Expanded hours and an updated mask policy mark two more steps in the long path back to normalcy at the Ithaca YMCA.
The Y’s hours have expanded to 6 a.m. to noon, and 2 to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday. Fully vaccinated members can now use the Y without a mask provided they show either a NYS Excelsior Pass or a card showing full vaccination at least two weeks prior to their visit.
According to Frank Towner, CEO, more hours and classes will be added in June, following guidelines from the New York State Department of Health. Towner described their return as “slow but strong.”
In the pool, lap swimming is available by reservation. Individual lessons are also offered. The Y offers in-person health and wellness classes, including Zumba, dance and yoga. Most of the facility is open, including courts, strength room and cardio equipment. Childcare is expected to be available in June.
Summer camp begins July 5 for children ages five through 12 and allows time at both the YMCA main facility and at the Outdoor Education Center. An archery program, designed in consultation with Chuck Cooley, Professional Archer, highlights Camp Adventure, 2021.
Like all area businesses and non-profits, COVID greatly impacted the Y’s operations and programs. The facility closed on March 15, 2020 and did not open again until August. Before the closure, the Y had 3,540 members. Today, it is around half that number. Staffing declined from 141 in March, 2020, to 30 today. A two million dollar budget dropped to 840,000 dollars during the same period. “The membership and programs are a YMCA staple to sustainability, and these have been drastically reduced,” Towner said.
It was not just the numbers. “This was an emotional and physically draining period for us, including constant regulatory changes,” Towner said.
Stu Berg, a Y member who is retired from NYSEG, enjoys the Y and encourages others to return. “They’ve done a super job keeping it safe,” said Berg.
Before COVID, Berg swam, worked out with weights, and played pickle ball and table tennis. Due to the pandemic, he currently only swims and does weights. “I miss the pickleball and table tennis, which are the social side of my routine,” he said.
Working in close partnership with the Tompkins County Department of Health, the Y currently closes mid-day for two hours of intense cleaning and sanitizing. In addition, staff spot clean touch points throughout the building during the day. “Members have been very diligent to wipe and spray all equipment,” Towner said. “Not one case of COVID has been traced to the Y.”
Towner thanks the community for its survival. “Had it not been for local support, we would not have made it this far.” In addition to sustaining memberships during the pandemic, the Y received a PPP loan from the federal government in early January 2021 and plans to apply for a second. “Programs and memberships are still not paying the bills,” Towner said.
Another current challenge involves staffing. Towner said they are recruiting for many open positions across the organization, including lifeguards, health and wellness, and Welcome Center team members.
During the closure, the Y partnered with the Friendship Donations Network and began a food hub serving as many as 200 people a week. “These partnerships build spirit, strength, depth, and the ability to serve,” Towner said. Area grocers, including Wegmans, Greenstar, Tops, and Aldi contribute.
Other partner organizations include Love Living at Home, Challenge Workforce, Lifelong, Longview, Cancer Resource Center and Rotary.
Towner credits patience, fortitude, collaboration, family, mental health support and fiscal responsibility for helping him and his staff manage during the pandemic. “Working with staff and Board as a unified front has been critical to our success,” he said.
Y member Berg appreciates all that has been done and encourages others to come back. “I’m in better shape now than I was when I was 35,” Berg said. “I’m enjoying retirement and the Y is a big part of that.”