Sunday, January 13, 2008

Media: North Bay YMCA faces financial fate -- Budget woes could lead to center's closure

From Daily Republic
By Carol Bogart Daily Republic

SUISUN CITY - Mike Hudson realizes what the future may hold for the North Bay YMCA if the center does not become more self-supporting. Hudson, chairman of the North Bay YMCA advisory board, said the center could be forced to close.

Linda Griffith, vice president of risk management and legal affairs with the parent San Francisco YMCA, said closing the 12-year-old North Bay YMCA is 'always an option' if the parent YMCA has to continue to shore up the North Bay YMCA's finances.

'With any operation, you want to make it work financially,' Griffith said.

Griffith said it costs $1.6 million annually to operate the North Bay YMCA. The deficit for fiscal 2007-08 was $530,000, she said, and the parent YMCA covered it.

This is not the first year the North Bay YMCA has operated in the red. To date, the parent YMCA has subsidized the costs of operating the North Bay YMCA by about $3.9 million since 1995, Griffith said.

Membership fees are a key financial component for the North Bay YMCA, said Executive Director Rodney Chin, and membership is dwindling. In October, the parent YMCA gave the North Bay YMCA 90 days to come up with a plan to turn things around, Chin said.

'We've been given a tenuous reprieve that will allow us to put together a recovery plan,' Hudson said.

Griffith said the North Bay YMCA has not been given a 'drop-dead deadline,' but the parent YMCA has informed the branch that its financial picture must improve. The North Bay YMCA must have its budget for the coming fiscal year ready to submit in April, Griffith said.

Chin said various ideas for reducing the deficit are being floated. Chief among them is making the community better aware of the programs offered by the North Bay YMCA.

'Some people don't even know we're here,' Chin said.

Hudson believes the North Bay YMCA needs to change its focus from health and fitness to programs geared toward youths.

'We can't compete with 24 Hour Fitness,' said Hudson, who added that more youth programs would result in more donations and grant funding.

The North Bay YMCA recently established a Teen Drop-in Center for at-risk youth, funded for a year through a Quality of Life grant from Suisun City, said city spokesman Scott Corey.

In addition, Chin said 150 youths play in the YMCA-sponsored Jr. NBA basketball program and many of their parents attend the games. Derrick West said he and his wife, Nina, haven't missed a game since their son, Dvon, first started playing when he was 10 years old.

Dvon, now 15, and his parents are all active members of the North Bay YMCA.

Chin said 1,700 paid memberships would be enough to support the North Bay YMCA, but current membership is at most 1,100.

One source of funding for the North Bay YMCA is its annual community support campaign, which Hudson said has raised $28,000 toward its $33,000 goal. Chin said that is encouraging because the campaign is just halfway through its fundraising cycle.

Hudson also is a member of the Suisun City Council. The city charges the North Bay YMCA $240,000 each year to lease what was once the city's community center. When asked whether the city would back off a bit, Hudson said, 'Undoubtedly the city will end up contributing to the Y, but the question is, 'How much?''

To pay off the lease in full through November 2017, Griffith said, would cost $1.9 million.

To trim the deficit, the parent YMCA 'wants us to turn up the heat on our donors,' Hudson said.

Griffith said the parent YMCA is working with the North Bay YMCA to help solve its financial problems. 'That's a friendly process,' she added. 'That's a collaborative process.'

Chin said the parent YMCA has promised to loan the North Bay YMCA the services of two grant writers. Hudson believes the North Bay YMCA should hire a grant writer of its own.

North Bay is Solano County's only YMCA. It currently serves 8,000 people. Both Hudson and Chin believe that if the North Bay YMCA does a better job informing the community about its services, and more people use them, more donations and grant funding will follow.

One example is the swimming pool at the North Bay YMCA, which Griffith said costs $275,000 a year to operate. The center's 'Splash' program offers free swimming lessons when local schools are on spring break. This year, 'Splash' will be sponsored by the Kiwanis Club in Fairfield, Chin said.

Service organizations are 'really stepping up' to help the North Bay YMCA whittle its deficit, Chin added.

The Jr. NBA is one of the best examples of urban services programs offered by the North Bay YMCA, Chin said. The program is aimed at youths ages 5-14.

Longtime coach Derrick Johnson said, 'I've seen some kids come in here with no discipline, some wayward children, some under the wrong influences. At the Y, we get to know the kids on a personal level. Most kids want to please us.'

Program director Deon Price said, 'The Y is a seed to improve the quality of life for these young people.'

Hudson added, 'These are kids who are focusing their energies on a positive.'

Players such as Dvon West and his friend, Darius Wise, 16, are positive influences on younger players, Chin pointed out. Wise is an International Baccalaureate honors student at Armijo High School who also plays varsity football.

West helps out with the North Bay YMCA's after-school program and last year was named Teen Volunteer of the Year.

A younger friend, Melvin Mason, 13, said he comes to the North Bay YMCA every day. He and his brother used to try to 'sneak in,' he said, prompting his parents to buy a family membership.

Two years ago, the North Bay YMCA had few programs for urban youths, Chin said. The new Teen Center, scheduled to open later this month or early in February, 'will give the kids somewhere to hang out and not 'intimidate' the Y's older members,' he added.

The North Bay YMCA is located at 586 E. Wigeon Way in Suisun City and is open to all residents of Solano County.

Reach Carol Bogart at 427-6955 or at
More info: YMCA membership

A family membership at
the North Bay YMCA is $75 a month. A single membership for youths ages 8-17 is $30 a month. To learn more about other membership plans, call 421-8746.
Residents interested in serving on the North Bay YMCA advisory board can call board chairman Mike Hudson at 429-9794.

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