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Published: Thursday, 10/1/2009

Leaders, critics unite in effort to save South Toledo YMCA

BY JC REINDL
BLADE STAFF WRITER

YMCA leaders and their recent critics joined together yesterday to “relaunch” a membership drive aimed at keeping the endangered South Toledo Y open.

The new “Save the South YMCA” membership campaign has the same target as the former effort begun in August: the sale of 500 new branch-only memberships.

And there appear to be similar repercussions for failure, including the possible closure of the aging South Toledo branch near the Anthony Wayne Trail.

But the big difference is how the community can now go about meeting that 500 mark. There are no more restrictions on ZIP Code residency, the commitment is now for two years instead of three, and credit will be given for monetary donations or volunteer work.

“It's just a lot more flexibility than we saw the first time around, so kudos to the leadership for listening to the concerned citizens and responding in kind,” said Gary Batts, member of the Coalition of Concerned Citizens and Y Members that worked with Y leaders on the new plan.

The previous membership drive challenge, devised by YMCA officials without input from the community, was mostly restricted to those living within the 43609 and 43614 ZIP codes and had a Thanksgiving Day deadline.

The new campaign runs until Dec. 12. and is expected to raise about $300,000 in annual revenue to reverse a long-standing budget deficit at the branch.

It was unclear whether the YMCA intends to revert to its earlier plan to give the South Toledo Y property free of charge to CedarCreek Church if the membership drive should fail.

Todd Tibbits, senior vice president of operations for the YMCA & JCC of Greater Toledo, said it was “premature” to talk about what could happen if fewer than 500 memberships are sold.

“We're totally focusing on our campaign tonight,” Mr. Tibbits said when asked about CedarCreek. “We have no long-term plan past that.”

YMCA officials and coalition members stood side by side at yesterday's kickoff and pledged to work together to sell the 500 reduced-price memberships — $40 a month for an individual or $50 a month for a family, with no initiation fee. A $600 donation will also count as one membership.

“On behalf of all the trustees I want to tell you that we are 100 percent behind this,” said Paul Schlatter, chairman of the YMCA's board of trustees.

Mr. Batts said coalition members worked with the Y for about four weeks to reach agreement on the terms of the new membership challenge. At least three-quarters of the coalition is fully backing this new campaign, he said.

Yet some coalition members remain skeptical of giving or asking the public for money until the YMCA agrees to a full disclosure of its finances, including records of credit card and executive travel spending.

Mr. Batts said the coalition is still mulling whether to ask the Lucas County Commissioners to establish a task force that would dig into the YMCA's finances and operations. The commissioners are expected to take up the matter at their Oct. 6 meeting.

Also new in the relaunched campaign is the “Volunteer for Membership” program that will grant 30 free South Toledo Y memberships to income-eligible families in exchange for 10 hours of volunteer work a month in the building's Kid Zone nursery, member services, or facility maintenance areas.

These volunteer memberships would count toward the 500 mark. The Y also plans to award 50 scholarships to lower-income families, although these memberships will not count toward the goal.

Absent from yesterday's relaunch event was Robert Alexander, YMCA president and chief executive officer, and Cooper Suter, a leader of the coalition. Mr. Alexander has taken a less visible role in South Toledo branch matters since August when he led a group of Y employees to heckle state Sen. Teresa Fedor (D., Toledo) as she and coalition members gave a press conference in the building's parking lot.

Mr. Tibbits said yesterday that he could not speak for Mr. Alexander regarding the CEO's absence.

All memberships purchased through the campaign apply only to the South Toledo Y on Woodsdale Park Drive and the Morse Center on the University of Toledo's Health Science Campus. Memberships purchased during the campaign will have the privileges of a MAX Membership until the Dec. 12 deadline.

Those who wish to permanently upgrade to a MAX Membership will have their membership count as 1.3 toward the 500-mark goal.

The Y has sold slightly more than 20 memberships since the earlier launch of the campaign.

Contact JC Reindl at:jreindl@theblade.comor 419-724-6065.



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