Fostering a healthy sense of mind, body, spirit

Published: Sunday, January 26, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 25, 2003 at 11:39 p.m.

I read with interest Joe Cirulli's column (Jan. 19) questioning the YMCA's charitable status.

Cirulli expressed his concern that YMCAs are "building health clubs in affluent areas and ignoring the population that truly needs our service."

It's unfortunate that there exists among for-profit fitness clubs such a great misunderstanding about the mission, vision and values of the YMCAs.

The legal test for being a charity is not that you serve the so-called "poor." It's that you are open to everyone, that you do not turn away any child or family because of inability to pay.

Private fitness clubs, such as Gainesville Health & Fitness Centers, are open only to those who can afford to pay membership fees. YMCAs are open to all, regardless of ability to pay.

The objectors to the YMCA presume that those who are better off should not be helped or served by a YMCA.

Examples abound from wealthier communities where YMCAs are significantly beneficial: providing safe alternatives with healthful, demonstrated values for teens, providing physical therapy and companionship for seniors, swimming and aquatic safety lessons for everyone and youth programming or summer camp even for those who live in a big house but embrace the values that YMCAs instill in all that we do.

Many churches, hospitals, colleges and universities, theaters and museums are recognized as charitable organizations, and they are available to the affluent and non-affluent alike.

The YMCA is no different and at the North Central Florida YMCA we earn our charitable status every single day.

And at every YMCA, excess income is not "profit," since it does not profit individuals, business owners or stockholders but goes back to the community in the form of services.

The North Central Florida YMCA's mission is to build healthy spirit, mind and body for all in our community.

We do this through youth sports, youth after school and summer camp programming, programs for teens, wellness programs for adults, adult sports, family activities, active older adult programs and more.

We currently provide programming and services in northwest, southwest and northeast Gainesville, Lake City, Williston, Bronson, Chiefland, High Springs and Jasper. We are much, much more than a "health club."

In fact, though fitness is clearly a charitable undertaking when available to all, of our nine service centers, only one-tenth of one location is assigned to traditional fitness activities such as weights, treadmills, aerobics, etc. Clearly, we aren't even in the same business.

Further, in pursuit of our mission we offer many programs to the community at reduced rates or no charge at all.

In 2002 alone, the Y subsidized more than $400,000 worth of programs for our community including: aquatics programs for the Association of Retarded Citizens, EyeSite for students (free eye exams & glasses), Boys & Girls Club aquatics programs. Our McGurn Branch in northeast Gainesville serves as an Elder Care meal site.

Neighborhood Watch meetings are held at our branches. We sponsor Halloween at the Y, Senior Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners, programming for children with disabilities from Sydney Lanier School, meeting sites for Girl Scouts, Teen leadership development programs and much more.

In 2002, the North Central Florida YMCA generated revenues of $3.5 million, $655,000 of that amount contributed by donors. These funds came from individuals, foundations, other charities and government.

And that's a strong sign that they consider the North Central Florida YMCA a charitable enterprise, proving we are not only eligible but also worthy of our not for profit status.

Finally, it is clear that in our community there are ample service opportunities for YMCAs and fitness clubs.

If private fitness clubs, like GHFC, are interested in a mission that transcends putting profits into their pockets and those of their stockholders, they can meet with us on the significant challenges that face young people and seniors today - such as the enormous physical challenges of children like obesity, diabetes and other problems - and join us in addressing such important issues as diversity, disabilities and generational disconnection.

We address all of these and more, every day, at the North Central Florida YMCA with programs and services that make us unique and valuable to our community.

Doug Brown is president of the Board of Directors of the North Central Florida YMCA.

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