Community Volunteers Step in to Save a Y

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May 9, 2011; Source: Club Industry | In early 2011 in Elmira, N.Y., the Chemung County YMCA decided it could not go forward any longer. Owing $8,000 in rent, it had agreed to volunteer all of its fitness equipment to the county when the community stepped forward and proved that it fully “owned” the endeavor. More than 2000 local residents signed a petition asking local officials to help find a solution while small grassroots groups of elders and young people from a nearby university met and considered what might be done to save the Y.

All of this paid off with the Y being adopted by a local senior center. A number of former Y members have made donations and have taken on annual memberships. A committee made up of some of the former members of the Y and some senior center representatives have devised a new budget, including new fees and new programs. They have also gotten started on the facility’s refurbishment.

This is an interesting and profound situation. Did the Y know that this support was present? Did it not consider how it might be mobilized or did it take a crisis to convince local people that they truly needed to “own” this community resource? Lots to ponder here as we consider what wasted resources in the form of people might be present around our own organizations.—Ruth McCambridge

  • Jill F. Fixler


    You have started a great conversation. Why is it that organizations begin to think about how they can leverage their volunteer talent only after they are in trouble?

    In my work as an organizational development consultant who specializes in volunteer engagement strategies, I have seen some unbelievable results for organizations that are intentional and strategic about their volunteer engagement practices:
    * California Libraries who have engaged volunteers in new and meaningful ways even when libraries are severely challenged by the economy and there is rising demand for service. A few ides that have emerged; ambassador programs to mobilize the community around library issues, volunteers teaching English as a second language and computer skills to job seekers, and volunteers who develop and execute arts programming on behalf of the library.
    * A regional national health organization who made volunteer engagement a top strategic priority and has increased volunteer and staff collaboration, initiated innovation projects lead by staff and volunteer leaders, and has increased donations from volunteers and giving from donors.
    * A myriad of organizations who are piloting volunteer engagement change initiatives to create authentic and contemporary volunteer leadership models that resonate across generations.

    Why wait until your organization NEEDS volunteers? You can capitalize on the abundance that is within your circle of influence now and they will already be engaged when that need may arise.

    Jill Friedman Fixler
    JFFixler Group

  • Dave Hollings

    This is a classic case of where the trustee-professional management model falls down.

    Had the YMCA had a large, active membership of co-owners the board would have known the support for the project and that support could have beem mobilised over the years. Instead of which you get a board and a management increasingly distanced from passive ‘service users’.