The story behind the song

Date: 25 September 2023

Image of the band Walk off the Earth

With its reimagined “Y.M.C.A” anthem, YMCA Canada turned a big idea into a reality


When you hear the opening line, “Young mind, there’s no need to feel down”, it feels instantly familiar. And yet, it feels new and exciting. 

On 28 August 2023, Canadian band Walk off The Earth released a new take on the 1978 song made famous worldwide by The Village People. Working with YMCA Canada, this “Y.M.C.A.” version adapts the lyrics to spotlight Y Mind, a youth mental wellness program that is now available in 20-plus associations across Canada. 

“The reception to the song has been very positive”, said Kelly Hardy, Vice President of Marketing and Communications for YMCA Canada. “When you work at the YMCA and hear the song, it may be cheesy or funny. But there’s a sense of pride, too. And with this version, I think it reminds people of why they are proud to work at a charity providing this type of programming”. 

From the beginning

In January 2023, YMCA Canada received CAN $6.9 million from the Government of Canada to support its Y Mind and Mind Medicine programmes. Y Mind started successfully in British Columbia, and the grant enabled the YMCA to scale that programme across the country. 

They reserved a portion of the grant for public relations and discussed campaigns to bring awareness to youth mental health in general and the Y Mind programme specifically. Having previously worked with global communications firm Edelman, YMCA Canada enlisted their support to promote Y Mind, and they came up with the idea of reimagining the “Y.M.C.A”.

“If you look closely at the lyrics and think about changing ‘Young man’ to ‘young minds’, you really don’t need to do much more to make it work. And we thought, ‘Brilliant!’”

Making it happen

The next step was securing the rights to use the music. Kelly said the negotiations took longer than anticipated, as “Y.M.C.A.” is a popular song. “We had to do a lot of negotiation to get the rights to a level we could afford”, Kelly said. “We have restrictions; for example, we cannot put it on digital streaming platforms”. 

The agency suggested Walk off The Earth, a band known for their cover songs. Kelly said they reached their target audience – and had been open about discussing mental health. 

“We felt this was the right band for us, and they were on board right away”, Kelly said. “We also learned the band members have a long history with the YMCA. Some of them went to the YMCA when they were kids, and some of their kids now go to the YMCA”. In a TV interview in Calgary, singer Sarah Blackwood shared more about the partnership and her experience at the YMCA. 

Kelly said the staff had the chance to offer input on the revised lyrics. “The biggest line we had to change was, ‘It’s fun to stay at the YMCA’, which doesn’t fit the mental health approach we were going for. Now it’s, “Make your way to the YMCA’. It was a cool opportunity to edit the lyrics of the YMCA – you don’t get to do that very often”. 

Although the song was ready for release in spring, YMCA Canada waited until the end of August, as that fits well with programme recruitment cycles. In addition, it’s well-timed with World Mental Health Day on 10 October 2023. 

Reaching new audiences

In addition to the many positive comments she’s heard, Kelly said other YMCAs in the USA, for example, have reached out to learn more about Y Mind and see how they might get involved. 

Although it took her a while to get used to the new version, Kelly said it’s stuck in her head now. “And I love reading the comments on the YouTube video and seeing how the general public is reacting. And I see comments from YMCA staff saying it makes them so proud to work there”. 

Available on Walk Off The Earth’s YouTube Channel, as of 18 September 2023, the song had 184,428 views and 441 comments. Just a sample: 

“Being a Y employee and working with teens, this song brought tears to my eyes. THANK YOU for recognizing the work we do every day. Seeing the change in young minds is the greatest gift anyone could ever receive”.

“Perfect timing and beautiful way to speak about one of the most critical needs in our community”.

“This cover is just beautiful and should be picked up for a commercial as I now want to donate to the Y”.

Kelly said the song draws attention to the work YMCA Canada and other YMCAs do around Community Wellbeing, the first Pillar of Vision 2030. “The song and its impact reinforces that YMCAs worldwide all do different things. But at the end of the day, we are helping communities and trying to do good in the world”.