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‘It’s crunch time’

YMCA asks community to ‘be part of the solution’

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Bolivar YMCA Executive Director Paula Shepard talks numbers with the organization’s board of directors Thursday afternoon. 

Time is ticking away at what may seem an exceptionally fast pace for board members and those invested in Bolivar’s Roy Blunt YMCA. 

After news about the Y’s struggle with $1.6 million in debt and $2.3 million in operating losses over 11 years broke in April, some community members started coming together to make a change.  

But in an open board of advisors meeting Thursday, June 6, Executive Director Paula Shepard was blunt about the dire situation at hand.  

“The executive board gave us until the end of June to come up with $1.6 million or a plan of how we’re going to get there, and we’re not there,” she said. “We have three weeks. It’s crunch time.”

The June 30 deadline comes after the Ozark Regional YMCA executive board commissioned an assessment study through the Haralson Group in August 2018. 

Most weekday afternoons, after the final school bell rings and local students scatter to the wind, Paula Shepard knows exactly who she’ll find…

Much as the BH-FP’s front page headline Saturday asked, many Easter dinner table conversations Sunday may have segued into the question, “Why the Y?”

I am looking for individuals and businesses who would be willing to help reduce the mortgage debt on the YMCA.

“The recommendation is that the leadership of the Ozarks Regional YMCA, along with leadership of the Bolivar branch, put into place significant changes within the next six months or develop a plan to close the facility by the end of 2019,” the assessment, which was presented to the board in November, said.

“That was the consultant’s recommendation,” Shepard previously told the BH-FP. “That doesn’t mean that’s what the Ozark Regional YMCA board of directors wants to do. They have countless options. This is one of them.”

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Board member Susan Stewart, left, talks about recent fundraising efforts while Bolivar Y employee Mary Sullivan looks on. 

However, during the midday meeting — which included Bolivar board members Michelle Morris, Kelly Parson, Shay Sechler, Susan Stewart, Bob Ross, Tom Rasor and Rachel Tennison, Bolivar Y employee Mary Sullivan and ORYMCA Director of Mission Advancement Stephanie Miller — Shepard said the regional executive board is looking closely at Bolivar’s Y.   

“There are questions, and they are digging deep into the numbers and legalities and all of the things,” she said. “It is not a for sure thing that they won’t make a decision that affects this Y strongly.” 

Miller said Shepard was “being very up front with what’s been discussed” within the executive board.  

“I know they’re trying very hard not to make any kind of knee jerk reaction,” she said. “It obviously affects your livelihood and your town, so they’re trying very hard to be very open. Nobody wants this to change. But as you see, it’s a continual loss. And after a while, it’s hard to keep turning your eye away from the loss.” 

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Board member Kelly Parson asks Executive Director Paula Shepard about the time frame to address the concerns of the regional executive board.  

Glimmer of hope

One glimmer of hope for the Y was sparked by Alderman Thane Kifer during Shepard’s presentation to the Bolivar Board of Aldermen in the April 11 meeting. 

Kifer proposed putting forward $5,000 of his personal money toward the Bolivar Y’s debt payment if Shepard could find another 19 people to donate $5,000 as well, with the goal of reaching $100,000.

During the Thursday meeting, Shepard said it was an “incredibly generous offer.” 

“What we’re asking for is Bolivar to embrace the Y as part of the community and for the city of Bolivar to take action and be a part of the solution — to get on board with the Y movement,” she said.  

While the Y isn’t collecting donations yet, Shepard said she is taking pledges from community members. 

“When we get to $100,000, we’ll go ask for the checks,” she said. “But we’ve agreed to escrow that money in case we should happen to close after we accepted that money. That money would be returned to the donor, so they had not just thrown their money away.”

Shepard said Stewart has been instrumental in fundraising, gaining $56,000 in pledges from 9 people. She added she’s in talks with three more interested in donating.  

“One pledged an ongoing amount for the next five years,” Stewart said. “Some have pledged more than $5,000. But it’s opened up a lot of dialogue that I think will be far reaching.” 

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Board member Bob Ross, left, asks Executive Director Paula Shepard a question while fellow board member Tom Rasor takes in all the information.   

Hard month

Shepard said several factors played into a hard month of April for Bolivar’s Y with a loss of around $8,000 for the month. 

“We really couldn’t lose anything,” she said. “We need to break even every month. Our revenue is down at a time we needed it to be up.” 

The bulk of the loss, $4,000, or around six family memberships, was from cancellations, which Shepard says were sparked by recent changes designed to cut costs.

“We knew that when we shortened our hours and raised our rates that we would lose some, and we calculated in a percentage of loss,” she said. “And it has been higher than I anticipated.”

While memberships are steady among other demographic groups, “family memberships are where most of the money is.” 

“We’ve had a tremendous loss of family memberships,” she said.  

Falling short on various program fees and revenue from the winter’s Polar Bear Run, as well as being behind on the Y’s annual campaign, are also contributing factors in April’s losses.

One bright spot came from the Y’s summer day camps, which is ahead around $3,500 on budget expectations, Shepard said.  

While revenue was down, expenses followed the same trend in many areas, Shepard said. 

In April, the Y saw around $16,500 savings in labor, $1,700 in supplies, $8,520 in occupancy and $3,400 in repairs. 

Shepard said the month’s only surprise expense was around $3,000 for an unplanned appraisal. She added that an $8,000 repair to the building’s HVAC will need to be completed soon.   

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More to offer

Next week, Shepard said the Y plans to roll out two new incentives to draw in more people. 

The first is a new corporate membership plan, which offers a 15% discount to people who sign up through certain places of employment. She said businesses aren’t required to participate in automatic payroll deduction to get the discount. 

“Years ago, we used to have a similar plan, and we’re rolling it back out,” she said.  

Another incentive for the month of June is “Try it Tuesdays.”

“So if someone wants to come in on a Tuesday, we won’t charge them a day pass,” she said. They can just use the Y for free on Tuesdays, but it doesn’t include the pool.” 

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Ozark Regional YMCA Director of Mission Advancement Stephanie Miller, left, and Bolivar YMCA Executive Director Paula Shepard, right, talk shop with Bolivar’s board of directors Thursday, June 6. 

Back to the future

Shepard said she doesn’t have answers about what will happen next, adding the future of Bolivar’s Y is uncertain.  

However, she said even if the building at 1710 W. Broadway St., doesn’t stay in the Y’s hands, there’s hope the organization won’t disappear from the community altogether. 

“I don’t think, from the feedback I get from (the regional executive board), that we wouldn’t have a presence and programs,” Shepard said. “For example, we’ve talked about, should we sell the building? If we sold the building, we wouldn’t pack up and leave town.”

Shepard said a possibility might be reducing programs and moving the Y to a storefront. 

“It’s just going to look different if that should happen,” she said. “I cannot tell you what direction we’re going because no decision has been made.”

She said when the Y initially opened in Bolivar in the early 2000s, it was housed in a storefront and hosted “group exercise classes, had seven or eight cardio machines and had Kid Zone.” 

Shepard said she has had one inquiry from an outside group interested in purchasing the current building. 

Although nothing’s set in stone, Shepard said “there is decision-making going on at every turn.” 

“We hope we have a strategic plan to be successful,” she added. “But, a plan is just a plan.”  

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