"Be strong and do not give up, for your work will be rewarded." - 2 Chronicles: 15:7
I thought I would start off acknowledging you for the results from our first month. During Friday’s “Staying Connected” call, Chief Financial Officer Toko Thompson joyously reported that, in our first month of operation since closing our community centers back in March, we actually took in more money than we spent. Furthermore, Toko indicated we should finish the year without having to borrow funds from the board-designated reserve. This is an overwhelmingly positive report, and a dramatic shift in our fortunes from just a month ago prior to us making the move to open our doors on September 7. At that point, our financial outlook was grim and it was fair to say our future was uncertain. Being the financial manager for our association, Toko added a word of caution to our optimism, though, as she should. We will still finish the year with a negative variance, but having had our major source of revenue shut off for six months, that is to be expected. Toko’s caution lies in our ability to control our expenses and not get carried away adding services that are not translating to an increase in revenue. In addition, the use of our community centers clearly indicates that we are averaging well below our pre-COVID numbers; only slightly more than 50% of our members have activated their membership, with many of them stating they are not quite ready to return.
Nevertheless, there were many positive announcements made during Friday’s call. Association Member Experience and Operations Director Tara Bywater announced that, as of October 8, there was an increase in the membership count by 166 units. This may not seem like enough to elicit a rousing celebration, but I think everyone would agree it does indicate a much-needed step in the right direction. It is also an indication that if services are added to the mix, membership might become more appealing to our members. Tara also announced that the Tacoma Center pool would open on Monday, October 12, at 6am. The fact that the pool will only be open 6-9:30am, Monday-Friday, speaks to the caution that Toko exhorted us to exert. It is exciting to open the Tacoma Center pool, having seen the positive response from our members throughout the association once the pools were open (many members are experiencing exhilaration from the healing powers of the water). Recently, I ran into an old friend who was just leaving the pool at our Lakewood community center. I asked him how it went and he raised his head to the sky, exclaiming, “It feels so good, it is miraculous.” Opening the Tacoma Center pool will be well received by the downtown community.
Expanding our services to grow membership, and yet carefully control expenses, is a tricky proposition, but it is one Chief Operating Officer Brian Flattum and the operations team have embraced with zeal. Tara further announced that the community centers have begun preparing the plan to add youth programming. Tara and Association Member Experience Director Tiffany Stewart-Harris have analyzed the membership data to understand how many members could activate their membership accounts with the addition of the programs; seeing the potential makes the move to add programming a more calculated risk. In addition, Tara spoke to the consideration of expanding our hours of operation, recognizing the need for members to get to the Y early enough to still be able to get to work in a timely manner. It is all a carefully designed plan of execution, and it is putting us in a good position. As Toko says, “All things considered, we look like we might finish the year in pretty good shape.”
I have really enjoyed the Friday calls. It has become a very unique opportunity for us to be together and stay connected. Using this format has enabled everyone to hear what is going on and learn about the innovative things happening throughout our association. Also during last Friday’s call, Association Arts Director Lynn Wilmot-Stenehjem shared the tremendous results she and her arts team have been experiencing. It is actually remarkable – they are engaging 335 students on the virtual platform in a variety of arts classes. Lynn told a powerful story about a young girl who was engaged in one of the classes, when her military dad unexpectedly joined in to see her daughter via Zoom. The young girl was beside herself with joy. It is a powerful example of the impact the virtual platform can have. Later that day, Association Mission Director Janele Nelson shared another example of the power of the virtual platform. She had received an email from one of our active older adults, who was participating in a community café being offered across the state among six YMCAs. Janele shared the poignant words from the participant with me: “This community is bringing me back to life. I realized after learning about resilience in this café that I’ve been resilient all my life and have come back from so many hard things, but I’d lost that sense of myself. Now I can see it again and believe I can be resilient right now and do what I can. I don’t know how many moments or steps my life still has, but I might as well start making them count. I’m at a beginning and I can leave that dead life I was living behind.”
The stories Lynn and Janele shared are powerful examples of how the Y can thrive in a virtual environment. University Y Student Center Executive Director Michael Marquez, Lynn, Janele, Chief Technology Officer Bruce Caudill, and Director of Strategic Engagement and Marketing Michelle LaRue continue to lead the charge for us in pioneering a new milieu. This work in the virtual realm is a vital part of our strategy, but it is not the only one. What we have learned thus far in this challenging environment is it is not one area or one component that will make the difference for our future success. The Child Care team was carrying the flag for us for many months and they continue to provide essential services to our community so youth can go back to school and parents can go back to work. In just a few weeks, YMCA Child Care Executive Director Tara Harkness and her team will open a new early learning center that will deepen our footprint in this important sector. The Y has long taken the position that we are here to provide essential services to youth and families, and if there is a need, we will step up to address it. Though we are relatively new in this sector, we feel this is a great opportunity for us to deepen our footprint and develop a new revenue stream for our Y.
Throughout the past 213 days (175 being closed plus 38 since we reopened our community centers), we have discovered a new way of work. Under tremendous duress, we have drawn closer together and become a more cohesive organization. The “Moving as One” mantra Brian has fostered has become our strength. We celebrate Executive Director Scotty Jackson and his Camp Seymour team for providing essential services to youth on the Key Peninsula and being an integral part of our current membership model for our association. We also celebrate the work of Executive Director of Community Learning and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Chris Spivey, Senior Program Director Amber Wynn-Evans, Youth Program Director Shontia Copeland-Walton, and the rest of our Center for Community Impact team for providing critical services to under-served communities through Y on the Fly! Yes, we are stronger as one Y, and we will continue to thrive in the days to come by making sure to support one another and believing we can do things together that we could not otherwise do alone. September was a pretty good month for us and I will hang my hat on what Toko said (that “we are in pretty good shape”). Thank you all for your complete commitment and dedication to putting our Y in “pretty good shape” under the most daunting circumstances.