A lifetime of volunteering with the YMCA


Meet Brenda Flaherty. She’s held many titles over the course of her life—like COO of Hamilton Health Sciences, and Assistant Professor of Nursing—but when asked about her relationship with the YMCA, she simply says she’s a volunteer.

And while Brenda’s connection to the Y is as a volunteer, she’s a volunteer who has spent the last 25 years expanding that relationship and being a true advocate of the Y’s mission.

“When I think of the Y, I think of the difference it makes in mind, body, and spirit,” says Brenda. “To me, that means the YMCA not only supports your physical well-being, but they also care about your mental health and your social and spiritual health.”

Her first experience with the Y was at a graduation of teen moms in Burlington in 1999, and while that program doesn’t exist locally anymore, Brenda says it opened her eyes to the impact the YMCA has on young people and the community.

“When I attended the graduation, I saw that the Y was supporting these young mothers to get an education, care for their child while they were learning, and providing some support as a parent to learn parenting skills. I realized, what a welcoming environment and sense of belonging for those young women, and I thought I’d love to join the board.”

Brenda joined the board of what was then the YMCA of Hamilton and Burlington. She soon became Chair of that Board and helped our local Y expand to become who we are today— the YMCA of Hamilton | Burlington | Brantford.

Brenda would go on to become Chair of the YMCA Canada Board, and a year later she was elected to represent Canada at the World YMCA Executive Committee — a position she currently holds along with her seat on the Y Saves Lives cabinet. This means she has been able to witness the difference the Y makes at every level.

“I find the Y throughout the world fills a community gap. The mission is vast, and it depends on what is needed in that community. So, for example, the Y can be an alternative to suspension, it can be welcoming to immigrants and refugees and newcomers, it can provide support through a youth mental health program,” she says.

“If there is a gap, the Y will fill it.”

It’s one of the reasons Brenda a YMCA donor and has felt so strongly about continuing to give her time and resources to the Y and why she believes in our World Y Vision 2030 and the four pillars of impact: community wellbeing, meaningful work, sustainable planet, and a just world.

“I think it's all about our mental health and wellbeing. You can only move forward as an individual if you feel supported and you are in an environment where you can be yourself and not be judged,” she says.

“With the Y, I feel like I belong.”

The LiveWell Program

As a healthcare professional and as a YMCA volunteer, Brenda was keenly aware of the importance of physical health, and she was also aware of the importance of emotional, social, and spiritual well-being.

That’s why Brenda worked together with the teams at Hamilton Health Sciences, McMaster University and the YMCA to create what would become the LiveWell program.

“I thought we could develop a program, ideally for prevention and health promotion, but also for individuals that have had a significant health event in their life like a stroke, cancer, cardiac disease, and more, and once they leave the health system this program would offer them a space in a community environment where they can recover and thrive.”

The LiveWell program has helped so many people regain control of their lives.

Brenda shared one story of a firefighter who was diagnosed with cancer. She says the family was unsure of what to do, but they found the LiveWell program and have found a safe space to build strength.

“They came to the Y and recovered physically and emotionally, they ended up bringing their grandchildren to the Y for swimming lessons and the Y became their community,” says Brenda.

“There are thousands of stories like this where people are living with chronic disease or have had a significant event and they’ve found support through the Y.”

Brenda is a true beacon of the Y. She is a light, guiding the way for so many in our community. She believes in our values and the sense of belonging that people feel when they’re part of the YMCA.

“I think the core of the Y’s success is their values and the desire to support a person so that they can thrive in their own life,” said Brenda.

“That’s the core of the Y’s mission, and that’s why for 180 years the Y has met the needs of the community globally while continuing to think about the needs of every individual.”