1 The YMCA has been dramatically affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. How have you shifted operations to respond?
Like other organizations, the Y has had to adapt to the current situation. We do have three essential services that are continuing plus staff working from home to engage our members and participants.
First, the YMCA Youth Services Bureau continues to serve vulnerable youth and their families, albeit remotely, in our truancy program, mentoring program and Safe Place. These programs are supporting youth who are not on track to graduate from high school and providing 24/7 crisis intervention for youth who are runaways or homeless.
Second, the Renaissance Pointe YMCA quickly launched a Meals to Go program on the southeast side of Fort Wayne. We are providing almost 300 suppers a day for pick up and some are being dropped off to low-income apartment complexes and a senior residential community.
Third, we have launched four emergency child care sites for emergency workers with Love Ministries as a collaborative partner. These off-site locations have open slots right now, but we expect to serve more children as the crisis continues. Children and staff receive daily health checks by health care workers to ensure limiting exposure to the virus.
The member engagement effort has been twofold. We know participating in the Y is as much about social connections as it is about programs. We are providing content on our website, mobile app and through social media to engage adults, children and families in physical activity and family fun during the stay-at-home order. Additionally, we are personally trying to reach all 14,000 members over the age of 65 to offer encouragement and assistance. Our partners at Neighborlink are taking volunteer service requests for older adults who need immediate assistance but can't leave their home.
2 You closed all branches of the YMCA before ordered to do so by the governor. What convinced you it was the right thing to do?
The decision was a very difficult one. We had already closed our 38 afterschool programs, which serve over 1,600 children a day. We had just implemented a phase one by cancelling sports leagues, group exercise and large community events. Once it was clear that the ability to maintain good social distance would be difficult, we decided to close. We closed a few days ahead of the order by the governor after considering advice from the local health department, our board members, staff and the national YMCA.
3 The YMCA quickly responded by offering child care for health care workers and EMTs at four locations. What's been the response?
As the largest provider of child care in the community, we could quickly put these programs in place. We have great site hosts such as Lifebridge Church and Park Center who stepped up to provide space. We have the staff and program expertise to deliver this service on short notice. The response has been slow but we are being told by our friends in the health care community to keep open because the need will develop in the next couple weeks. The service can be used by any health care worker or public safety worker.
4 What's your message to members who might consider quitting their membership without fitness center access?
We want our members to know that we are still serving the community even though the buildings are closed. The Y is so much more than an access pass to a building. It is more like your alumni association or a social club. We have services that people use, but we are also a place to belong. A place where relationships are formed, support is provided, and community is built.
The “A” in YMCA stands for Association. Above all else, we are an association of people who are striving to grow in spirit, mind and body. When we all commit to improving ourselves, the entire community is strengthened. I hope our members are proud to be associated with the Y during these hard times.
5 You took over as CEO from Marty Pastura in January. What in your background helped prepare you for this current challenge?
I'm not sure anyone was thinking this was going to be our next challenge when I took over on Jan. 1. I have been with the YMCA as a professional director for over 26 years, the past eight here in Fort Wayne as the COO. I have a deep understanding of our operations and where our strengths and weaknesses are. I have been through many recessions and crises over the years. This is the most difficult professional crisis I have ever been in. My approach is to be humble, thoughtful, prepared and inspiring.
I can attribute those aspects of my leadership to years of servant-leadership; the Y, military service and growing up in Scouting. We all need a steady hand and a caring voice in times of crisis. I hope I can be that for the volunteers, staff, participants and members of the Y.