Losing YMCA would be a big loss for us

Published 4:30 am Wednesday, July 9, 2014

It is never fun to be the bearer of bad news, but unfortunately that is the case for today’s newspaper.

The YMCA is scheduled to close its doors for good on Aug. 29, 2014. This organization has been serving our community since 1995, and its loss will be a major blow to our city and its quality of life.

Paul Chason, CEO of the Atmore Area YMCA, told me that the board of directors’ decision to close the doors is not a decision that was made lightly. He said that every possible source of funding has been researched, but the unfortunate truth is that the YMCA simply can no longer remain financially viable.

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Although I have only lived in Atmore for about a year, I have already been very impressed by the YMCA. Since becoming CEO last year, Chason has tried to bring new programs and encourage additional enrollment. Although the organization has added many new members, it hasn’t been enough to sustain the YMCA’s long-term future.

It is definitely a shame that programs like Silver Sneakers and the kids’ summer camp will no longer be offered in our community. Any doctor will tell you that one of the keys to good health is a strong wellness and exercise program, and the closure of the YMCA will mean there is one less local option for those who wish to practice healthy habits.

The closure of the YMCA is also disappointing for another reason, because it means that the doors will close at the old Escambia County High School building. This historical landmark is the site of the first county high school in the entire state. It will be a shame to see the activity of the YMCA disappear from its halls.

Chason holds out hope that there may be a last-minute savior who can come in and save the YMCA, whether by providing a grant or donation that will allow the organization to keep its doors open. However, that is probably not a likely outcome, and it is definitely a disappointment.

Certainly the YMCA has had challenges for the past several years. Although the building is beautiful, it also costs a lot in upkeep and utility costs, and those expenses have been slowly eating away at the YMCA’s coffers. Chason said that the YMCA would have closed last September, if not for the generosity of the Poarch Band of Creek Indians.

I hate to see the YMCA close its doors, and join Chason in holding out hope that something might still be done to keep it open. If not, it’s a loss for all of us.