When people think of the YMCA, they typically picture treadmills, soccer leagues and summer day camps.
But Kim Dennis, executive director at the Effingham Y, wants to spread the word that it is more than that.
“The whole reason we’re here is to take care of those in our community. The mission of the Y is to put Christian principles into practice through programs that build a healthy spirit, mind and body for all,” said Dennis.
An easily overlooked fact about YMCA is that it does not make money; it is a nonprofit organization. Each year, it has one financial goal: to break even. Dennis said that last year they almost did it, going only $200 in the red. But this year she finds herself a bit nervous.
In the stark economic climate, Effingham YMCA hasn’t been able to meet its fundraising goals. Businesses that have made donations year after year just don’t have the budget or just don’t exist anymore.
“Last year, we gave over $100,000 in scholarships. We raised $54,000 last year, and that was our goal,” she said. “We didn’t (increase) our goal this year from last year because we knew the economy was going to be difficult. But we’re just asking the community to help us with half. If we’re giving away $100,000, if you could just help us with half so we can keep our doors open and keep our air conditioner running.”
One of the pillars of the Y is that no one is turned away due to an inability to pay. Anyone who wants to participate in the programs offered at YMCA — no matter how strapped financially — can. They can apply for scholarships that reduce and sometimes eliminate program and/or membership fees.
For some, this might be fitness. For others, it’s daycare and preschool. Or maybe they want to let their kids swim in the pool, play a sport or build leadership skills. YMCA offers all of this and more, and they do it for less than a for-profit business. Then they offer discounts of top of that. When you pay full-price at YMCA, you are buying only the costs for you to utilize the facility and programs. For scholarship recipients, the price may be discounted but the costs are the same and have to be made up for somewhere.
“This year already, the folks coming in applying for scholarships has been unbelievable,” Dennis said.
Recently, Effingham YMCA began meeting with its scholarship recipients face-to-face to see what they can do to help at their facility or by getting the applicants in touch with other organizations, such as United Way. In March, they had 87 appointments.
Priceless Gifts is the Y’s fundraising campaign to raise money that pays for these scholarships. So far this year, it has raised $46,770. They need $7,730 more to make their goal of $54,500. While they’ve hosted barbecue dinners, rummage sales, and a Spring Fling, Dennis said individuals have donated the majority of the money raised.
“The most effective type of fundraising is really going and talking to people face-to-face about what the Y is,” she said. “Last year we did a big gala and it was wonderful. We raised all this money. But this year, we wanted to get back to our grassroots fundraising, which is door-to-door, face-to-face, ‘hey, you’re my friend, let me tell you about what the YMCA has meant to me.’”
The YMCA staff, all part-time, and its 21 board members have raised $11,700 for Priceless Gift out of their own pockets.
They’ve trimmed their expenses wherever possible, from cutting staff to changing toilet paper companies. But bills and repairs cost just as much for the Y as they do everywhere else, Dennis said. In order to maintain their generous breed of operating, YMCA must meet their goal.
There are more than 4,000 people of all ages who utilize the Y. Any money that’s raised or taken in for the Effingham YMCA goes directly into the local branch so that they can continue to take care of people.
“YMCA creates community,” Dennis said. “We hopefully make our community a better place through the way we take care of the people who interact with us in our programs. That’s the goal. YMCA is not a building — it’s a movement.”