YMCA ‘pay day’ always includes ‘kids’ gold’

Published 8:21 am Wednesday, February 29, 2012

When the current YMCA Youth Sports Director, Jim Holton, was hired at the Bainbridge YMCA, it certainly appeared that his days would be numbered. Many had announced or speculated that the YMCA would most likely be closing. Jim accepted the position without formal training in working with youth, but with a desire to make a difference and help the Y turn the corner.

Just a few weeks after reporting for his new duties, Jim and others on staff were asked by the Board President to send a brief email to the man who would serve as interim CEO beginning in September. The Y staff were excited to meet the retired 40-year YMCA veteran, Mike Haynes, who had agreed to step in during the next “challenging phase” that would face the Bainbridge Y and see what help he could bring them. A large list of past-due bills awaited the new hire, while membership and staff morale had been declining for several months.

Jim had already served in a part-time hourly position with the YMCA, which began just prior to the 2011 basketball season and which involved just over 70 kids (with many of them not finishing out the season). If he had learned anything from that experience, he said it was, “how to improve managing a youth basketball league.” After a whirlwind fall soccer season involving more than 100 children, it again became time for planning, promoting and recruiting volunteers for the 2012 basketball season.

After brainstorming with the new CEO about ways he would recruit students, including by providing a “face to face” at each school, Jim felt confident and ready to go. Over twice the number turned out for the first-ever “skills assessment day” held at the Y, followed by the selection of teams in each of the four age divisions. A good number of these youngsters needed financial help. Thanks to our Y “work study,” they could complete homework, do simple clean-up tasks and receive a discount. No child was ever given a “free ride,” as dozens of volunteer work hours helped the Y stay cleaner and students active.

The buzz around the Y was finally back. Staff, members and donors could certainly notice the difference. Attitudes, smiles and excitement were back at the Y facilities, located at 1818 E. Shotwell St., as was the much needed community support that would keep the YMCA open. Success came from a number of fronts, which included “5 in 5” Annual Campaign Donors, along with those monthly supporters of $5 or more per month.

One of the greatest gifts received by staff over the past six months has been what Jim likes to call “kids’ gold.” The entire staff at the Y has been blessed each day as they watch the youngsters pile into the gym and study rooms at the YMCA as they develop their skills and do their homework before shooting hoops. They arrive at the Y each afternoon around 3:45 p.m., showing Jim an “A” they received on an important test he had helped them prepare for; or showing grade reports that they hope will place them on the “Kirbo Scholars” honor roll bulletin board after a successful month of solid studies.

Jim now knows each of the nearly 200 basketball players by name, and for most, how they are doing at home and school. Some of the players may not be able to score the highest number of points on gameday at the Y, but each of them provide our staff with a moment that makes us feel as if we’ve been paid in “kids’ gold.”

At the YMCA, every child is provided an opportunity to take part in positive, healthy programs that will encourage good sportsmanship and respect for others. At the Y, our staff is always ready, willing and prepared to reward those that complete a season that is highlighted by responsible behavior with recognition and praise.

Check out our new website at www.bainbridgeymca.org or like us on Facebook today! Free passes can be downloaded and used by you and your family for two visits as we continue the celebration of our 25th year of service, with no joining fees. Call today at (229) 243-0508.

Mike Haynes is the interim CEO of the Bainbridge-Decatur County YMCA. He can be reached at (229) 243-0508.