Lita McClain, marketing and public relations specialist for the Armed Services YMCA of Alaska, stocks shelves at the ASYMCA food pantry, on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, Jan. 26, 2016. In 2015, the ASYMCA food pantries provided an estimated 15,032 pounds of food to military families on the JBER and Fort Wainwright communities. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Javier Alvarez)
Lita McClain, marketing and public relations specialist for the Armed Services YMCA of Alaska, stocks available shelf space at the ASYMCA food pantry on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, Jan. 26, 2016. The food pantry is one of more than 20 programs offered by the ASYMCA, specifically designed to meet the needs of the JBER community. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Javier Alvarez)
The Armed Services YMCA of Alaska Headquarters is located on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson. The ASYMCA staff work with base leadership to enhance services needed on the installation. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Javier Alvarez)
The Armed Services YMCA of Alaska offers two food pantries on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson. The food pantries on the installation assist military families who experience unbudgeted expenses during the month. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Javier Alvarez)
JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska —
The Armed Services YMCA has been assisting military members and their families since the days of the American Civil War.
The organization came to Alaska in 1941, and for the past 70 years the ASYMCA has been serving the Alaska military community through its mission of alleviating some of the stresses military life can present.
The headquarters of ASYMCA of Alaska is located on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson. However, there are other locations throughout Alaska - on Fort Wainwright and the surrounding areas, including two military courtesy lounges at Ted Stevens and Fairbanks International Airports.
"We can be found throughout the U.S.," said Buddy Whitt, executive director for ASYMCA of Alaska. "We work specifically with local commands to find out what the needs are. You can go to the local ASYMCA and look at all the programs and services offered. If you were to then PCS to Fort Hood, Texas, and go to the ASYMCA there - there may be some similarities, but there are things they do that we don't. It all depends on the local need."
While the ASYMCA carries the YMCA name, there are some distinct differences in their purpose and function.
"What separates us from a traditional YMCA is our funding does not come from any sort of membership," Whitt said. "We are not an organization that is run by monthly fees for services. Most of what we do is free or low cost."
Offices are strategically located on or near military installations to better serve their target audience.
"[Non-military] can volunteer with us," said Kyra Mailki, ASYMCA of Alaska program and funds development supervisor. "They can donate and participate in those ways. But as far as services, it's only for military members and their dependents."
The organization is largely funded through donations. And while they have paid employees, their staff is primarily composed of volunteers.
"People will give us stuff to pass on to the military," Mailk said. "We make sure the support that's out there, and people want to give, makes it to the people they want to give it to."
Currently, the ASYMCA on JBER offers more than 20 programs designed to meet the needs of the local community.
"We try to address the needs that are presented to us rather than pushing needs that we think exist," Mailk said.
Some programs and services offered by the JBER ASYMCA include:
Teddy's Child Watch provides two free hours of childcare for children 6 months to 12 years at the hospital. There is a short registration process, but the service is available to anyone with access to the hospital.
"If you have a doctors appointment and you have a little one that you have to take with you, you're not really going to get a lot done," said Mailki. "It can be very distracting and it can be hard to pay attention to what the doctor has to say."
An ASYMCA Food Pantry assists military families who may be hit with unbudgeted expense during the month.
"Maybe their car breaks down and they need a couple more meals to get through the month," Whitt said. "Or it could be someone who just [transfer] up and they weren't ready for the expense of living in Alaska."
There are many other programs and services offered by the ASYMCA such as Y on Wheels, Operation Snack Attack and Operation Kid Comfort to name a few.
"We try to be helpful in multiple ways, not just getting someone who is in trouble get through until the next week, but maybe putting them on a path to success long term," Mailki said.
"I like to consider ourselves as hero support," Whitt said. "We have all these heroes working, and we don't have those super powers. Our job is to make sure our heroes and their families have everything that they need to do their job."
Those interested in volunteering, donating or inquiring about the many services offered by the ASYMCA can call the JBER-Elmendorf office at 552-9622. Or the JBER-Richardson office at 384-9622.