YMCA enters critical stretchLike most other organizations, a troubled economy also affects the River Falls Area YMCA.
By: Debbie Griffin, River Falls Journal
Like most other organizations, a troubled economy also affects the River Falls Area YMCA.
“Any business working with discretionary income has seen a decrease,” said Tom Holland, Operations vice president for the YMCA of Greater St. Paul, who’s responsible for directing four western Wisconsin Ys: River Falls, Hudson, New Richmond and Osceola.
Economic effects came close to closing the local facility, which sits inside the same building as EconoFoods on Main Street.
The YMCA had been leasing its space from Econo’s parent company, Edina, Minn.,-based Nash Finch Company. This year marked the end of a four-year lease.
Though Holland said the local branch has grown steadily, it hasn’t yet become self sustaining. The St. Paul Y has been subsidizing its operations.
So, when lease-renewal time came around, the board looked hard at ways it could move the facility forward and make ends meet. Holland said he approached building owners Nash Finch and told them the Y wanted to stay but as things stand, it couldn’t.
Holland asked Nash Finch about the possibility of donating the Y’s lease.
“I did not expect a positive result,” said Holland about asking big in a tough economy.
But last week, he said Nash Finch had called and said, “OK.” It offered to subsidize the approximate annual rent expense of $48,000 and asked the River Falls Y to pay electric cost, which it hadn’t been doing.
Holland said that saves the local organization about $32,000. That amount doesn’t bring its budget back into the black, but close enough to operate another year.
Without that subsidy, the VP says the local facility would have had to vacate its space but could have kept programs like class exercise and child care.
He said, “We couldn’t have continued with the membership.”
Working on a plan
Holland said River Falls needs about 2,000 “membership units” to be self sustaining.
“We’re a ways away from that,” he said.
At its peak, the local Y had about 750, but that number slipped to 600. Holland says the Y hopes to rebuild membership and would do well to have 1,000 units.
Y financing comes from three sources: Memberships, programs and community philanthropy.
In addition to memberships, people support the Y through its programs. Some showing potential for growth are preschool-age child care that began last fall at the River Falls Academy, personal trainers and a wide range of group-exercise classes.
“We’re organizing for the Y Partners 2009 campaign,” said Holland.
That involves soliciting partnerships and support from River Falls businesses and organizations.
He said a big chunk of the $60,000 the Y hopes to generate with the campaign pays for services to low-income people in the community. Holland describes the economic downturn as a “double whammy” because membership declines (along with that financial support) and the need for those subsidized services increases.
Holland said staff wise and operationally, not a lot has changed since former River Falls Y Executive Director Virginia Kaczmarek left about a year ago to take the helm of the Northfield, Minn., YMCA. He said though the long-term plan includes an on-site director for each of the four Ys that Holland manages, but the organization will stick with its current staffing model.
In River Falls, that includes him, desk staff, fitness trainers, preschool child care teachers and exercise-class leaders.
“Those are all part-time staff who have a presence here at this Y,” he said, adding that they work with Hudson-based regional staff on training and program development.
Another aspect of planning is to grow the local board. It has nine members now, but Holland said it should have about 18 members.
New facility far off
The 29-year YMCA veteran Holland said though the local board has not given up on talking about a new facility, the reality of it lies far off. The first step would be for River Falls to become a self-sustaining facility; the second would be to have the ongoing philanthropic support needed to balance the budget.
“We’re a ways away from that,” he said, adding that building would require a capital campaign.
Talks with the River Falls Area Hospital continue about the potential of a future facility shared by the two entities since they have much in common in terms of fitness and wellness goals.
“We don’t know that anything will come from this,” Holland said about the early discussions.
He helped get the Hudson YMCA built for $4 million in 1992 and said building costs have doubled since then. Hastings and Lino Lakes, both in Minnesota, have new facilities because in one case, the hospital offered up real estate and in another, the city gave land and infrastructure costs.
In New Richmond, a private citizen funded an aquatic center, onto which the Y added a fitness center with strong support from the city.
Holland said he’s in River Falls two or three days a week, usually for meetings with the board or potential community partners. He said many around town will be hearing from him or others about the 2009 Y Partners campaign.
He said everyone’s worked hard during the last four years to build up a welcoming place where people feel comfortable and can get a variety of services. Holland points out that the Y offers something for everyone: Preschool-age children, kids and youth, teenagers, seniors, parents and everyone in between.
“It (the Y) affects a broad scope of the community,” he said.
People can get more information from the Y’s Web site: www.ymcatwincities.org. Click on locations then River Falls for details about local memberships and offerings. Click on the donate tab to learn more about Y Partners and other avenues of support.