New CEO John Bonacci helps the YMCA get back on its feet

John Bonacci is the new CEO of The North Central Florida YMCA at 5201 NW 34th St. in Gainesville.

Erica Brough/Staff
Published: Sunday, April 7, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, April 5, 2013 at 7:22 p.m.

By Jennifer Waters


The North Central Florida YMCA was in turmoil when John Bonacci took over the organization.

Staff morale was "pretty low," Bonacci said. "A lot of people were unsure of the future — scared."

The "Y" was in the midst of Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization. Membership and donations had declined, four of the "Y's" five facilities were operating at a loss, and top executives had left the organization.

When Bonacci, a certified financial planner, became CEO on July 1, 2012, he pledged to run the "Y" more like a business, which included adding revenue-generating features.

Some of the "Y's" new offerings for kids include a performing and fine arts department with cheerleading, two forms of dance, and color guard.

Kristin Barnes, director of performing arts, said her students will sometimes stay at the "Y" until 6 or 8 p.m.

The "Y" also now has a smoothie and juice bar and five massage therapists on staff.

"A lot of people don't realize what we do," Bonacci said. "They think (we're) just a fitness center or just a place for kids' programs, depending on what their perspective is."

The "Y's" departments include aquatics, child care and wellness.

With the bankruptcy plan now approved, the "Y" has two facilities, Northwood and Southwest, which are dedicated to outdoor sports.

The organization employs about 100 people, including seven full-time. The "Y" is also hiring for several positions, including a membership sales director, which is a new position.

In his first 37 days, Bonacci said, he presented the YMCA's board of directors with 63 initiatives that he felt needed to be implemented "to save" the "Y," including "a facelift of the facilities, addressing potential safety concerns, having a more singular vision, and, all in all, just cultivating the positive energy."

More initiatives have since been added, Bonacci said.

"John doesn't settle," Barnes said. "He rolls up his sleeves. He's willing to step up … He wants the right things for this place."

Prior to becoming CEO, Bonacci is credited with helping to turn around Big Brothers Big Sisters of Mid-Florida, which was in debt after losing its federal contract. He served in a leadership role on BBBS' board of directors.

"… In two years, we were up 53 percent in the number of children served, so I did something right," Bonacci said.

A YMCA board member, whom Bonacci declined to name, acknowledged his success with BBBS and told Bonacci: "‘Now you're going to save the ‘Y.' "

Bonacci said deciding to become CEO of the "Y" was a difficult decision, until he thought about the children he had served as head of the BBBS board of directors.

"I really dug deep into the (YMCA) financials… (to) try to get a sense of where the problems were and where they could be fixed. There was possible light at the end of the tunnel."

Instead of raising membership fees, Bonacci streamlined the categories from eight to three, with the potential for senior and youth discounts.

Membership is starting to grow, "little by little, as word gets out," Bonacci said.

The "Y's" current needs include in-kind donations from corporate partners and volunteers skilled in carpentry, plumbing or landscaping.

"I think the YMCA is a valuable community landmark, and I'm here to make sure the ‘Y' has a future in this community," Bonacci said. "But it's a big project."

Since becoming CEO, Bonacci said he is most proud of the team they are building, from management to rank-and-file employees.

"They really have a heart for the cause and are in it for the right reasons. They truly care about the people who are coming here," Bonacci said.

Larry Hartfield, who served with Bonacci on the BBBS board, attributes the CEO's ability to turn around the "Y" to his knowledge of finances, his strong character, and his goal-oriented nature.

"He just does what he does very well. His heart's behind it," Hartfield said.

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