Local YMCA changes gears during COVID-19 pandemic


Photo: Pictured above, YMCA of the Coosa Valley President/CEO LeRoy Falcon catches up on some paint work while the facility in downtown Gadsden is temporarily closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

By Chris McCarthy, Publisher/Editor

Since closing its doors on March 20 in accordance with Alabama’s “Stay at Home” directive issued by Gov. Kay Ivey, the YMCA of the Coosa Valley in downtown Gadsden has “pivoted” in its mission to serve the community during the current COVID-19 crisis. President/CEO LeRoy Falcon has been busy readying the facility for a new kind of purpose.

Joining with YMCAs across the country, Falcon is prepping the local Y as an emergency childcare program for children of area doctors, nurses and other health care workers. As their daily and weekly workloads increase in proportion to the spread of the coronavirus, local essential medical workers will need a safe and secure place to leave their children.

That’s where the YMCA steps in, because although the facility is closed to the public, it is included in the category of essential services.

However, Falcon stressed that the program might not be utilized at all if the current number of COVID-19 patients at local hospitals holds steady and does not require additional medical personnel.

“I’ve had some dialogue with the local hospitals, and they are trying to clear out most of their non-critical patients to make room for the virus [patients]. Most of those workers are waiting for the storm to arrive. We had to get special permission from the governor’s office, but let’s hope that we’re not running the program. If we are, it means that things have really gone south. But we’re poised and ready.”

According to www.ymca.org, “Essential personnel childcare is designed to be a last resort for people who fill critical roles in the community and have exhausted all other options for care for their children so that they can work.”

In accordance with the directive of a 10-person limit in all social gatherings, Falcon said that children would be separated in small groups to avoid contact.

“We would be utilizing different parts of the facility, such as the nursery, the conference room, the aerobics room, the gym and possibly the pool, and rotate the groups throughout the day. And of course, any and all surfaces that the kids come in contact with will be sanitized.”

Falcon noted that a certain number of children must be enrolled in the essential childcare for the program to succeed.

“For us to offer the program, we can’t have only a couple of children. We need at least 10 to 15 children enrolled to begin the program. I’m putting together a list of families who would like to participate, so folks can e-mail me at lfalcon@ymca.org or call the office at 256-547-4947 and we’ll take it from there.”

Acting as a staff of one for the time being, Falcon currently is seeing to the routine paperwork and maintenance required to keep the facility up and running.

“I’m usually there about from 10 in the morning to 3 in the afternoon. After checking the [phone] messages and working on some budget stuff, I look at the pool and see if it needs some chlorine. I’ve done some roof repair, some painting and I’ve worked on the sauna. There’s always something that needs fixing in a building this big and this old.”

Mindful of the current COVID-19 crisis’ effect on the Y’s seniors, Falcon said that the YMCA’s Senior Adult Coordinator Liz Bright currently is getting in touch with those members to see if the Y can help them in any way.

“We want to make sure that we haven’t forgotten about them,” said Falcon. “Many of our senior members use the Y as much as a social outlet as for workouts, so we’re letting them know that we’re trying to keep everything in place until we can re-open.”

Falcon acknowledged that like most area business affected by the current COVID-19 crisis, the Y is experiencing a significant revenue loss. In a recent post on the Y’s Facebook page, Falcon asked current members not to drop memberships if at all possible.

“Stay with us and continue to support the Y mission. Unless you have contacted me and requested otherwise, your membership is active and scheduled for normal payment processing. Please consider continuing your membership as a sustaining partner in our mission and cause. Your dues will be designated as a donation and converted into a much-needed contribution while we are closed. We will follow up with the process to document this for your taxes once we resume more full-scale operations.”

Falcon requested for those who are unable to retain their membership as a donation to consider putting their membership on a free hold instead of canceling.

“A hold on your membership signals to us that you are still with us, which matters to us as well,” he said. “We have membership options, so please contact me if that is something that’s feasible. Membership dollars are crucial during this time.”

In addition, Falcon is turning to individuals, foundations and corporate partners for philanthropic support, noting that 100 percent of a donation will go to the community’s emergency needs provided by YMCA staff.

Falcon also pointed out that he is cutting corners wherever possible in order to keeps operating costs down.

“We’ve adjusted all heating and cooling systems to operate in times of occupancy and we’ve learned how to make our own hand sanitizers,” he said.

Falcon added that the Y’s virtual wellness program is available by visiting ymca360.org, where a variety of online exercise classes and activities are posted.

“We will open back up when it is determined that it is safe for all of us to hold hands again,” he said.

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