Trust, transparency key to YMCA’s resurrection

Dave Mathieson
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The completion of all three phases of the Cumberland County YMCA capital campaign was celebrated with a ribbon cutting Sunday afternoon at the Cumberland YMCA in Amherst. On hand for he day-long celebration was (from left) YMCA member Sean Callaghan; County Council councilor Daniel Rector; Oxford Mayor Trish Stewart; MLA for Cumberland North Terry Farrell; YMCA CEO Trina Clarke; YMCA board chairman Dale Fawthrop; MP for Cumberland-Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley Scott Armstrong; Amherst Mayor Rob Small; former YMCA board chair Judi Giroux; from the Y’s Service Club, Carmen Merrill; and YMCA board member Kathy Wells. 

AMHERST – Trina Clarke almost fell off her chair three and a half years ago.

“When our fundraising committee was first struck and we had our people come in to tell us how to do a capital campaign, they said, ‘you need $3.5 million, and $1.3 million is going to have to come from the community,’” said Clarke, CEO at the Cumberland YMCA. “I almost fell off my chair. I thought there was no way we’re going to do this.”

Clarke told the story to people gathered for the Y Community Day celebration Sunday afternoon at the Cumberland YMCA.

The celebration was held to thank the community for supporting the Y’s three-phase capital campaign, which recently came to an end.

During the three-and-a-half year campaign the YMCA built a new daycare centre, a new Wellness Centre, and upgraded their swimming pool.

Clarke said the key to success was building the new Wellness Centre, which provides two floors of cardio and weight equipment, a workout studio and a new gymnasium.

“We had relied so long on our child care to keep us going, and we knew in order for this Y to be sustainable we needed, not only partnerships, we needed another source of revenue, and the Wellness Centre was a key piece of that,” said Clarke. “To go from a low of 330 members, to where we now have 1,200 members proves that the Wellness Centre was the investment we had to make.”

More important than building a Wellness Centre was building trust within the community. Clarke said, in the past, huge sums of money had been thrown at the YMCA with little to show for it.

“From the perspective of the capital campaign it was about rebuilding the relationship with the community and letting the community understand how things have changed and that it wasn’t the same old Y story of giving money and then we’re right back into trouble. It was creating a viable business plan and proving the plan would work.”

She said she’s most proud of the fact that the YMCA is a joint effort.

“We’re completely transparent. We used to hide in our shell and try to fix things on our own,” said Clarke. “What I’m most proud of is the partnerships. It really is a community effort for the Cumberland Y, not just here but throughout Cumberland County.”

The celebration also provided the opportunity for Clarke to thank several people for their contribution over the last few years, none more-so than Bill Casey, who is the former MP for Cumberland-Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley.

Clarke pointed to a chart indicating the money raised during the campaign and said, “I really do not believe that that red arrow that says $3.5 million would be there if it wasn’t for him out there making those calls and having those conversations,” said Clarke.

“Bill Casey was really a key piece of the puzzle. He’s so respected in the community. He’s an incredible leader, and I learned so much from him,” she added. “I quickly learned that if Bill Casey believes in something, then the community will believe in something.”

Scott Armstrong, the current MP for Cumberland-Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley, was on hand for the celebration, and he echoed Clarke’s praise of Casey, and added, “Bill Casey first called me about this when I was first elected. He was pushing the local capital campaign and when the application came through from the board and the province we were very fortunate there was a funding system that this project qualified for.”

The federal government provided $220,000 for the Wellness Centre and $186,000 for the swimming pool.

The day care was built from a $1.3 million loan from the provincial government, 75 per cent of which was forgivable.

Also, approximately $1.3 million was raised within the community, from both individuals and businesses.

Judi Giroux is currently in the process packing for her move to Alberta where she will join her husband Paul, and Clarke thanked Judi and Paul for all their help.

“Judi was our board chair for to years, but she was also a member of the Y’s Service Club and a member of almost every other club or charitable organization this community has to offer and Judi was a key player in the success of this building,” said Clarke. “We’re so grateful for the federal funding, and Judy was in the corner saying this has to happen. She was instrumental in some very key parts of this.”

She also thanked Paul, who founded the Cross Border Challenge and all the runs associated with the Challenge.

“Paul Giroux started something in this community that caught on like wild fire,” said Clarke. “Look in the streets of Amherst at any given time and you will see runners out there. Four or five years ago you would have seen the odd person, now they run in packs. It’s an amazing thing,”

Money raised by the Cross Border Challenge is used for the Strong Kids Campaign.

“Not only has that made a difference to the YMCA because of the fund raising efforts,” added Clarke. “But it’s made a difference to the health of our communities, which, I think and hope, will continue for a long time. I only see those groups growing, not shrinking.”

The Strong Kids Campaign subsidizes families who might otherwise not get to use the Cumberland YMCA. The Y currently subsidizes 125 members.

“That is part of our mission,” said YMCA board chairman Dale Fawthrop. “The Strong Kids campaign is there to make sure that no child misses out on Y activities because their family doesn’t have the money.”

Fawthrop made a Strong Kids Campaign donation announcements before the ribbon was cut Sunday afternoon.

“This week, for our Strong Kids campaign, we received over a $90,000 donation,” said Fawthrop. “The workers at Weston Bakeries here in Amherst raised $46,000.Weston parent company matched that $46,000 so they raised $92,000. That was topped off by another $4,000 raised by the Cross Border Challenge and given to us by the Y’s Service Club.”

Fawthrop also pointed out that, of the 21 other Weston plants across Canada, the second biggest amount of money raised was $17,000.

Fawthrop thanked Weston Bakeries and thanked the people of Cumberland.

“In a way it’s a Cumberland County fairy tale and it all starts off with once upon a time,” said Fawthrop. “Once upon a time we were very close to closing our doors a second time. We were the only Y in Canada that closed its doors and then re-opened, and the reason we were able to re-open was because of the support of the people and our governments.

“With the work of the staff, the community and various levels of government we were able to re-open,” added Fawthrop. “It’s much more than a fitness centre. It’s a community building where people of all ages can come and feel welcome.”

MP for Cumberland-Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley, Scott Armstrong, was at the ceremony and he encourages people to join the Y.

“We definitely have a jewel here in Amherst. It has a pool and a day care and a wellness centre,” said Armstrong. “It’s a big part of the downtown revitalization as well. It truly is a place that brings young families to the community and that’s what we need in rural communities.

“I encourage people to make use of the facility, and I encourage as many people as possible to join up.”

















Organizations: YMCA, Wellness Centre, YMCA board

Geographic location: AMHERST, Cumberland County, Cumberland-Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley Alberta Canada

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