Making A Difference: Marco Y’s support for chronic disease

Joe Landon

There’s something going on at the Greater Marco Family YMCA that may surprise you.

While we learned that the Y’s mission is focused on healthy living, youth development and social responsibility in a Making a Difference column I wrote last September, I was not aware of the fact that the Y is now diversifying its support for chronic disease by offering medical programming directly to community members.

Core Healthy Partners’ Nurse Navigator, Monica Ramos, checks Jon’s blood pressure at the Marco YMCA.

What that means is the Marco YMCA, working with a group known as Core Health Partners (CHP), is the first YMCA in Florida to offer on-site programs to support the needs of people requiring medical support and supervision for a variety of chronic diseases, starting with type 1 diabetic children.

This all began last summer during a type 1 diabetic camp at the Y in partnership with the Help a Diabetic Child Foundation (HADC).

There were plenty of those typical summer camp activities you’d expect to find mixed in with some not-so-typical ones. “The campers, ranging in age from 8 to 14, built special bonds with new friends who shared the same struggles and needs,” says Tami Balavage, president of HADC and the mother of a type 1 diabetic son. “The focus was on learning to manage the disease together so the kids don’t feel alone,” she adds.

And the program is being run this school year, as well. Jon, who is 9, is one of the participants. He enjoys going to the Y afterschool program. “I like having fun with my friends and I also like having my nurse close by me at the Y, and so does my dad,” Jon shares. With the help of CHP Nurse Navigator Monica Ramos, Jon is learning how to best manage his life with diabetes while still having fun at the YMCA.

CHP Senior Vice President for Advancement, Paul Thein, stresses that “Jon just needs to focus on being a kid. He’s a great example of what it means to medically integrate the Y in order to support individual needs and strengthen the community as a whole.”

Thein goes on to tell us that “a Diabetes Self-Management and Education program will soon be offered at the Y with a goal of helping residents manage the complexities of diabetes.” It will include a registered nurse, dietician, physical therapists and medically trained wellness coaches.

- Jon checks his blood glucose level with the help of the nurse navigator. Soon Jon will receive a device for Continuous Glucose Monitoring (CGM) which eliminates the nine finger sticks he has to do on a daily basis.

“The Marco YMCA is a natural partner because of our mission to strengthen our community,” according to the Y’s CEO, Cindy Love-Abounader. “People like the YMCA for its healthy living and wellness activities.  Our goal is to help members continue their activity level and also receive services from our partners when needed,” she stresses.

The Marco Y and Ramos, the nurse navigator, are part of the University of Florida ECHO Project which stands for Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes. They deliver care to people where they live. Dr. Michael Haller, Chief of Pediatric Endocrinology at UF College of Medicine, says that “the ECHO Project aims to support primary care physicians’ knowledge as they seek better care for patients with type 1 diabetes. As we work together on this disease, the YMCA provides access for all ages to wellness programs, while HADC is doing a tremendous job helping patients access needed services and identifying physicians that can help.”

The Marco Y still touches about 10,000 lives each year in its usual ways with fitness activities and wellness classes. But they also serve as a human service organization for residents of southern Collier County by providing nearly $700,000 worth of financial aid for families in need.

To learn more about what’s happening there, visit or call 239-394-9622.

Joe Landon is a communications consultant having retired as executive director of communications for the Collier County School District. Send suggestions for future columns to