Health and Wellness Outside of the YMCA | Community Health Navigators

Last updated: January 5, 2024, at 12:25 p.m. PT

Originally published: January 5, 2024, at 11:45 a.m. PT

senior man taking his own blood pressure

Healthy living has long been at the core of the Y’s mission, including building health in spirit, mind, and body - what we now refer to as Whole Person Health. We believe everyone should be able to live a healthy, meaningful life, but we know that many people in our communities lack access to the resources they need. That’s where the Y’s Community Health Navigators come in.

For years, the Y’s healthy living programs like Diabetes Prevention, Blood Pressure Monitoring, Livestrong, and Pedaling for Parkinson’s have been offered in English and Spanish and have helped thousands of people live healthier lives. While open to the community, especially those referred by their medical provider or health insurance, coming to Y branches can be a barrier for many people.

Started in 2018, the Community Health Navigator team is changing that by taking those same programs out into the community to reach populations that do not have easy access. By building relationships, translating programs into different languages, and ensuring programs are culturally appropriate, they truly put the Y’s mission into action, building health equity for all.

“We start with physical health because that’s usually the easiest thing to identify,” shared Dr. Sonya Walker, who leads the health navigator team. Unique to this team, though, navigators can also provide additional resources. “As we get to know people, as these relationships form and evolve, we realize that a person might need help with transportation or that a person doesn’t have health care,” shared Dr. Walker, “so we might ask ourselves, how can we bring a mammogram to this person or colon cancer screening to this person?”

While mainly focused on East African and African American communities in south Seattle, the Navigators also work with a wide variety of populations of color across King County. Navigators are carefully recruited from the local communities to be able to reach and connect with these populations and work closely with other local grassroots and faith-based organizations to bring specialized health programs and resources to them.

“We want to be a place where people can come together and celebrate, a place of healing,” shared Rahel Behailu, the YMCA of Greater Seattle’s health equity program executive. “It gives me hope that we are on the path to creating a healthier society that people want to be a part of, and everyone should have an opportunity to access health without any barriers. That’s what health equity is all about.”

Funded mostly by grants and private donors, Community Health Navigators are just getting started. We are currently reaching over 3,000 people in King, South King, and Snohomish Counties this year. We are so thankful for the donors supporting our work to address health inequity among minoritized populations, but there is a lot of work yet to be done. To learn more about expanding this program, contact the health equity team at