YMCA, community institution

By Dean Read

I grew up in Belfast where there was no YMCA. There is now, after the city contributed $750,000 as seed money to get it started.

My first real YMCA experience was in early 2000 when we moved to Bar Harbor and John Reeves took me to our Y at 5:30 a.m. He swam, and I worked out in the fitness center. That is when I started to learn what the YMCA movement is all about and how important it is to our community.

The YMCA is a not-for-profit charity as defined by the IRS. YMCAs are not a just a “gym and swim.” Our three areas of focus are youth development, healthy living and social responsibility. From childcare, to swim instruction and teams, to group classes and activities, to senior support groups, we change and improve lives every day.

Spend a few minutes on our website, www.mdiymca.org, “like” our Facebook page or pay us a visit to get a more complete view of all that we do to make Bar Harbor and MDI a better place to live and work.

Most communities our size don’t have the population to support a full facility YMCA with a full-size gymnasium and indoor 25-yard pool. Our community members came together 20 years ago to build the current YMCA after the roof collapsed at the old YMCA, where the Abbe Museum now stands. We had a new building with a new pool. We have 1,000 plus members, most of whom live in Bar Harbor. We do have a lot of swimmers from all over MDI.

As part of our agreement with the town, we give free swim lessons to Bar Harbor children and we provide a safe place for kids to go after school. When a child learns to swim, he or she learns to overcome fears. They are prepared to meet new challenges. Kids in supervised programs also learn the core values of the YMCA: caring, honesty, respect and responsibility. Those values carry over into life. This is but one of the ways we change lives.

We also are part of the community wellness system, providing structured exercise and support for accidents, surgeries and cancer survivors after physical therapy at our fine MDI Hospital.

In excess of 20 percent ($250,000-plus) of our annual revenues come from fundraising and special events. That is a much higher dependence upon fundraising than most other YMCAs. Our memberships and fees would be 2,533 percent higher without that community support. Again that is because we have a full facility YMCA in a small town. We try to keep our membership and fees as reasonable as possible, and we try not to turn anyone away for lack of ability to pay. We give close to $100,000 per year in membership discounts and scholarships to ensure that everyone can afford to join the MDI YMCA. The swim team raises money to support their very important and highly respected activities, but all the related swim fees combined do not begin to pay for the costs of operating and maintaining a 25-yard indoor pool.

With the support of our community, our small YMCA was able to pay its bills on a cash basis when the facility was new. We never made enough money to put away funds for future needs like new boilers, water handling, pool lighting and adapting to the changing needs of our community. Those costs have caught up with us over the last few years, and we are no longer able to pay our bills with our current revenue structure. We either have to generate additional revenue or decrease services.

A decade ago, we asked the town to support us with a $50,000 annual contribution. We now have an agreement memorandum of understanding outlining what we do to earn that support, like free swim lessons for Bar Harbor children and “Who’s Cool after School,” where children from Connors Emerson are taken by bus to the MDI YMCA for supervised activities. We hoped that would be all we would need, but circumstances and community needs change. After much deliberation, we approached our Town Council with a request to increase its support from its current $48,812 to $100,000. That was a difficult decision us and for the council. Most people who know what we do appreciate what we do.

We understand that additional tax support for the YMCA forces everyone to pay a little more for something they may or may not use. We all do that to support assets that make us a better community. We all pay for a school system that has 572 children from Bar Harbor. We pay for a fire department we hope we don’t need. I could go on and on. The real question is, “What do we want our community to look like and are we willing to pay for?” We need a highly acclaimed local hospital, a vibrant library, a full-service YMCA. We need to be a community that people want to live and work in and not just one vacationers want to visit. Think what Bar Harbor would be without its full facility YMCA.

The Town Council has recommended to increase the town’s contribution to the YMCA by $25,000. The town meeting in June will decide whether or not to increase its support. Whatever your position is, please take the time to learn more about what the MDI YMCA does for our community and come to the town meeting on June 6 and vote.

Retired banker Dean S. Read is a YMCA volunteer and resident of Bar Harbor.

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