YMCA Director Has Personal Tie To The Y

Published 4:24 pm Tuesday, January 31, 2012

PRINCE EDWARD – Southside Virginia Family YMCA CEO Jane Schirmer remembers walking into the Y some 22 years ago.

The then-stay-at-home mom with a three-year-old daughter saw the sign out front of the Franklin, Virginia Y that offered half off the cost of the joining fee and she thought they might be able to afford it. She was looking for a place to go, a place to have connections in the day.

“It's wonderful to have the ability to stay at home if that's your choice, but it's also pretty isolated,” Ms. Schirmer said.

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However, there's more than the up-front cost for joining the Y; there's also a monthly fee and Ms. Schirmer assessed it was something they could not afford.

“And the person at the desk, just like our desk out here, had the tenacity and the wherewithal to say, 'Hold on, I'll let you talk to someone,' and so I waited and the executive director of the Franklin Y…came out and he spoke to me and he said, 'Don't worry about it.'”

She, of course, told him her story and he told her the Y is open to all and that they had the funds to give her a membership that year.

It was an introduction to the Y and the organization's sense of community-reaching out with their own limited means to help someone in need.

About nine months after walking into the Franklin Y she saw an ad in the newspaper for the Suffolk Y. Because she had been a member of the Y, she says, she knew she could do the job.

Her first paid professional job with the Y was to start an after school program.

“We started out in the executive director's office, literally,” Ms. Schirmer laughs. “He could not come to work until after the school bus came and took the kids to school.”

It, of course, grew really fast and expanded and, with some help from an individual who bid on the property, the Y moved their childcare program into a neighboring roller skating rink.

That, of course, was years ago. Her then-three-year-old daughter is now 25 and Ms. Schirmer has over 21 years of varied experiences with the Y, traveling the country and serving in a range of positions from Child Care Director to Executive Director to Redwoods Group Senior Risk Manager.

“I know, without a shadow of a doubt, had that person at a membership desk that day not said, 'Hold on, let me let you talk to someone,' I would not be here today-I would not be here today,” she says. “Because the Y truly, truly…does, it changes lives in a whole lot of ways.”

New Director

Last spring, following a national search, Ms. Schirmer was selected to head the Southside Virginia Family YMCA.

More than her own story, she can relate a plethora of others-where she sees the Y having an impact in someone's life. Outside of losing the pounds and sweating, she offers that it really does give people a place to come.

A group of older adults come three days a week to exercise, then rotate local restaurants, is but one example.

“…It's the connections. It goes so much beyond it just being a gym,” Ms. Schirmer said.

She notes, “I have seen so many Ys in my time connected to the Y movement, but for this community to have supported and built the Y of this quality and capacity is amazing. And when I was seeking to find a Y to come to, I really wanted a Y like this one that was absolutely community built and driven.”

What the Y does beyond the wellness floor, she offers, is “powerful.”

Ms. Schirmer relates a story about conversation with the mother of an adult child that had physical limitations.

“And that mother made a statement to me that it would be wonderful if her adult child had the ability to gather with other adults with challenges for wellness and recreation. And so we started this fall on Mondays and Saturdays a class in our pool specifically for adults with challenges-and the challenges can be cognitive or physical,” she said.

Extra staff was brought in, Longwood students have volunteered and they've had as many as 13 participate.

Ms. Schirmer, of course, can relate a spectrum of stories on the impact of this and other Y programs. How the Y has touched lives.

The Y has young mothers and families to come. The Y offers child watch, which affords some mom time or family time.

“…Part of what I feel like this Y…beyond expanding bricks and mortar, this Y has the opportunity to build upon community depth and that's really what I would want us to build on here. And part of that is reaching out to like the adaptive need for adults,” Ms. Schirmer says.

The local Y has also partnered with the Department of Rehabilitative Services for workers. And they also use STEPS for cleaning services.

“…The last six months, I would say probably just really taking time to talk and listen and to partner with how we can get this Y positioned to be beyond the four walls-the concept getting beyond the four walls,” Ms. Schirmer said of changes in the last six months. “…This Y was built and it was immaculate in its conception and inception of getting built to this point, the bricks and mortar of this Y. But…the next decade of this Y has to be a combination of that-yes, we do need to think about our capital needs, but at the same time, think about what we can offer that we do best back to the community outside of the four walls.”

Ms. Schirmer points to the annual support campaign, noting that is how they are so able to have the stories that they have.

“Because we can't just give it all away,” she said.

Membership is for the operations, she detailed. The annual support campaign is the way they get outside of the four walls. Programs such as the aquademics, where the County's second grade students learn how to swim. It is a non-revenue generating effort; the school does not pay for the service.

Adaptive water program for adults is also something that, she notes, is just the right thing to do.

Ms. Schirmer assesses that they are “stable and sustainable” in the sense of membership. They could take more members she says. In 2008, the Y was built on a capital campaign predominantly on a five-year pledge cycle and, while they're coming to the end of the cycle, she notes they have some gaps in the pledges that were scheduled “because people that made pledges have literally not been able to sustain the pledges.”

And while they're not struggling, she says, they're not having it easy, either.

“We have to be very careful to balance what our resources are,” she said.

There is no membership rate increase scheduled this year.

As for the future, Ms. Schirmer notes that they have a strategic plan team that is going to start work this month looking at what the Y needs will be and community needs.

The Y could look to address the age wave-possible easier access into the doors, easier access into equipment, surfacing… The Y is also limited in its capacity to serve children at the Y. The after school program is limited to 50 and during the summer, that's 75.

They could also aim to partner and support the effort of the school system to have an environment conducive to summer learning-perhaps a place to provide a place where children spend some time on literacy, science or math skills.

One thing on the horizon for next year is incorporating Kids Lit into their summer curriculum, a program that aims to help children connect with stories in a wide range of learning opportunities.

It's about a six-month process. Ms. Schirmer noted that they will look at the current operating model and will likely look to Seer Analytics for membership and community input.

The Y is open to all, which does not just mean financially, factoring limited resources, but there's a diversity there, too.

“I can't think of anywhere that is so neutral in its ability to be so diverse under one roof,” Ms. Schirmer said.

Presidents Carter and Clinton used the YMCA in the City of Jerusalem for some of the peace talks in the Middle East. The Y in Jerusalem was identified, Ms. Schirmer cited, as one of the most neutral places within the walls of that city.

Schirmer has traveled the U.S. and is familiar with Ys across the country.

“The Y to me has stayed alive and vibrant reaching its community because it has the ability to serve each community individually based upon what the community needs,” she said.