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GUEST COLUMN: Newfoundlanders and Labradorians need their YMCAs

Jason Brown is the CEO for the YMCA of Newfoundland and Labrador. — CONTRIBUTED PHOTO
Jason Brown is the CEO for the YMCA of Newfoundland and Labrador. — CONTRIBUTED PHOTO - Contributed

The YMCA has been a part of life in our province since 1854, engaging and helping Newfoundlanders and Labradorians from all backgrounds. We were here through previous pandemics, the First and Second World Wars, Commission of Government, Confederation with Canada and the cod moratorium.

We are here now through the current economic downturn and the current pandemic.

It has been a difficult time for our communities, and a difficult time for our YMCAs. YMCAs have had temporary layoffs, greatly reduced revenue from fees and charitable giving, and uncertainty around every corner. I am proud of our team’s ability to find ways to meet the needs of our communities through the pandemic so far.

Throughout YMCA history, our story is about adaptability. YMCAs have been adapting, changing and responding to the needs of the communities we serve for almost two centuries.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the most vulnerable in our society have become even more vulnerable. With more than 170 points of program delivery across the island and in Labrador, our YMCAs serve a large, diverse group of people.

The non-profit and charitable sector is in trouble. Operational charities like our YMCAs run on a combination of provincially and federally funded programs, child care and membership fees, municipal grants and charitable gifts to fund financial assistance. No one is turned away from the YMCA because they can’t pay fees. YMCAs were not able to generate revenue from fees for programs while they were closed, and so YMCAs across the country are in a precarious place.

During the past six months we have had many opportunities to reflect on the work we do and the work our communities will need us to do in the months and years ahead.

We know that child care is an important labour market support for our economy. Child care also supports efforts towards gender equity in the workforce and helps ensure the livelihoods of single parents.

This spring, we were able to work within provincial guidelines and with provincial support to open our regulated child-care centres for the children of essential workers. With federal government and municipal support, we were also able to open our full-day and part-day summer camps much earlier than usual. All of our child care centres are now able to operate at full capacity and we want to expand services to offer even more support.

In our funded employment, enterprise and newcomer programs we were quickly able to shift services to remote delivery.

In addition to youth programs and helping people find jobs and start businesses, we were able to get funding to expand services to include the distribution of food and hygiene supplies to seniors and international students in need on the Burin and Avalon peninsulas.

Over the past couple of months our health, fitness and aquatics centres have been permitted to re-open with necessary restrictions and limited capacities. This means people of all ages can exercise, be less isolated, even learn to swim — but in much smaller numbers than before. Our communities need YMCAs more than ever, and our programs are now both more expensive to operate and generate less revenue.

The non-profit and charitable sector is in trouble. Operational charities like our YMCAs run on a combination of provincially and federally funded programs, child care and membership fees, municipal grants and charitable gifts to fund financial assistance. No one is turned away from the YMCA because they can’t pay fees. YMCAs were not able to generate revenue from fees for programs while they were closed, and so YMCAs across the country are in a precarious place.

Despite current supports, including the emergency wage subsidy available to some, the entire operational charities sector is in trouble. This means the work that governments and people in our communities have trusted charities to do for decades may not be able to continue. Many communities do not have the infrastructure or expertise to deliver these services if organizations like YMCAs start to disappear. We only need to look at our neighbours in Yarmouth, N.S., or in central and southern Ontario to see what happens when YMCA funding cannot be recovered.

We know that almost every Newfoundlander and Labradorian relies on the work of countless non-profits and charities throughout our province. We have appreciated and are grateful for the government and charitable support received to date, but it is still early days. We need to make sure that charities like ours are able to continue to do needed work throughout the COVID-19 crisis and through the tough years to come.

Jason Brown is president and CEO of YMCA Newfoundland and Labrador.

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