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YMCA mulls uncertain post-COVID future Brockville Recorder & Times (Print Edition)┬ĚTim Ruhnke

CA|April 18, 2020·11:05am

Edition: Final·Section: Local·Page: A4

The YMCA of Eastern Ontario is not unlike many businesses and charities affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Officials with the non-profit organization continue to take steps to deal with the impact of the ongoing health crisis and prepare for an uncertain future when restrictions aimed at preventing the spread of the coronavirus begin to ease.

"The community support has been great," CEO Rob Adams said in an interview.

The YMCA announced on March 15 that it would be immediately shutting down its pool, fitness and child-care facilities on Park Street in Brockville and its operations in Kingston until April 6, the end date of the provincial government's initial school closure order.

The school closure period was then extended to May 4, and the government indicated earlier this week that schools would remain closed beyond that date.

The decision to shut down the YMCA before the province mandated the closure of fitness and recreation amenities was drastic, but was the right thing to do, according to Adams.

As a result, the YMCA stopped collecting membership fees and temporarily turned off the flow of its revenue stream. Typical operating expenses in the two cities total more than $800,000 per month. Steps taken to reduce costs include laying off most of the staff, deferring mortgage and loan payments and turning off heat to the pools.

The YMCA has also been working with vendors in an effort to reduce costs by deferring, waiving or forgiving payments, the CEO reported.

"Everyone has been very accommodating," said Adams.

The YMCA is also trying to make use of any pandemic-related federal and provincial programs aimed at providing financial relief or support to charities and businesses.

Even with all of the cost-cutting measures in place, the estimated cost of operating facilities in Brockville and Kingston during the shutdown is about $100,000 per month.

Adams acknowledged key support from three sources since the start of the pandemic-driven closure.

The Brockville and Area YMCA Foundation gave a gift of $200,000. The Gill Ratcliffe Foundation and the Estate of Larry Gibson have also made contributions.

The CEO also pointed out that a few members reached out immediately after the closure and offered to donate their uncollected membership fees as a way to support the YMCA. For a regular adult membership, a bi-weekly payment of about $29 would normally be collected.

Little by little, the YMCA started getting emails from people offering to do this. That's when officials realized that there might be others who recognize that the YMCA remains a charity and would be willing to offer their support.

In his April 13 letter to the membership of about 8,000, Adams asks members to consider giving the gift of part or all of their fees during the closure. Potential donors are invited to either email member services or to visit the website to make a one-time donation.

"We appreciate any support you are in a position to give," wrote the CEO. Adams referred to the latter as "a simple request" that also helps the YMCA stay connected with its members during the pandemic.

The organization has created a "pretty strong community presence" that includes regular posting of workout videos led by local YMCA staff as well as story times and craft ideas on social media. A virtual gym class is now being offered on the Y's home page to assist students and families with at-home learning.

The YMCA also started making membership calls this week to see how members are doing, Adams noted. It remains unclear when facilities such as the YMCA will be allowed to reopen, and Adams acknowledged that it won't be as simple as unlocking the doors and resuming all activities on day one.

"We've started to look at what are the needs that we think are going to be required in the community sooner rather than later," the CEO said.

Child care will be an obvious need when people return to work as restrictions start being lifted, according to Adams. He expects the reopening might have to be done in phases; large group gatherings as well as use of recreation and park facilities might not be permitted right away.

"Everyone's learning new habits now," said Adams.

There have been discussions on the possibility of providing emergency child care or temporary shelter at the YMCA, he noted.

When asked if a lengthy closure could undermine the viability of the YMCA, the CEO indicated it has been servicing the region for more than 160 years.

"The YMCA has no intention to close," Adams stated. "The YMCA will still be needed."

Tax receipts are available for donations of $20 or more.