The Palomar Family YMCA in Escondido / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

As the fog of the pandemic lifts, the YMCA of San Diego County’s COVID-19 story of tough choices, financial prioritizing, staff heroics and a heightened appreciation for the human spirit is not unique. Our role as a trusted community-serving cornerstone, however, is.

The YMCA has been serving youth, families and communities in this region for more than 100 years. The community’s faith in us is a responsibility YMCA leadership and staff treasure and work every day to keep.

People who know the Y understand that we’re committed not only to being a leading example of how to serve our community, but also to using our voice and influence to stand up for justice and equality for all San Diegans.

The pandemic ushered in challenges and choices for leaders around the world that were beyond comprehension just 15 months ago. Pre-COVID, ours was the largest YMCA in the country. We served nearly 500,000 San Diego County residents and employed more than 5,000 people.

As the pandemic raged on, we lost 70 percent of our pre-COVID branch membership and 80 percent of program participants, with seemingly no end in sight. As a result of the significant negative impact on revenues, we were left with little choice other than to reduce nearly half of our workforce. Throughout this heartbreaking time for our Y family, we remained focused on our mission. We worked tirelessly to expand our community support across 89 sites with in-person programs to support children with distance learning, three sites to serve at-risk students exclusively, enhanced mental health services and the distribution of emergency food, funding and vouchers.

It’s important to know that none of these decisions is made in a vacuum. Hundreds of San Diego community leaders serve alongside us on dozens of YMCA branch, camp, corporate and governance volunteer boards to ensure that we remain in touch with our community and true to our mission in the toughest of times. Theirs is a diverse and invaluable voice and partnership.

As leaders of the corporate board of directors we have an inside view of the YMCA’s financial, operational and mission-focused work and I can assure you: The future is bright for the YMCA of San Diego County.

Our branch members are returning, demand for our programming is increasing and our beloved summer day and overnight camps are nearing capacity. The best news: With increased demand comes an increase in our staffing. Each month, dozens of affected staffers are coming back to work for the Y as new positions open up across the region.

The YMCA will look different than it did last year; just about every organization today can say the same. We are not at a crossroads, but rather in the midst of fundamental changes that will result in a stronger Y that will better serve San Diego and its many diverse communities for many generations to come. We will soon welcome a new CEO and a more sustainable operations and service model, and a few of our branch locations have been repurposed to better serve the community. For example, during the pandemic we have hosted a number of blood drives, provided food distribution sites and served as COVID-19 vaccination sites in highly impacted communities.

What will not change is the Y’s commitment to its mission of serving all people in an equal way. So many of our programs and services – from kinship care to homeless youth outreach to educational enrichment – are not bound by brick-and-mortar buildings. And our passionate staff continue to show up every day to serve our mission.

Our focus on serving the community guides us as we take on each new challenge and opportunity. Together, we’ll ensure that these transitions continue to advance youth development, healthy living and social responsibility for decades to come.

Kathy Scott is an executive in the life science industry and current chair of the YMCA of San Diego County Board of Directors.

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