offers some very unique programs that are specifically geared to serve military families. While they don’t have a recreational facility, they offer a variety of services on four military bases in Anchorage and Fairbanks, and service the rest of the military installations in the state through outreach programs.
Some of the unique programs include:
Teddy Child Watch at Base Hospitals—Free childcare for military parents during medical appointments. Missed appointments are a huge problem for military hospitals and childcare is a major reason.
Airport Welcome Centers —A place of respite for military personnel traveling through Anchorage or Fairbanks located right at the airport. A comfortable lounge with snacks, showers and quiet space.
Operation Kid Comfort—Handmade personalized quilts that include family photos printed on fabric. These unique quilts are given to the children of the military members deployed overseas. The reception is incredible by the kids!
Baby Bundles—Gift baskets with essentials are given to first-time parents on base. Many of these are younger personnel who struggle to make ends meet. These essential items are truly appreciated.
Operation Snack Attack—The YMCA provides a variety of simple snacks and personal care items free of charge for military personnel being deployed. A group of several hundred folks often deploy at once, so this requires a lot of snacks, drinks and other items. These items are collected and distributed by volunteers who are often the last face military personnel see before deploying.
Y on Rails—In an agreement with Alaska Railroad, military families are selected by lottery each year to go anywhere by train free of charge. Given the beauty of Alaska, this is a dream vacation for those who are lucky enough to win this trip.
Y on Wheels—These military bases are massive. The Y provides a van and driver to take anyone anywhere on base for $1 a trip. This van is busy morning to night, transporting soldiers and airmen around the base.
After 5 Boutique—The YMCA loans out formal wear for women in all sizes for military personnel and their spouses. These formal and semi-formal gowns are all donated and kept in excellent condition. Hundreds are available to choose from.
Combat Fishing Tournament—Offered as a unique Alaska experience to the Junior Enlisted personnel, up to 40 deep sea fishing boats are made available for military personnel the week before the official fishing season opens. It’s a huge program that attracts national attention.
In addition to these unique programs, the Y also operates a food pantry at each base location because food shortage is a very real problem, especially for the lower ranks. They also do an annual awards dinner called the Salute to the Military that honors 12 selected personnel from across the state. They conduct two different golf tournaments, two highly productive thrift stores, a Father/Daughter Gala in both Fairbanks and Anchorage, a Mother/Son Outdoor Adventure Trip, Drop In Centers and more.
The Board of the Alaska Armed Services YMCA, led by Sarah Riffer, CEO, and Keith Manternach, Chairman, is now considering how they may be able to incorporate faith-based programs into their schedule and how they may be able to partner with the US Mission Network. In fact, a member of their local board, Erik Lind, is on the National Board of the Armed Services YMCA and has already helped us connect with the Chairman, CEO and other key leaders in Washington, D.C. This national board has recently launched a new sub-committee to explore how to bring spiritual life back into their Ys. It is our hope to meet with these key national leaders soon to explore how we may be able to work together to lift up the C in the Armed Services YMCAs.
Though they don’t have all the trappings of many civilian Ys, the Armed Services YMCA in Alaska is making a real difference in the lives of those they serve. When you spend time with Sarah Riffer and her staff, you immediately sense their passion and commitment to this work. It’s exciting to see such passion in action. May God bless them as they continue to serve those who serve us all.