Few organizations would voluntarily run at a deficit, let alone one that will create a $96,000 shortfall every month. Yet that’s exactly what the Board of Trustees and leadership team at South Sound YMCA are willing to do in order to continue offering expanded childcare options for struggling parents as schools and our local economy begin to re-open. “We feel very strongly about making sure families have good choices available, especially those families who can’t work from home,” says Jennifer Zeigler, YMCA Youth & Committee Development chair and member of the Board of Trustees. “We’ve made a conscious decision to provide those services to our community, even though it means we’ll operate at a loss.”
The Y has been working closely with local school districts since March to fill in childcare gaps left by mandated school closures. While districts supply on-site Wi-Fi and laptops for each student, Y staff provide academic, technical and social emotional support critical to successful online learning. “A lot of the kids that we’re engaged with might not otherwise have internet or daily support with online learning,” says Victoria Byerly, a YMCA Finance Committee member. “We also work with districts to distribute daily meals.” In partnership with local school districts, the Y distributed nearly 60,000 meals to local kids since last March.
As schools move to hybrid learning models this month, the Y continues to work closely with district leadership to ensure kids and families are supported through this transition. Surveys clearly indicated a critical number of families are counting on after school care in order for children to participate in new hybrid schedules. Full-day care is also necessary on days when children are not in school. “This expansion of care options and locations is the driving force behind the anticipated deficit. The volume is going to be much different,” Ziegler explains. “With fewer students on site each day, daily enrollment at each location will be significantly decreased, however costs such as staffing remain relatively fixed.”
Services will vary from district to district, depending on their schedules. Part of the challenge is uncertainty about how many students will be participating. “Before the pandemic, we were at 32 school-based sites,” says Marty Brown, YMCA Finance Committee chair and trustee. “We won’t return to all of them right away, but we do have the ability to expand if we need to. The school districts are setting their schedules as we speak, and we don’t have a firm idea of how many kids we’re going to have.”
Once school resumes, students are likely to need considerable support both academically and with social and emotional learning. Kyle Cronk, president & CEO of the South Sound YMCA, points out that in the absence of regular schooling, many haven’t had any socialization or mentorship from caring adults outside of their homes for nearly a year. “That’s so important,” says Cronk. “Our close partnerships with school districts are going to be essential in supporting kids in a broad range of ways.”
In addition to shifting how it delivers services, the Y has also had to rethink its funding model. Like other nonprofits, they couldn’t host fundraising events such as their annual auction and fun run at a time when membership revenue was down due to facility closures. The Finance Committee has adapted the budget as conditions have changed. “We’ve looked for other funding sources and done a good job of taking advantage of state and federal funding and used that in smart ways,” says Brown. “The ability to shift our strategies and keep moving forward to offer the services is a testament to the dedication the organization has for the community.”
The Y can absorb the cost due to thoughtful strategic planning and financial forecasting. Over the past two decades, the board has prioritized financial security and built a reserve through savings and investments. “We think about things ahead of time, like what happens if the economy goes south or we lose a bunch of members,” says Brown. “The South Sound Y volunteers have done a good job of managing the funds and the fiscal staff have managed our finances in ways that ensure we can continue to serve, not just our members but the community at large.”
Predicting the end of the pandemic is tricky. For now, the plan is to continue offering expanded childcare services through the end of the school year. Once the situation stabilizes, the Y will evaluate plans to return to pre-pandemic levels of before and after school care.
While on the surface, this decision may appear scary, staff and volunteers are proud to be in a place to make this investment in the community. Cronk understands that when crisis hits, community’s turn to organizations like the Y for support, and while managing organizations in the midst of significant ambiguity isn’t easy, the Y uses their mission to keep going. “Making decisions that align with our mission and values is how we move forward as an organization and as a community,” he says.
Brown adds that, “getting kids back to school and parents back to work is key to Thurston County’s economy recovering. Even though we’re going to lose money, this is what the Y is about and we know it’s the right decision to move our community forward.”
Learn more by visiting the South Sound YMCA’s website.