Then: The Pierson Road branch of the Flint, Mich., YMCA impressed the judges with its ability to make the most of a limited budget. From hosting the cardboard boat contest for local high-school physics students to an outreach program for area schools without pools, in which kids gain aquatics skills as part of their physical education instruction, the Flint YMCA has made creative use of its facility to attract swimmers. Other programs included the Torpedos swim team for special needs kids, many of whom have gone on to compete in the Special Olympics, and aerobics classes in the facility’s warm-water shallow pool targeting the older population and drawing 100 people a day.

NOW: The aquatics schedule is busier than ever. Working with a grant from the Ruth Mott Foundation and its own Partner with Youth funds, the YMCA now provides swim lessons for every fourth-grader in the Flint public schools, including many underprivileged kids that might otherwise never learn to swim. The program takes place during the school year and lasts for six weeks; at the end, each student receives a brand-new bathing suit and leaves with increased competence in the water. Pierson Road also offers swim lessons for all ages, and the Torpedos swim team continues to serve the area’s special-needs children. Family activities, like the monthly Float N Flick, are popular, and attendance at adult swim lessons has grown, with students ranging in age from 27 to 70, according to Community Programs Director Katie Turner. Morning aerobics classes are also particularly well-attended, with 35 to 40 in the pool every morning. Many activities target seniors, and the instructors are adept at modifying classes to match fitness level and ability. The Pierson Road branch currently has 5,500 members, with around 2,000 to 2,500 user visits a month during the school year.