inPRACTICE / YMCA: Sound Decisions

North Suburban YMCA // Northbrook, Illinois

North Suburban YMCA (NSYMCA) in Northbrook, Ill., which has been serving communities in the northern Chicago suburban area for 50 years, was almost forced to close 13 years ago. But an emergency fundraising campaign, led by newly hired CEO Howard Schultz, started the organization back on the road to health.

Photo Courtesy of AMPLIVOX

Part of the reason for the Y's success in recent years, Schultz said, is strong face-to-face communication with its various audiences. "In our daily activities with our members throughout the year, and to our outreach audiences, we use a variety of high-quality PA systems to make sure everyone hears us loud and clearly."

The organization has 8,500 members and serves more than 13,000 families in 15 local communities in the Northern suburbs of Chicago. Among its expansive program offerings are swimming (in an indoor pool), basketball, racquetball, soccer, T-ball, pickleball, gymnastics and martial arts. There are fitness classes, yoga, cycle classes, the North Short School of Dance, programs for active older adults, and a wide range of programs for individuals and families coping with the challenges of intellectual or developmental disabilities, including Special Olympics Swimming and swim lessons.

NSYMCA is also active in education and outreach, including "2 Seconds Too Long", a water safety program for second graders, visual arts classes, summer day camps, afterschool programs, early childhood education classes, school break mini-camps, and community special events such as Celebration of Cultures, Taste of Asia and Black History Month, in partnership with the Northbrook Community Relations Commission.

There is also, of course, fundraising. In addition to the cost of running all its normal programs and maintaining its 80,000-square-foot facility, NSYMCA provides extensive financial assistance. One in five members receives such assistance so they can participate in the Y's programs. One of the key fundraising programs the organization has developed is the Y's "Ken and Alta Thiel Strong Kids Scholarship Dinner," which has resulted in $3.3 million raised over the past 13 years, enabling more than 2,600 people to participate in Y services each year.

The North Suburban Y was named Small Business of the Year for 2013 by the Northbrook Chamber of Commerce.

Photo Courtesy of AMPLIVOX

"With our aggressive level of activity and outreach," Schultz said, "we decided we needed to partner with an AV company that could help us with a wide range of PA systems that would work in different environments and for diverse audiences. That partner is AmpliVox."

AmpliVox Sound Systems, headquartered in Northbrook, Ill., designs and manufactures a wide range of portable PA systems, lecterns and multimedia furniture. They assist the North Suburban Y in targeting the right AV tools for the right setting and occasion. These tools range from the simple to the sophisticated. For example, wireless headset microphones are commonly used by YMCA class instructors so they can demonstrate physical movements without being hampered by cords or handheld microphones. Working in tandem with 16-channel wireless receivers, the instructor or presenter can stand as much as several hundred feet away from the amplifier/receiver.

The equipment is equal to challenging, noisy environments, such as an indoor swimming pool. For the North Suburban Y's pool, aquatics instructors arranged to use a kit that provides a complete package of components designed for such environments: SW610A Wireless Half-Mile Hailer with built-in 50-watt amplifier with built-in wireless receiver, extra horn speaker, wireless lapel and headset mics and two tripods. "With this system, our instructors can make themselves heard no matter how many noisy people are in and around the pool," Schultz said.

Another example of the need for a high-power PA set-up is NSYMCA's annual Strong Kids fundraising gala. Held at a local country club banquet room with 400 people in attendance, it features an auction, videos and various announcements throughout the evening. "For many events, the house sound system works fine," Schultz said. "But ours is a particularly noisy event, and we decided that AmpliVox equipment would work better."

Photo Courtesy of AMPLIVOX

Technicians set up an SW925 Digital Audio Travel Partner Plus with 250 watts of power and a wireless microphone to allow freedom of movement for the presenters. The sound was enhanced by adding two supplemental Powered Dual Speaker kits, placed at strategic points in the venue to ensure maximum sound coverage and clarity.

Smaller PA systems have proved useful to NSYMCA as well. The AmpliVox SW245B Dual Audio Pal, weighing only 5.5 pounds and with a built-in amplifier and speaker, has proved useful for a range of activities, such as community fairs and traveling presentations. "Our personnel like this unit because it's very portable, yet can be instantly set up to reach several hundred people," Schultz said. "It also has built-in Bluetooth, so we can wirelessly transmit amplified sound from a smartphone."

North Suburban Y's AV arsenal includes not only standalone PA systems, but lecterns as well. The Executive Column Lectern, with a built-in 150-watt sound system and Jensen-design speakers, is used in the Y's multipurpose rooms. It's easy to move between rooms on its four hidden casters.

"Partnering with AmpliVox has literally been a 'sound decision'" Schultz concluded. "Without powerful, crystal-clear communications, our spectacular success over the past 13 years definitely would not be possible." RM



North Suburban YMCA: