“A body is made up of many parts, and each of them has its own use.” –Romans 12:4
Day 119. It continues to be a rollercoaster of emotions when it comes to anticipating whether or not we will reopen our facilities anytime soon. A possibility remains in Kitsap County, with the governor potentially considering advancing the county into Phase 3 on July 16. Though we are all eagerly awaiting that moment, the brutal truth remains: when that day does come, new challenges will arise and they are not insignificant. The reality of operating in the world of the virus will be upon us.
This past week, we read about the YMCA resident camp in Georgia being forced to close due to 85 reported cases of staff and campers being exposed to the virus. Scotty Jackson and his team understood the risks were far too great for us to open YMCA Camp Seymour this summer; however, they did run a family camp this past weekend, operating under the state health department guidelines, which are consistent with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. With one family per cabin, Scotty and his team were able to safely provide a great outdoor experience for families. In my mind, and the rest of the team’s as well, providing a quality service to the community was critical, for them, and to our Y.
This has been my internal struggle throughout the closure period: wanting to remain relevant as an organization, providing activities to our members and the community, but also being safe and remaining economically viable. We all are aware that when we shut down our facility branches on March 16, we essentially turned off our source of revenue; in addition, we disconnected our members from their routines and the communities to which they belonged. From the surveys Michelle LaRue has conducted with our members from April 1 through June 25, the number of members who said they would return had dropped from 83% to slightly over 50% (which is still pretty high). Over the past few weeks, I have read a number of articles that are increasingly predicting most people will not return to the gym. One headline read: “Gyms Reopening After Coronavirus: 50% of Members Won’t Return.” Much of the documentation contends that people are discovering they can work out at home, but more often what people are saying is focused on their concern with the virus.
Though I am nervous about the length of time we have been closed, I have been extremely pleased about the effort our team has expended to remain connected to our members and the community. Between the virtual classes, the care phone calls, the town hall sessions, and the Friday topical calls (“Community Conversations with Charlie”), along with the weekly member and staff engagement emails, an enormous amount of effort has gone into keeping members connected to the Y. Lee Ann Jansen and her team had over 2,000 donors participate in last Friday’s “Conversations” call, which included the chair of our Endowment Investment Committee and the superintendent of the Clover Park School District as special guests. It created a tremendous response from our donors. To me, the response indicates that people are still very much interested in the Y and want to know what we are doing now and into the future.
A longtime member called me last week, just to chat. He is a prominent restauranteur, both locally and nationally. Similarly to us, his business is suffering, but where he is nervous about his own future, he was encouraged about the Y’s. He believes our brand is very strong and will be even more important to the community’s health and well-being coming out of the pandemic, stating people will need connection and support. Though it felt good to receive his encouragement, it was not enough to allow me to rest easy. The Y does have a strong brand, and it has years of goodwill in people’s lives, but there is strong evidence that we need to be prepared for only 50% of our members returning to the Y once we reopen our doors. The very highest numbers from Ys around the country show 50% of their members returning, with most Ys hovering around 40%. This will require us to offer a vastly different amount of services to the community and, at least for the foreseeable future, it will significantly decrease the size of our Y. (Toko Thompson’s latest financial forecast has our Y being a $35.8 million Y at the end of 2020, which is based upon us opening August 1 – a date she has had to adjust a number of times throughout the closure period.)
It does hit me hard when I see Toko’s forecast, recognizing how far we will have fallen as a result of the pandemic, but I cannot accept it … I will not accept it! Last week, we made the decision to invest more into the development of our virtual operations. This means we will be adding quality cameras, lighting, and a sound system into at least one of our facility exercise rooms to produce and deliver a higher quality of services to our members. Though it is an investment – something we have to be very thoughtful about, considering our financial situation – we still need to make investments in order to grow and evolve, which are both critical in a period of uncertainty. During this timeframe, we are also investing into the corresponding work of small group/community café development that will be integrated as part of the virtual experience. The company we are working with to enhance the virtual experience, FINAO (Failure Is Not An Option), is providing their services and product free of charge.
In addition to the virtual experience work being done, we continue to advance with the Child Care team providing services to the community. I cannot say enough about this team – about their courage and their dedication. They are leading the way for our Y. This summer, they will be working with the Clover Park and Puyallup school districts to offer the Power Scholars program. This has become a critical program to the community, especially now with the youth having had their education profoundly disrupted. This is another example of how people from under-resourced communities have been exposed as being most vulnerable in the pandemic – not having access to the internet nor computers has seriously impaired the ability for youth to engage in the education process. Our Y will play a significant role in connecting youth to a vital engagement and enrichment effort that is critical to preventing the youth from sliding behind in their development.
It was not easy to adapt and deliver the Power Scholars program; this is a tribute to Tara Harkness and her team, particularly Jessica Banning, who is the lead staff person directing the program. It is an example of how our Y has had to operate in this climate – to be nimble and seize the opportunity to create impact and build revenue. The Power Scholars program has been funded by one anonymous donor as well as many private donors. It has also positioned us well for critical partnerships with school districts, which has strengthened our position for future work in this arena. As we move through this pandemic, partnerships are going to prove vital to us in our ability to deliver services, but also to remain relevant to the community. Darcy Celletti and the Center for Community Impact staff have done a great job developing indispensable services to the Tacoma and Franklin Pierce school districts, and have been expanding their footprint into other districts. Recently, our Y was awarded a grant from the Whisper Foundation to sustain and expand the work of the Center. This is a great tribute to Darcy and her team, as well as the work of the financial development team to secure the grant. In both cases, our Y has demonstrated its ability to continue to look for opportunities to advance itself forward, even amidst particularly challenging circumstances.
Last week, I read an article Stevie Trittin posted on her LinkedIn page entitled, “4 Ways to Improve Your Strategic Thinking Skills.” I really enjoy Stevie’s posts because she uses it as a medium to educate and bring thought to her role as executive director of learning and development. There were a number of great points identified in the article, but here are a few that stood out to me:
- Make it a routine exercise to explore and synthesize the internal trends in your day-to-day work, particularly the common obstacles your colleagues face
- Connect with your colleagues about understanding their observations
- Understand the unique position you play in the organization
- Ask the tough questions so you can help you and your peers address the most challenging issues it faces
- Allow for space to have creative and strategic thinking
Though the article was focused on the individual employee, the key points were critical for our organization during this period. We do need to understand the trends that all Ys and businesses are facing right now, and engage in conversation about how we can navigate through them. You each can help play a role in adding to the discussion, because you have a unique perspective and skill to bring to the team. In last week’s staff Community Café discussion, I heard from staff I do not frequently hear from, and they offered extremely valuable insight as to what we can be doing to grow and evolve forward as a Y. I appreciated the design introduced by Stevie and Janele Nelson. I think it will be an effective vehicle for us to utilize and help harness the collective talents of our staff team. In the end, you are the hope for our Y. It will require all of us to contribute in order for us to succeed, but I am very encouraged from what I have seen from all of you. You are leaning in hard, committed to making us a great Y, through the most challenging period in all of our lifetimes. You give me, and our Y, hope. You are all remarkable. Thank you for your continued dedication.