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Cedar Rapids' YMCA leaders looking at expanding health programs, Camp Wapsie as organization marks 150 years

Bob Carlson, President and CEO of the Cedar Rapids Metro YMCA, is photographed at the YMCA in Cedar Rapids on Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2018. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
Bob Carlson, President and CEO of the Cedar Rapids Metro YMCA, is photographed at the YMCA in Cedar Rapids on Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2018. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — The Cedar Rapids Metro Area YMCA is marking its 150th anniversary this year, along with the 100th anniversary of Camp Wapsie.

Its president and chief executive officer, Bob Carlson, and its vice president and chief operating officer, Steve Dolezal, say the not-for-profit is going to keep adding programs to help people of all ages stay healthy and avoid chronic illnesses.

Carlson and Dolezal spoke with The Gazette on Tuesday about the Y’s past and its future. Parts of the discussion have been edited or removed for clarity and length.

Q: Where is the YMCA right now in terms of financial stability, membership, facilities, just as an organization, as a whole in your history?

A: CARLSON: Over the last few years, we’ve been doing very well. We’re forward directional, have a lot of members and we’re doing a lot more than just being a membership organization — we’re doing a lot of other things for the community, too. We’re a human services organization first, and we take care of a lot of people. Yes, we’re a membership organization, but we have a lot of other programs that are critical for kids and families in the community.

Q: Let’s say since 2000, what new things have been happening at the Y for the organization?

A: CARLSON: There’s been a lot of changes. For example, we do signature programs for the community like diabetes prevention, LiveStrong, the cancer survivor’s program, Enhanced Fitness, our arthritis program for older adults. We’ve been focusing a lot more on, yes, we have a lot of kids and a lot of families, but the other critical issues like obesity, childhood obesity, all of those kinds of stuff. It is nationwide, but we’re doing that here too. We’re kind of on the cutting edge of that here in Iowa, I would say.

Q: How so?

A: DOLEZAL: We’re the first Y in the state of Iowa that’s been selected to provide the Healthy Weight and Your Child program, the first Y in Iowa to be approved for (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) recognition for a diabetes prevention program to Medicaid participants, so we can bill Medicaid for that.

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A: CARLSON: ...We have an aging population across the country, but really in Iowa, so we focus on a lot of those chronic disease programs, too, and prevention, so they can live a longer life.

Q: In the past several years, there’s been more and more entertainment options at the individual level. How is the Y adapting to that change in the way people live their lives?

A: CARLSON: It’s getting more difficult all the time, but I think we offer alternative solutions to some of that stuff. Whereas you come in to try and stay healthy and take care of yourself, I think that’s some of the things we’re dealing with in the world today. Kids aren’t being active enough. So that becomes increasingly harder to do with all the distractions kids have, but we try to stay the course with health and wellness, and making sure they have good, quality programs so kids have a place to come and be more active and stay healthy, because that’s what we need more of.

Q: What the biggest challenge or challenges the Y is facing in the next 5 to 10 years?

A: CARLSON: One of the biggest challenges right now is building the Marion YMCA. That’s a huge challenge but it’s a good, positive challenge because Marion’s growing so fast. Our building out there is not able to take care of the growing population... It’s always a challenge to raise the money, build it and then make sure that you’re doing a good job of operating.

Q: It’s also the 100th anniversary for Camp Wapsie. What are your thoughts on that program’s future?

A: CARLSON: Camp Wapsie is one of the revered local residence camps in the nation, and in a day and age when reisdence camps aren’t really growing really fast, because of overnight stuff and that.

A: DOLEZAL: 167 more kids joined this year than last year in our summer camp, and last year was a record. So, we’re continuing to grow and continuing to take care of a lot of kids out there. ... It continues to prosper, and we continue to look at ways to grow it as we move forward. It’s a jewel in this area. ... Looking forward, I think we’re looking at a lot of renovations to the camp, as well as expansion, looking to add some extra acreage or territory to expand to services.

Q: Pretend you get to stand on the soapbox for a second. What would you say to the community in the area about where the Y is at this point in its history?

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A: CARLSON: First of all, thank you for all the support people have given to us over the years. There’s no way we could do it with the many contributors and the many, many volunteers that are part of the program, over 1,600 last year ... so thank you. The YMCA was born from the community 150 years ago, and what we’ve trying to do is give back. It just doesn’t happen without the many contributors and volunteers that we have.

l Comments: (319) 398-8366; dan.mika@thegazette.com

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