Helping Build Healthy Communities

A Look at Trends in YMCAs, YWCAs and JCCs

YMCAs, YWCAs, JCCs and similar organizations were represented by 5.8 percent of the survey respondents this year. This group of facilities mostly operates on a nonprofit basis—in fact, nearly 95 percent of respondents in this category said they were private, nonprofit organizations—to bring family services, health and fitness, camping and other programs to the community.

Respondents from YMCAs and similar nonprofit facilities were more likely than those in many other categories to be located in the Northeast region of the United States. More than a quarter (26.3 percent) of YMCA and similar facilities in our survey were located in that region. The largest number were found in the Midwest (38.6 percent). Smaller numbers were found in the other regions of the country, including the South Atlantic (14.9 percent), South Central (11.4 percent) and West (just 8.8 percent of YMCA respondents).

Like respondents across the board, YMCAs were most likely to be found in suburban communities. Nearly 44 percent of respondents said they worked for suburban facilities. Nearly 30 percent worked for rural facilities, and just over 26 percent worked for urban facilities.

Respondents from YMCAs, YWCAs and JCCs were more likely to report that they managed or operated just a single facility. Nearly 60 percent worked for a single facility, and another third (33.3 percent) said they managed two to three facilities. Less than 5 percent said they operated six or more separate facilities.

YMCAs and similar organizations were highly likely to report that their facility had formed partnerships of various kinds with other external organizations. Just 3.5 percent of respondents in this category said they do not partner with any other organizations, compared to more than 15 percent of all respondents.

The most common partnerships were formed with local schools and other nonprofit organizations. More than three-quarters of respondents in this category said they had formed partnerships with these types of organizations. Nearly two-thirds (64.3 percent) said they had partnered with corporate or local businesses, and nearly half (48.7 percent) had partnered with colleges and universities, or with health care facilities or medical facilities. In fact, the only external organization that fewer than 10 percent of respondents in this category said they partnered with was private health clubs. Less than 1 percent of YMCAs and similar organizations partnered with private health clubs, a finding that is perfectly logical given the competitive nature of many of these facilities offerings. (See Figure 54.)

In fact, some of the YMCA's partnerships go beyond the walls of its facilities to influence community development and public policy. The YMCA of the USA's Activate America program, created as a response to America's various health crises, has created partnerships in communities across the country, aiming to improve people's eating habits as well as increasing their physical activity levels.

In Attleboro, Mass., for example, a team convened by the Attleboro YMCA, with technical support from the National Park Service, aims to improve the city's walkability with a city-wide trail. The team also plans to expand bike paths and influence sidewalk improvements throughout the city.

Another team, convened by the Rapid City YMCA in Rapid City, S.D., also aims to improve public access to walking and biking, in this case by actively campaigning to influence public policy. As a result, the city council has denied variances for developers looking to build communities without sidewalks, and some construction projects that did not include bike paths or sidewalks ultimately did include them.

A team convened by the YMCA of the Suncoast exercised its influence in Clearwater, Fla., by getting the two largest providers of after-school care to require 30 minutes a day of physical activity in their programming. The county government has since adopted the requirement as part of its licensing of all after-school programs.

These partnerships don't just influence physical activity levels, but also aim to encourage people to eat healthier as well. For example, in Rochester, N.Y., a team convened by the YMCA of Greater Rochester cooperated with a child-care food vendor for three full-day child-care sites to require fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables as well as introducing more whole grains. And in West Michigan, a team convened by the YMCA of Grand Rapids responded to the problem of inner-city residents' limited access to fresh fruits and vegetables by planting community gardens and starting a farmers' market.

Staffing & Certification

Respondents from YMCAs, YWCAs and JCCs indicated that they employed more people than any other type of facility covered by the survey, and also were the most likely to require at least some of their employees to earn certifications of one kind or another.

YMCAs and similar facilities surveyed employed 67.4 percent more employees, on average, than the average across-the-board for all facility types, but they expected that number to grow at a slightly slower rate than average. While all respondents projected a growth rate of 32.3 percent over the next few years, YMCA respondents were anticipating growth of 31.6 percent from 304.3 employees, on average, currently to 400.5 on average in 2011.

Most of that growth will occur in the number of volunteers working for YMCAs, YWCAs and JCCs. Respondents in this category projected a growth rate of 40.1 percent in the number of volunteers working in their facilities over the next three years. The smallest growth will be seen in the number of full-time employees working for their facilities, though this number is still expected to grow by nearly 19 percent.

Many respondents cited staffing their facilities as a top concern, adding that competing with other facilities was a big piece of that challenge. One aquatics director in Florida said staffing was the biggest concern, "because being a YMCA it is hard to compete in offering competitive wages versus other facilities that offer more."

Respondents from YMCAs, YWCAs and JCCs were far more likely to indicate that they required certification of some kind for their employees than other facilities. A full 99.1 percent of respondents in this category said that some kind of certification was a necessity. Nearly all of these (98.2 percent) said their facility required CPR, AED or First Aid certification. Most also required lifeguard certifications (94.7 percent) and background checks (92 percent). More than half also required: personal training or fitness certifications (74.3 percent), aquatic management or pool operations certifications (65.5 percent), and childcare or early childhood education certifications (56.6 percent).

Usage and Revenues

Overall, respondents from YMCAs, YWCAs and JCCs were fairly positive about usage and revenue trends in their facilities, with many anticipating increasing participation as well as increasing revenues over the next several years. At the same time, although respondents from these facilities reported the highest operating costs, they also were not expecting their costs to grow as rapidly as some other types of facilities.

On its Web site, the YMCA of the USA reports that it has more than 12,450,000 members nationwide. According to our survey, YMCAs are expecting that number to grow. Some 45.8 percent of respondents from YMCAs and similar facilities reported that the number of people using their facilities had grown between 2006 and 2007, while another 43.4 percent said that number had remained even in that time period. Nearly 11 percent said the number of people using their facilities had gone down. Looking forward, more expect their facilities to see more people participating. From 2007 to 2008, 54 percent project an increase in the number of people using their facilities, and from 2008 to 2009, 60 percent anticipate an increase.

Though many cited concerns about the economy and whether or not people would be willing to pay the necessary membership fees and charges to take part in activities, respondents from YMCAs, YWCAs and JCCs were quite positive overall about revenue growth over the next several years. More than half said their revenues had grown from 2006 to 2007, and by 2008 to 2009, nearly three-quarters project increases in revenue.

Respondents in this category reported the highest average annual operating expenditures of any facility type, but they did not expect their expenses to grow as quickly as many other facilities. Respondents from YMCAs and similar facilities reported an average annual operating expenditure of $2,114,800 for fiscal 2007, 52.5 percent higher than the across-the-board average, and 115 percent higher than their counterparts working for health and fitness clubs. They projected a growth rate of 11.5 percent over the next several years, to an average of $2,357,800 in fiscal 2009.

Higher and Higher
New Climbing Walls Planned for 20.9 Percent of Y Respondents

While more than a third of respondents from YMCAs, YWCAs and JCCs reported that their facilities currently include climbing walls, an impressive 20.9 percent plan to add climbing walls within the next three years, and many were also planning to add climbing programming at their facilities.

Climbing walls were also the most popular amenity planned for addition over the next few years at health and fitness clubs.

USA Climbing, the national governing body of competition climbing in the United States, has reported steady growth in participation in its three competition disciplines: bouldering, sport and speed climbing. The organization says that participation has more than doubled from 2002-2003 to 2005-2006, with 65 percent of participants between the ages of 12 and 21.

Arising to meet the needs of this growing population of climbers is a certification program offered through the Climbing Wall Association (CWA) and the American Mountain Guides Association (AMGA). The two associations agreed in February of this year to establish a Climbing Wall Instructor (CWI) certification program for climbing instructors throughout North America.

The program has been piloted since April 2007 in Colorado, Massachusetts and North Carolina. The program addresses basic technical skills needed to manage an instructional program at a climbing facility, covering such topics as client orientation and instruction, teaching general climbing skills including movement, teaching top-rope and lead belaying techniques, equipment and facility use, and rescue and emergency procedures.

For more information, visit www.climbingwallindustry.org.

Facility Planning

YMCAs, YWCAs and JCCs were slightly more likely than the average respondent to be planning construction over the next three years—72.8 percent said they had plans to build new, make additions or renovate their existing facilities within the next three years. The most common plans were for renovations, with 43.9 percent of respondents reporting they had such plans, followed by additions, at 31.6 percent. Another 27.2 percent of respondents from YMCAs and similar facilities said they had plans to build new facilities.

For those who do have plans in place, the average amount they are planning to spend on those facilities is $5,331,300, 21.2 percent higher than the general average.

Many respondents reported that they had a need to expand their facilities in order to meet their communities' needs.

One sports and program director from Kentucky said her top concern is "finding additional space to run programs because we are maxed out right now and hoping to add on within the next year."

Space limitations were a factor for many. One senior program executive from Illinois said budgets were a problem, adding, "We have grown out of this facility with no ADA accessibility or parking, etc., and should have expanded two years ago. We just got land to build a new YMCA and now have to raise $14 million in a bad economy, but we have to move."

And a fitness and recreation director from a JCC said his top issue was "creating more non-membership opportunities in our space limitations."

The top amenities currently included by the respondents from YMCAs, YWCAs and JCCs included the typical options that one might expect, allowing for participation in sports, fitness, aquatics and other activities. Nearly 90 percent of respondents indicated that their facilities included fitness centers and locker rooms, and more than 80 percent said they included exercise studios and indoor sports courts or gymnasiums. Nearly 80 percent also include classrooms and meeting rooms and more than 70 percent included an indoor aquatic facility. More than half also said they had a community or multipurpose center, playgrounds and bleachers or seating. Around a third also offered an indoor running track, a climbing wall and outdoor sport courts for games like basketball and tennis.

When it comes to adding to their facilities, an impressive 20.9 percent of respondents from YMCAs and similar facilities indicated that they planned to add a climbing wall within the next three years. Other innovations were planned for many facilities, including the addition of challenge courses, splash play areas and more.

The top 10 amenities respondents from YMCAs, YWCAs and JCCs were planning to add within the next three years included:

  1. Climbing walls
  2. Exercise studios
  3. Locker rooms
  4. Challenge courses
  5. Classrooms or meeting rooms
  6. Indoor aquatic facilities
  7. Splash play areas
  8. Community centers or multipurpose centers
  9. Fitness centers
  10. Indoor sports courts

Programming at YMCAs is largely dominated by a focus on family and community needs, but these facilities have plans in place to address some of the larger health issues confronting Americans by helping them learn to get more active and manage their weight.

The most common programs found at YMCA, YWCA and JCC respondents in our survey—all offered by at least 80 percent of facilities—included:

  1. Day camps and summer camps (93.9 percent)
  2. Fitness programs (92.2 percent)
  3. Swimming (88.7 percent)
  4. Holidays and other special events (88.7 percent)
  5. Programs for active older adults (87 percent)
  6. Personal training (87 percent)
  7. Youth sports teams (87 percent)
  8. Mind-body balance (85.2 percent)
  9. Aquatic exercise (85.2 percent)
  10. Teen programming (80 percent)

When it comes to plans for adding new programming, YMCAs and similar facilities can often be found at the cutting edge. Not surprisingly, with the Y's push to incorporate programs that aim to encourage people to eat healthier, the most common program they are planning to add was nutrition and diet counseling. Some 22.6 percent of these respondents planned to add such a program. Other programs many YMCAs, YWCAs and JCCs are planning to add over the next three years include: sports activities for individuals like running clubs and lap swimming, performing arts programs, therapeutic programs, educational programs, programs designed specifically for active older adults and for teens, climbing, mind-body balance programs like yoga and tai chi, and special-needs programming.

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