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Drive for Statesboro Y moves ahead
Survey shows interest in family, teen programs
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A drive to create a Statesboro YMCA heads toward 2016 with a big, local committee, a unanimously elected chairman and a survey showing  that the strongest interest  –  among  roughly 800 people who chose to respond – is in programs for adults, families and teenagers.

The next step, according to Statesboro YMCA Steering Committee chairman Bob Mikell and others involved, will be to identify a location for a YMCA facility.

“The whole point is to co-exist with existing agencies and the private fitness centers as well, so we want something that is centrally located but also fills a unique niche,” Mikell said in an interview.

Twenty-six people attended an organizational meeting Nov. 13. All who voted were counted as members of the committee, and unanimously elected Mikell. He had made contacts with the Savannah-based YMCA of Coastal Georgia early in 2015 and began the push to start a branch here.

Probably 10 more people who expressed interest were not at the meeting but may still participate, Mikell said.

No formal subcommittees have been named. But Statesboro Properties owner Nick Propps, YMCA of Coastal Georgia CEO Joel Smoker, and Mikell, who is an attorney, are working on finding a location. A 10,000 to 15,000-square-foot building may be called for, resembling the YMCA center in Richmond Hill, Mikell said.

They hope to have a location identified by mid-January, he said. Planners are determined to find a site first, before starting a campaign for funds.

“Finding a location prior to starting a Founders Campaign is extremely important,” Smoker said in an email. “Generally, in my opinion, folks are very hesitant to commit financially to an unknown project. Rightfully, we need to show our commitment of a facility before asking the community to show their commitment.”

The survey says …

In the YMCA’s survey of interest in starting a branch in Bulloch County, 79.7 percent of respondents said the programs and services of a YMCA would fill an important need in the area.

The survey was not a scientific one with random sampling of the community. Instead, the YMCA organizers actively encouraged people to participate, through letters home to Bulloch County Schools parents, appearances at First Friday events and Mainstreet Farmers Markets downtown, and a Statesboro Herald story in June.

Much of the discussion earlier this year focused on a need for more after-school programs for children. But the survey percentages suggest a different, broader focus.

“From the survey there were a number of needs identified, but two that really trended high were teen programming and family programming, and that’s something we feel like we could really have as a primary focus while this gets off the ground,” Mikell said.

The survey was done through In all, unless some answered more than once, 804 people participated. Repeat responses from the same Internet Protocol address were barred, Mikell said. But that would not prevent individuals from responding from more than one device.

Multiple answers were allowed to the question, “What specific programs would you like to see offered by the YMCA in your area?” So the response percentages overlap by wide margins.

“Adult fitness-wellness and sports” was checked as a “yes” by 93.5 percent of respondents, “family programs” by 91.2 percent, and “teen programs” by 88.9 percent.  These three also ranked highest in weighted averages that took the “possibly,” “no,” and “unsure” responses into account.

Other “yes” rates were summer day camps, 88.4 percent; youth leadership, 87.6; “before and after school care,” 81.5; senior citizen programs, 80 percent; gymnastics, 76.9; preschool and pre-K, 67.6; workforce development, 65.7; and home-school physical education and programs, 64.2 percent.

Finding a niche amid private gyms, the Boys & Girls Club, the Statesboro-Bulloch County Parks and Recreation Department, even the Averitt Center for the Arts, has been a theme of YMCA supporters since the discussion began.

For the June story, Boys & Girls Club of Bulloch County Executive Director Mike Jones said he would welcome the YMCA’s help providing activities for more children, but is concerned about further dividing local donations to nonprofit agencies.

The Boys & Girls Club also has plans for a new facility, and a fundraising campaign.

Over the long run, the two organizations would operate differently and serve somewhat different socioeconomic groups, YMCA organizers say.

“I know Boys & Girls Club had some concerns that this would be slicing off the available amount of donations, but the Y doesn’t primary operate on donations,” Mikell said.

Boys & Girls Club participation fees are nominal, and most families pay nothing. It currently receives grant funding for after-school programs it provides in cooperation with the Bulloch County Schools.

The YMCA also has a policy of not denying anyone service for lack of ability to pay. But the programs are fee-based, as reflected in a survey question.

Of 733 respondents to the question, 78.6 percent said they were willing to pay a fee for themselves, their spouses or their children to participate in YMCA activities. Fewer, 54.6 percent, answered “yes” to the separate question of whether they would “financially support” a YMCA, while 40.4 percent were “unsure” and 5 percent said “no.”


The ‘Statesboro Y’

The name of the local Y was decided Nov. 13 by the steering committee. With the YMCA intended to serve all of Bulloch County and beyond, the name Statesboro YMCA was chosen because it identifies a location, rather than a service area, and because Statesboro, as the home of Georgia Southern University, has wider name recognition, Mikell said.

“I think a Y would be a great addition to Statesboro and Bulloch County because I think a lot of people would use it, and I don’t think it would interfere with the Rec Department,” said Bulloch County Commissioner Walter Gibson, now a YMCA committee member. “Plus, along with the Boys & Girls Club, there would be more opportunities for more people.”

He has lived here for almost 40 years now, with no YMCA to join. But, having grown up in Folkston, Gibson said he is aware through family and friends of YMCAs in places such as Waycross and Moultrie, recently visited one in Summerville, South Carolina, and has long been interested in Bulloch County getting one.

Statesboro Mayor Jan Moore has also been attending the YMCA meetings.

Although she grew up in Statesboro, Moore, her husband and their two daughters lived in Florida before moving here in 2001. The Moores were active in the South Tampa YMCA, where the girls learned to swim.

“YMCAs are not a canned product,” Moore said. “They provide a service and programming to a community based on a community’s needs. I would think everyone in Statesboro would agree that even though our community has a number of wonderful organizations, and we’re blessed to have each and every one of them, all the needs in our community aren’t being met.”

One need, she added, is “programming that’s family-oriented … not geared necessarily to school children or a certain demographic.”

The steering committee will be applying for a charter from the national YMCA. The Statesboro Y will be part of the YMCA of Coastal Georgia, which will provide support for the startup, including programming and membership development, financial bookkeeping, and facility design, Smoker said.

“The most important support service the corporate Y can offer is the front-end financing for the build-out of a facility, eliminating the process of securing a loan for costs,” he said.

Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.



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