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YMCA head encouraged by community response to capital campaign

Y Strong! already going strong
By Fran Gonzalez | Apr 06, 2021
Photo by: Fran Gonzalez Waldo County YMCA at 157 Lincolnville Ave, Belfast, pictured here April 2. The Y is launching a "Y Strong! bridge to the future" capital campaign to help sustain programming.

Belfast — Russell Werkman, Waldo County YMCA's chief executive officer, is on a mission — to keep the Y a central and vibrant part of the community, even through a global pandemic.

To do this, the Y has created a capital campaign to raise operating funds to support all the facility's programming.

With an ultimate goal of $300,000, the "Y Strong! a bridge to the future" campaign has already collected just over $200,000, along with an additional $50,000 matching grant.

"It's really incredible, the support we have received from the community," Werkman said.

He said $300,000 is the projected amount needed to break even over the next two years, even with Paycheck Protection Plan loans and other COVID funds it has received.

The facility did shut down in March 2020 during the height of the pandemic for several weeks after the governor’s emergency declaration. Werkman said all staff continued to work from home during that time, doing classes online, outreach and other activities, while the custodial staff came in and did a thorough cleaning of the facility.

“So far, we have avoided layoffs and furloughs,” he said. “The PPP funds made this possible last year.”

Presented with the challenge of declining membership when he was hired last fall, Werkman, along with the Y board, was faced with how to maintain services at the current level and continue operations.

Some cost-cutting options discussed included shutting down the gymnasium, the pool and even shuttering the entire facility until the pandemic was over. "The general feel among the board was we needed to stay open," Werkman said.

Having to cover the deficit, he said, the board went to longtime supporters of the Y who came through in a big way. In a week, the board raised $50,000.

Werkman said even though the Y is starting to add back some classes now, it initially had to cut back on certain programs or adapt programming to better serve the community during the pandemic.

Teen Time, which serves between 80 and 100 middle school students, has shifted to a virtual platform, he said. Also, the Active Older Adult luncheon, which typically serves about 100 seniors, is now a drive-through event.

"We are trying to keep all of our programs open, but running them at much lower numbers," Werkman said, adding that membership is still down about 45%. "COVID has forced us to look at new ways of reaching out to the community." 

The Y continues to do monthly blood drives with much support from the community. Werkman said, in just six months, it has collected 199 units of blood from 204 donors.

The food drives are also monthly, with the Y partnering with local businesses to support food pantries in Waldo County. Each month, the Y picks two food pantries to focus on, and offers “Fill the Y Bus” food baskets to several businesses to collect donations.

Businesses place "Fill the Y Bus" baskets at their workplaces and the food collected is picked up by the Y bus and distributed to food pantries around the county.

“On the third Friday of the month,” Werkman said, “we set up a table at Hannaford and collect donations from the community, then distribute it all to the food pantries.

“So far, we’ve collected over 3,500 pounds of food and $5,700 that we’ve passed on to local pantries, including food pantries at local schools.” The Y is always looking for local businesses to partner with, he said.

"People care here. I see it with this campaign. People see the value that the Y makes and I am grateful to be a part of this community," he said.

The new Waldo County YMCA website was also launched Friday, April 2, with information about this initiative as well as other programing offered currently. For more information or to make a donation, visit waldocountyymca.org/y-strong or call 338-4598.

(Photo by: Fran Gonzalez)
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