By Chris McCarthy, Publisher/Editor
The YMCA of the Coosa Valley is no stranger to adversity.
The COVID-19 virus has brought about challenging circumstances that will have a lasting effect on the fitness industry, challenges that have forced the local YMCA’s leadership team to make some very tough decisions.
Since March of last year, the YMCA in Gadsden has had several difficult choices to make between furloughing staff, severely limiting programs and services and temporarily closing its indoor pool this winter, all while having to evaluate the financial sustainability of its operations.
“It’s not easy,” said YMCA CEO LeRoy Falcon. “We have to make hard decisions. We’ve been following the CDC’s COVID rules, and we feel like we are doing whatever we can do to operate within the new guidelines for running the Y.”
Even before the pandemic, the YMCA had been struggling financially but seeing some improvement when the pandemic hit.
“We had new programs rolling out in the fall of 2019, and membership was showing growth and then the pandemic happened,” said Falcon. “It’s very frustrating.”
Since the temporary facility closures that took place last year, the Y has seen a drastic decrease in membership and revenue during the pandemic, which only compounded those struggles. The Y reopened on May 10 but continued to see memberships fall as the pandemic continued to grow.
“Roughly half our membership has left,” said Falcon. “And we only have about 10 percent of our staff working right now.”
In spite of these challenges, the Coosa Valley YMCA is finding ways to serve the community. The facility’s fitness facilities are back open and exercise equipment has been spread apart to allow social distancing. The Y is offering some of its more common group exercise classes and recently rolled out two new group exercise programs through the support of the Community Foundation of Northeast Alabama.
“Through grant support we were able to purchase miniature trampolines, and we have two original classes built around the new equipment,” said Falcon. “We now have a high intensity cardio trampoline class, and we’re implementing a new class called rebounding, which is designed to boost the body’s immune system by increasing lymphatic flow. As an added bonus, this new class is touted as a program popular for reducing joint pain.”
At the peak of facility closures last year, the Y was able to offer childcare on a limited basis. Food distribution and youth meals were a part of the program and available to the public. YMCA board member Misty Kerr quickly saw an opportunity to work with the YMCA and distributed unclaimed meals through the community with the recruitment of friends and fellow employees. “We’re a community service or-ganization, and we’re here to serve,” said Falcon.
Prior to the COVID_19 shutdown, the YMCA introduced a new program called the Preventative Restorative Health Initiative (PRHI) through its healthy living grants strategy. The program was providing unique opportunities that meet the specific needs of those struggling with chronic disease.
“The PRHI programs and our Rock Steady Boxing program for Parkinson’s Disease were on track to becoming a popular choice for local seniors at the Y,” said Falcon. “As soon as local health officials indicate it is safe to do so, we hope to resume them soon, along with other senior programs.”
Falcon said that the YMCA will offer lifeguard certifications in the spring and its conduct summer day camp and swim lessons this summer. In addition, the Y moved its signature event, the annual YMCA Father Daughter Dance, to April 25.
Falcon noted that the YMCA’s many services and programs are vital to many families in the community and demonstrate the Y’s commitment to serving, pointing out that deciding to keep some program offerings as opposed to others was a particularly difficult challenge.
“It’s hard, because we think everything is critical,” he said. “Every community need is important. Whether it’s education or health, whichever organization or community member navigating that need is going to deem it as important.”
Falcon said that staying abreast of community needs has helped guide those decisions, no matter the difficult in making them.
“The number one thing you have to do is look at what your community needs, and what resources you have that can meet those needs. What are the community needs and what resources do we have?”
Through virtual meetings with each other and conversations with members, the YMCA’s leadership team determined the best way for the Y to proceed over the past few months. It has not necessarily been popular at all times – members rarely like losing access to community resources they love – but the Y is problem-solving and meeting the challenge of serving the community to the best of its ability while ensuring it will try to outlast the pandemic.
“To make sure we are going to be around another 50 years, we have to make hard decisions so we can stabilize,” said Falcon. “Now is the time to consider supporting our YMCA. Consider coming back and re-joining us. We have had great success managing the virus internally with the cleaning and sanitation measures in place and the vaccine is becoming more available. Our membership dues continue to help the Y support the community and us remain viable through these extraordinary circumstances.”
For further details regarding programs and facility offerings at the YMCA of the Coosa Valley, call 256-547-4947 or visit its Facebook page.