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North Bay YMCA sees better than expected membership growth

I think it really speaks to everything we want in the community as a whole; healthy, strong, connected, resilient communities.

Memberships to the North Bay YMCA are increasing and the organization’s CEO couldn’t be more pleased.

“We’re seeing incredible growth actually, much better than we had anticipated. We’re coming out of COVID still ramping up. Prior to COVID, we would have had on our best days in the North Bay branch, probably between 4.500 to 5,000 members annually,” said Helen Francis, President of the YMCA of Northeastern Ontario.

“We were anticipating this year somewhere over 3,000, recognizing that we’re coming from basically zero and continuing to build up. I’m happy to say that we’re well over 4,000 already (mid-August). And that is, of course, thanks to an incredibly supportive community, an amazing staff, and a volunteer team who help encourage people to attend and make it more than just a place to work out, but a place to belong and to connect.”

Francis believes the reason for the increase is two-fold.  

“I also think it is a bit of a reflection of the change in demographics that we’re seeing in our community. In a good way, we’ve got lots and lots of newcomers who are coming to our community, who don’t necessarily have discretionary income or cottages and camps to head off to. So in the summer months, we’re seeing them really want to take advantage of the amenities that a city like North Bay can offer, which is great for us because we see them and we don’t see a drop off that we’ve sometimes seen in the summer months,” Francis shared.

“On the other hand, I also think it is a reflection on the cost of living and that a lot of people can’t necessarily get away for the summer, or at least for the prolonged lengths they may have in the past. And again, it is encouraging them to continue to use our facilities and programs. For us it is great, we love that connectivity and we’re super happy that we can be there for people.”

As a registered charity helping families and individuals in the community, funding comes from a variety of sources, including direct donations, program fees, and fundraisers. 

It seems appropriate that an organization that focuses on health and well-being would benefit from a fundraising event that is sports-related.  

Golfers from North Bay and area recently hit the links for the Tim Hortons YMCA  Annual Golf Classic.    

“When I bought my first franchise in 1991, on Cassells Street, I waited for a year and then I went to John Lewis at the YMCA in North Bay and asked him if he would like us to do a golf tournament,” said Tim Hortons franchisee Peter Moffat.

“I’ve been affiliated with the ‘Y’ for almost 60 years. I ran YMCA camps for the St. Louis  ‘Y’, I ran the camps for the New York City ‘Y’ and I ran camps for the Chicago ‘Y’. And I started my camping days at Camp Beausoleil in 1957,” shared Moffat.

“The purpose for why I started the YMCA tournament in North Bay was to help the kids. And I’ve maintained that the money stays for the kids in the North Bay region for the past 31 years. The tournament has been a big success. The ‘Y’ benefits, we raise lots of money for the Strong Kids Campaign and we want it to stay there.”

The YMCA is a proud recipient of the funds raised through this endeavour.  

“This golf tournament really is intended to enable us to raise funds so that we can support families, children, youth, and individuals so they can gain access to any of our programs across North Bay and vicinity,” stated Francis.

“Particularly what we end up supporting is a lot of children, and making sure they can gain access to our day camp programs whether it’s at Rotary’s Camp Tillicum or over at the Chippewa branch right in the heart of North Bay.”

The ‘Y’ is proud of its legacy.  

“It is about trying to make sure that families who want to access health and recreation programs over the course of the year, who might need some financial assistance, can do so at our Chippewa branch too,” stated the CEO of the YMCA of Northeastern Ontario.

“Typically, we find that, and the range can change, but anywhere between one in three, to one in four of the families who attend our programs, do require some form of financial assistance. And so, we’re really fortunate that we can provide it.”

The goal is to remove barriers, so people can gain access to the facility.

The organization’s fiscal year starts April 1 and ends March 31. 

“We anticipate that we should at least get back up to 5,000. Our financial models, we’re still taking a very conservative assessment of how quickly we will grow to 5,000 and really spreading it out over the next four or five years,” shared Francis.

“But based on where we see the numbers, I’m increasingly optimistic that we’ll hit that target much sooner than that, but we would rather kind of overachieve than set up financial goals on a far too optimistic number.”

It is not unusual for people who have benefited from the ‘Y’s’ programs to give back.

“I think that again as a charity, and because we build that sense of belonging, there is that desire to pay it forward, when folks can. They recognize that they’ve had opportunities provided to them at different stages of life, seeing value in it and really when they have that opportunity, to pay it forward, and they want to,” shared Francis.

“I’ve heard numerous anecdotes, whether it is from members who give back, or from our own staff and volunteers, who can remember when they were little kids, that that’s how their family got access to swimming lessons and now they want to give back in a different way, shape, and form.”

The circle of giving continues to gain momentum.  

“I think it really speaks to everything we want in the community as a whole; healthy, strong, connected, resilient communities,” Francis expressed.

"And the ‘Y’ is really happy to be a part of what I think is a beautiful community here in North Bay and district.”