The Department of Defense announced last week it is extending Armed Services YMCA memberships for military families through next March.

The Military Outreach Initiative (MOI), a five-year contract between the Defense Department and the Armed Services YMCA, was set to expire this year, but the contact will now end March 17, 2015.

Chris Wright, an official with the Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) program, said the initiative was originally intended for families of deployed Guardsmen and reservists to give them an opportunity to join a YMCA free of charge for fitness, recreational activities and child care. The program was later extended to active-duty families.

"[The MOI] provides spouses an outlet during stressful times, and an opportunity to maintain fitness, physically and mentally," Wright said in a Defense Department press release.

About 2,700 YMCAs nationwide participate in the program. Memberships are paid through Overseas Contingency Operations funding because the initiative is tied to readiness and deployment, according to the Defense Department.

"As we continue to draw down efforts in Afghanistan and the Middle East, that requirement is beginning to decline," Wright said. "We want families to understand that as popular as it's been, this program is beginning to draw down to prepare for the end of the contract, and [we are] looking for other opportunities."

According to the Armed Services YMCA, the MOI has provided no-cost YMCA memberships to more than 60,000 military families and has benefitted 112,000 military children.

"The Armed Services YMCA, Y-USA and our partners at DoD care about the quality of life of service members and their families," Mike Landers, president and CEO of the Armed Services YMCA, said in a statement. "We understand that the military community is not made up of installations, but service members and their families. We want to provide support wherever they are located, which isn't always near a military installation or ASYMCA branch or affiliate location."

After the MOI contract ends, according to the Defense Department, families of deployed service members still will have access to fitness services through the White House's Joining Forces initiative in which the American Council on Exercise and the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association have donated free personal training and health club memberships.