Jackson going ahead with YMCA plans

Thursday, December 4, 2003

A YMCA consultant addressed Jackson city, school and business leaders Wednesday about the process of starting a YMCA and said that $300,000 would be needed before the nationally known, family-oriented fitness outfit could root itself in the community.

The visit was a follow-up to a meeting last month in which officials reviewed a detailed survey that said Jackson could support a fee-driven community recreation center. The survey indicated that fees could support the operating costs for a center, but money would have to be generated to build the facility.

On Wednesday, YMCA consultant Bill Ching said $300,000 is a standard rate for all communities. The up-front money would be used to pay for YMCA salaries and programs until stable revenue began coming in from fees.

Ching said it takes some communities years to raise $300,000; other communities need only a few months.

It's too early in the process to tell if that kind of money will be available, but a room full of bankers, businessmen and hospital executives didn't raise any objections and the city and school district plan to take the next step.

Dale Rauh, a Jackson alderman and also the rehabilitation coordinator for St. Francis Hospital, said he didn't think raising the $300,000 would be a problem.

He said it would be premature to say whether the hospital was interested in making a donation, but said "I think there are parties within the community that would definitely be interested in contributing to this. It's been accomplished in smaller communities than Jackson."

The next order of business is for the city and school district to form a steering committee of about 10 members. The steering committee will come up with about 30 names of prominent community members. The YMCA will interview the 30 community members to see if there is enough interest to support a YMCA.

Results in February

Ching will come back with the results around late February. If the interviews show favorable support, the YMCA will hold a public forum to further gauge the community's perspective on a YMCA.

"I'm glad to see that we're going ahead and the manner in which we're going ahead," Rauh said. "I think it's important to get a flavor directly from the community. Not that I have anything against surveys, but I have some concerns with the fact the firm that did the survey did a number of contacts in the Cape Girardeau city area."

The YMCA is a nonprofit organization. It supports roughly 80 percent of its operating costs through fees. The rest usually comes from private donations.

"You are supporting it," Ching said. "Just not out of taxes."

Ching said the mission of the YMCA is to provide services for all families. Fees are based on a sliding scale, he said, so families with lower incomes pay lower fees. The four values of the YMCA are "caring, honesty, respect and responsibility."

Ching said the YMCA offers vast flexibility. Ultimately, he said, it's the community that decides the programs. YMCAs have also offered nonathletic programs, including a performance theater and a small radio station.

The discussion finally started taking some action this year when the city and school district split the costs of a $31,000 study done by the Winfield Consulting Group, an Atlanta firm that specializes in planning research for nonprofit organizations. The firm's study noted that there is enough demand for a community center.

"They're usually right on," Ching said. "They don't miss much."

bmiller@semissourian.com

243-6635

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