COLUMBUS (COLUMBUS BUSINESS FIRST) — YMCA of Central Ohio CEO Tony Collins says the nonprofit is finally starting to start thinking about the future again after 18 months of dealing with the emergency of Covid-19.

The YMCA is currently building out a reinvestment strategy that will likely include the renovation of several older Central Ohio community centers, including the Grove City, Hilliard, Liberty, Gahanna, and Eldon & Elsie Ward Family YMCAs.

Collins said the organization is also restarting conversations it was having before the pandemic about building new Central Ohio YMCAs. That could include new facilities in Lewis Center and Pickerington.

“We’re starting to look up and look forward as to how we can adapt to our new world now,” Collins said. “What does our community need now? We went through a pretty hard time, we adapted, we responded in the emergency time. And now we’re able to lift our heads and we can see a vision.”

Collins said his team is still working on putting the details together on the exact cost of the plan. It will require raising money from individual donors, corporate partners, and government.

The YMCA is also building out an advancement team led by Brandi Al-Issa, chief advancement, and strategy officer, to help lead the YMCA’s fundraising experts.

“We’re going to need partners and donors to come to the table,” Collins said. “We’re hoping to bring some innovative collaborations together with other nonprofits and public government partners. We’ve been out telling the story and getting people excited and we’re trying to learn more about the details of what this investment is going to look like.”

Reinvesting in existing YMCA facilities at the Grove City, Hilliard, Liberty Township, Gahanna and Eldon & Elsie Ward centers could include renovations to locker rooms and refreshing fitness spaces.

The Grove City and Liberty centers need indoor pools, Collins said.

It would also include expanding indoor and outdoor community programming spaces at the Eldon & Elsie Ward YMCA. Limited existing space means that summer camp and teen program enrollment is limited at that facility compared to demand, Collins said.

“Honestly, Ward could have a day camp with 100 kids in it,” Collins said. “But when you look in that building, there’s no space for 100 kids to be.”

The organization is also talking with community partners about new locations in Central Ohio in Lewis Center and Pickerington.

Collins said the organization is also in talks about the best way to have a presence in downtown Columbus after it eventually sells the Downtown YMCA building.

“All those are back on the table for this reinvestment strategy that we’re kicking off,” Collins said. “We’re opening up all those folders again.”

Bringing members back

Meanwhile, Collins is focused on bringing members back to the YMCA.

Before the pandemic, the YMCA of Central Ohio had 109,000 members across its 15 locations. As of late October, the YMCA system had just 67,000 members. At the lowest point of the pandemic, it had 55,000.

Membership fees are a pivotal source of funding for the nonprofit to continue to provide supportive housing to the homeless, childcare for low-income families, summer camps, and other community resources.

“The dues that are paid help subsidize our other work,” Collins said. “We’re able to do housing and shelter work because of our Y members. We’re able to support high-quality childcare. We have to reinvest in these centers, get folks in our communities to come back again so we continue to stay in this work.”

Collins said the YMCA is “not out of the economic challenge yet.” The organization lost $16.5 million in planned revenues in 2020 and had to lay off 85% of its staff members earlier during the pandemic. It is now ramping back up operations.

“We need people to come back to the Y so we can continue to serve,” he said.

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