"We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other." - Romans 12:5
Throughout the closure and over these past few weeks, our vice presidents and I have remained connected to the other Ys from around the country. The network of Ys has never been more active nor more valuable. We learned a great deal from watching those Ys who opened first, and there was an extremely valuable exchange of ideas. The Ys have always worked together, but during this period there has been a stronger sense of “we are all in this together” that has drawn us even closer. It seems there is a common understanding that we need to lean on each other, so all of us will make it through. The Y network has also played an important role in representing our needs in the legislature, positioning us to receive funding for the emergency childcare services we provided, as well as increase the funding for our unemployment insurance. I remain confident that these efforts will produce great returns for our Y and will have a profound impact on our long-term sustainability.
As strong as the Y network has been, it is clear the weight of the circumstances we are all facing are beginning to take their toll on everyone; it has become increasingly clear that doubt has begun to seep into the collective mindset. I have to admit, I have opted out of a few of the very large meetings and have chosen to remain more involved in the smaller groups of Ys that took form. The mental aspect is so vital for staying the course and it is too easy to be drawn into the despair other leaders are feeling. I never want to have false hope, but I do remain optimistic about our Y. I continue to marvel at how we have all drawn together – we have never been so aligned around a common goal. It has also never been more clear that we need to rely on each other, encouraging one another in order to strengthen our resolve. The journey is arduous, but together we will prevail.
Chief Operating Officer Brian Flattum has been a wizard at pulling on every possible lever to increase member activation. He is working across departments to optimize the member experience. Beginning this week, we have removed the requirement for members to reserve space in order to enter our community centers. The use levels thus far have not reached capacity, so Brian and his team made the decision to remove that requirement, which will ease the entry process and make it more user friendly. In addition, Brian removed the requirement of taking the temperature of each member upon entering a community center. The health department does not require this step, and it is a very intensive use of staff. Wearing masks, maintaining social distance, and being vigilant on the cleaning will remain our focus. Being able to utilize staff elsewhere will allow us to open an hour earlier and add more classes, especially for youth. Brian has done a great job working with his operations team, along with Chief Human Resources Officer Shannon Costanti and Chief Financial Officer Toko Thompson to add services and, at the same time, keep a watchful eye on the addition of expenses. This is a different day and we must remain very mindful of what services we are adding, yet we need to add value to the membership. The balance is tricky, but Brian and the team have done a great job working at it.
During last Friday’s “Staying Connected” call, we celebrated the various contributions from staff teams. Scotty Jackson reported on the success of the weekend participation Camp Seymour is seeing now that members can have an outdoor experience as part of their membership. The marketing team has come alongside the camp team to promote this value-add component. In addition, Scotty reported that camp provided distance learning opportunities to Key Peninsula families. Week one was a huge success, with kids declaring: “Camp Seymour was the best school in the ‘holl gallicsey’” – to which Scotty shared his team is focusing on spelling with the kids. In order for our Y to offer distant learning, Planned Giving Director Carol Kowalski and the financial development team are helping to generate community support – another example of our team coming together to forge our Y forward during this time.
Also during the Friday call, I highlighted the tremendous work Association Arts Director Lynn Wilmot-Stenehjem and the arts team are doing in the virtual arena – 275 youth and families are currently participating in a variety of arts classes online. I watched one of the classes led by Seth and the interaction with youth was fantastic, providing a high level of engagement – you could see they were truly having a great time, which bodes well for the virtual platform being an effective pathway for our Y moving forward. Another example of our Y’s work to develop the use of the virtual delivery model was Friday’s “Conversations” episode. (I have adopted Lynn’s vernacular – I do love the British use of the English language.) On that call, Association Health Initiatives Director Susan Buell, Association Mission Director Janele Nelson, Nicole Manus, and Linda Ullah shared their learnings from the recent community cafés being offered to active older adults. Nicole and Linda are from the Spokane YMCA, and there are six Ys from around Washington state who are participating in this café. Linda shared her experience as a participant, highlighting the value of engaging with people during the pandemic, but also believing there is great value for this medium for other groups. Linda taught online education in the 1990s, and provided us with guidance to strengthen the furthering of this component as a service delivery mechanism. She shared that not all people have a physical Y in their area, and that to have an opportunity to do yoga or engage in community captures the Y experience in a way that will be invaluable for many people. She shared how the in-person component will remain vital to the overall engagement of people, and including it as part of the Y experience will be critical.
I have mentioned the virtual experience a lot over the past few months. I believe it is, and will remain, an important part of our Y’s viability moving forward. It also requires a collaborative effort by our Y, crossing over many departments – mission, operations, marketing, and IT all need to come together to make this work. In addition, we have engaged outside groups, community members, other Ys, and a private business that is working with us to develop an app to accommodate the inclusion of the community café into the virtual experience. Transposing the brick and mortar into a virtual context requires a great deal of collaboration to ensure the vision is cohesive. Watching the team work together, weaving the vision into reality for our Y and being an effective medium to strengthen our membership model, has been nothing short of miraculous. I get very excited watching our team in action.
OK, if I were to be totally honest, I would admit I have moments of doubt. Membership did decline last week to 24,723 units, down from a pre-COVID number of 45,288 units. On the other hand, I get excited when I hear from Brian the great things staff are doing to build membership. Brian, Association Member Experience and Operations Director Tara Bywater, Property Management and Facility Development Director Loren Johnson, and Association Facilities Director Ed Bressette have been working to prepare the Tacoma Center YMCA pool to open as soon as possible. Loren gave us the green light, and Brian and Tara immediately went to work. Downtown Tacoma will have a pool within the next week or so. It is another example of maximizing our resources to engage our members. I also get excited when I hear that Susan is jumping into the effort to provide weight loss classes as an added value to the membership. In addition, YMCA Child Care Executive Director Tara Harkness and Toko have been working diligently to execute a lease for us to operate an early learning center on the University Place/Tacoma border. This will position us to provide a critical service to the community, as well as generate vital funds to our operation. So, when doubt starts to seep in, I just have to take a look around me to see the incredible team of warriors we have, and the amazing work you are all doing to move our association forward. When this is all said and done, I can write a book documenting the collaborative effort of our team and how you have reinvented yourself, all in the name of lifting up our Y to be a vibrant force for our community. I am in awe of all of you. You are the YMCA of Pierce and Kitsap Counties. God bless you.