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Letter to The Editor: Elkhart Truth February 15, 2017

Letter to The Editor: Elkhart Truth February 15, 2017

In 1974, the YMCA of Elkhart County opened a new facility. The new building was supported by a thriving community and corporations such as CTS Corporation and Miles Laboratories.

Throughout the years, the YMCA fundraising model was based on asking the community to fund its programs through the Community First Campaign. With many of the executives leaving Elkhart, the YMCA struggled to maintain the operations of this large facility. There was never the creation of a sustainability plan designed to cover operational replacements and repairs.

The YMCA financially limped along for many years and had for some time managed to serve a large portion of the Elkhart Community. To maintain the YMCA relationship the organization was responsible for paying YMCA National $4,000 a month for the brand licensing.

Many of us remember the good times with our children had growing up at the “Y” -- through basketball, soccer, gymnastics, and swimming. The recession of 2008 hit our county hard and membership dramatically declined. In 2012, the YMCA Board of Directors came very close to closing the facility. Instead, the board decided to raise more money, give it another shot, and keep it open while cutting expenses in order to keep the facility open.

Consequently, we decided that collaboration was the most efficient way to operate. Many of the Lifeline clientele were children that used the YMCA/EYCC. The missions of the two organizations aligned. The Lifeline board and the YMCA board mutually agreed that Darrell Peterson would serve as Executive Director for the YMCA, serving both organizations. The collaboration resulted in significant cost savings by blending the resources of two similar organizations. 

The YMCA national governing organization agreed that sharing the Executive Director role would benefit both non-for-profits. The Lifeline building was destroyed by a fire. That is when Lifeline and the YMCA began developing plans for a new building or a remodel of the existing building. At the same time, additional collaborations were explored to further alleviate costs so we could survive.

In 2014, YMCA National voted to pull the YMCA charter from Elkhart which had been in existence for 135 years. After the charter was revoked, the Elkhart Youth and Community Center (EYCC) was organized. Many of the programs and activities continued to operate, just not under the YMCA name.

The building continued to decline, the equipment failed and the membership dwindled. Peterson and his team continued to cut costs. However, the YMCA model of going to the community to ask for donations to supplement programming was proving to not be a feasible working model. The Community First Campaign was dropped and separate fundraising initiatives were put into practice. 

Three successful fundraisers, a community Ask Breakfast, and two Festival of Trees events (one with Premier Arts) were held. All of the profits from these events went back into the failing building. However, memberships continued to decline. There was never enough money to buy new equipment, remodel the old inefficient building, or launch new initiatives. The model of asking for money year after year, without a funded endowment and sustainability plan did not work.

The YMCA board never gave up on their plans to find a way to renovate the building or build a new center. During the strategic planning process, in February 2014, the YMCA experienced a power surge that resulted in a massive mechanical failure of over $50,000. This expense was in addition to already outstanding liabilities.

Rather than investing more money into a failing structure that was losing members, the board voted to close. This was a painful decision for everyone involved. The failing building, dwindling membership, and unsustainable financial structure were topped with the power incident.

Darrell Peterson, Executive Director of YMCA/EYCC and Lifeline, worked tirelessly and did everything possible to keep both organizations operating. He cut expenses and we were operating in the black even when the mechanical failures multiplied. The failure of the YMCA/EYCC was not related to his efforts. It failed due to a broken, perpetual and unsustainable financial model.

The Elkhart Community certainly reacted to the closing of the EYCC/YMCA. The announcement of a collaboration between the Community Foundation of Elkhart County, local philanthropists, Beacon Health System, Elkhart Community Schools, and the City of Elkhart is a welcome endeavor! A endowment and sustainability plan is in place and the operation will thrive.

We thank Darrell Peterson, all prior staff, volunteers, donors, vendors and board members for their decades of service.

This is an exciting time for Downtown Elkhart and the entire Elkhart community. This project will help rejuvenate the River District and our community as a whole. We are thrilled that this new facility will serve our community for generations to come!

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Representing the Past EYCC Board of Directors:
Dianne Benko, Past EYCC Board Member
Tom Housand, Past EYCC Board President
David Weaver, EYCC Strategic Planning Committee Chair
Julia Willis, Past EYCC Treasurer