116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — As the Cedar Rapids YMCA was struggling with financial challenges brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, it was hit by a derecho.
More than 18 months into the pandemic and 14 months after the derecho, the YMCA still is digging out from under the effects of the double whammy, President and CEO Bob Carlson said Monday.
“We’re going to be digging out of this for years,” he told U.S. Rep. Ashley Hinson, R-Iowa, during her tour of the downtown Cedar Rapids facility. “Not just two years, but for 10 years.”
Since the onset of the pandemic in March 2020, the YMCA has lost about a quarter of its members and more than $1 million in revenue when it had to cancel its Camp Wapsie summer programs, and has had difficulty finding staff at its downtown and Marion locations, he said.
Two rounds of the federal Paycheck Protection Program as well as grants and the continued support of members have helped sustain the Y, which closed its Mercy Health Plaza to free up resources and sold its Stoney Point facility to a church.
“It’s been a tough, tough road the past couple of years,” he told Hinson.
Despite the challenges, Carlson believes the Y is stable and “doing fine operationally.” It’s working on rebuilding its membership, trimming expenses and raising funds to cover scholarships for people, especially youths, who cannot afford memberships.
The opening of a new facility in Marion, in partnership with the city, has helped bring an influx of cash. While it’s reducing expenses, the gym and child care facilities faced increased costs similar to those challenging families and businesses.
The availability of staff also limits programming, Carlson and youth sports director Dale Emerson told Hinson. It’s hard to find lifeguards as well as referees for basketball games being played by about 900 youth from kindergarten on up, they said.
Carlson thought the employment challenge might ease when federal extended unemployment benefits ended.
“It appears people aren’t ready to return to work,” he said.
Hinson is hearing the same thing from human resources managers around the 1st Congressional District. They tell her many employees, especially mothers, who left the workplace to provide family care and haven’t returned.
In visits to the YMCA and Oak Street Manufacturing in Monticello on Monday, as well as other stops around the district, Hinson said employers are telling her the issues are intersecting in ways making it difficult to meet workplace needs.
“There’s no magic pill,” she said, adding that pre-pandemic policies are unlikely to meet today’s needs.
“These workforce issues are affecting everyone and the question is how do we get people back,” Hinson said. “It appears people have shifted their priorities and we have to find a balance between unemployment benefits and going back to work.”
The YMCA would like to help by increasing child care capacity, but Carlson can’t find people to meet the demand.
As a nonprofit, he said, the Y’s pay scale can’t compete with many businesses, but it has raised its wages. Still, it hasn’t been able to attract the teens and college-age employees it typically relies on.
“The kids who worked for us seem to have different priorities,” Emerson said. “Life is being reprioritized.”
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