Strengthening community is the foundation of the YMCA of Greater Monmouth County (The Y). They believe that lasting personal and social change can only come about when we all work together to invest in our kids, our health and our neighbors. That's why they focus their work in three areas: youth development, healthy living and social responsibility.
In September of 2019, the Community YMCA and YMCA of Western Monmouth County, united to become the YMCA of Greater Monmouth County. While everyone was excited for the new synergy that would enable both Ys to benefit from shared resources and enhance their ability to respond to the community’s most pressing needs, merging organizations still presents many challenges.
Laurie Goganzer, former president and CEO of The Community YMCA, was appointed to lead the newly formed YMCA of Greater Monmouth County in the same role. Laurie was fairly new to this Y, and began here in 2017 after holding leadership roles for 25 years at Ys across New York and California. She was now tasked with one of her career’s biggest challenges – building trust with the staff and board across two organizations, now joined as one.
With this strategic alliance, the YMCA of Greater Monmouth County became the 2nd largest Y in New Jersey. Now it was time to create a shared vision and strategic plan. In January 2020, the process began and soon after, COVID hit. While the pandemic had changed life as we knew it for everyone across the world, the global pause created the perfect conditions for the Y to work on its strategic planning. They had more time to focus and were very successful at creating a shared vision for their future.
Sadly, the financial impact of COVID on their non-profit organization resulted in a layoff of 85% of her workforce, the majority of which were frontline employees in direct service roles. Layoffs are difficult to begin with, but after just building trust with her combined staff and board, this was emotionally and physically draining for Laurie and the team. “We had already gone into the pandemic both inspired and tired,” Laurie said. Still, they had to move forward so they leveraged the strategic planning process to help.
Prior to COVID, the facilities at the YMCA of Greater Monmouth County were considered health and wellness centers. Once COVID hit, they shifted gears, changed their business model and became community care centers. Collaboration had already set up the Y for success, as they worked with 70 partners before the pandemic. Now, more than ever, it was crucial to work together.
Community care was the top priority, so Laurie and the team took a step back and assessed what the critical needs were for both the members and community. They started focusing on food insecurity and worked with Fulfill to become food distribution centers. The Y held food drives, collecting and distributing donations at their locations to give back to those in need. They also served over 30,000 meals. Additionally, they quickly began emergency childcare for children of essential employees.
The Y also held blood drives where community residents, Y staff and members could conveniently donate. They received over 1,000 pints of blood on location, saving over 2,500 lives. Their Red Bank location also became a testing site for COVID in May of 2020, and they were one of the first YMCA vaccination sites in the country. Partnering with VNA Health Group, they provided over 15,000 vaccinations!
If you ask Laurie what the silver lining is from the last fourteen months, she would say communication, which has definitely ramped up for the YMCA of Greater Monmouth County. They became closer with stakeholders, volunteers and donors. They consistently stayed in touch with Y members and board members. They even raised more money during these tough times because people could truly see the good work being done for the community, and understand that the Y is so much more than just a place to exercise.
As things begin to open and we move towards physically healthier days, we will be facing our next collective challenge – the mental health crisis that is arising from the pandemic. The Y never stopped their mental health services and quickly shifted to virtual offerings. From stress management and anxiety relief webinars to traumatic loss, addiction recovery and therapeutic counseling for all individuals and families, the Y is now offering a hybrid model of mental health options.
Laurie and her team are now looking into what to continue doing to stay successful as community care centers as well as what to stop doing so they can focus on what matters most. She continues to do everything she can to motivate her staff, board and Y members, as well as show the community what the Y really is. While most hear “YMCA” and think of fitness and swimming, they now know that the Y is a charity, with a core mission to strengthen the community.
Laurie said, “We are not just IN the community, we are FOR the community. We are working with our partners to do more and we are using our strengths to give back.”
Visit https://ymcanj.org/ to keep up-to-date with all that the YMCA of Greater Monmouth County plans to do for our community!