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First Friday Message

"BitterSweet Sixteen"

Many of you reached out to me after last month’s message regarding the Blanchard Park YMCA. You shared stories about the importance of the Y as a gathering place of the community and reinforced to our internal team that the W-H-Y of the Y is so much more than a gym. One particular letter I received has stayed at the top of my inbox as the member shared how the Y has played a critical role as the glue of her family and marriage.

Her story is not altogether different than mine. In my nearly 30 years in the Y, I’ve moved four times and have never been closer than six hours from my family in Virginia. God bless my wife for joining me on this voyage, as raising a child can be challenging when you don’t have family nearby to lean on. The Y and my Y colleagues, volunteers, and friends (most of whom I met via the Y) have been my “crew.” And these last 10 years as a dad would’ve been much more challenging without that extended Y family.

If you live and move through the east side of our service area, you know this has been a tough time for the Y. The Blanchard Park Y remains closed due to the impact of Hurricane Ian, and recently, we announced the upcoming closure of the Avalon Park Y.

For the last 16 years, our Y embarked upon a nuanced service-delivery model called “Y Express” within Avalon Park. This novel concept was adopted by several Ys across the USA to operate a smaller-scale Y within a leased retail space that could serve as a bridge to becoming a full-facility YMCA. Over this time, our cozy Y in Avalon Park has been a healthy gathering place for the community and the catalyst for introducing thousands of kiddos to youth sports and learn-to-swim programs. 

Unfortunately, the vision of growing this Y into a full-fledged, standalone facility did not materialize during this time. Our Y association has continued to face the lingering economic impacts of the pandemic, coupled with local market headwinds, which have made the Avalon Park Y costs surpass what we, a community-based nonprofit, can sustain. 

As I shared earlier, I know that the closure of a Y of any size impacts lives. In this case, so many people have fond memories and deep friendships that are linked to our Y. We’ve read the messages about how the Y helped develop connections as neighbors and how, through the Y, so many people began to feel a part of the Avalon Park community.

I want to say a heartfelt thank you to our Avalon Park Y volunteers, team members, donors, members, and program participants – past and present – who have helped build and shape this Y community over the years. I deeply regret that we were unable to realize a full-facility Y for this community.

And for our members and program participants everywhere, I’m greatly biased, but I believe that the Y can create community and change lives. If you have not yet been able to connect to the W-H-Y of the Y, please allow us to connect you with new friends and new communities inside your Y. 

Until next time…

Kevin Bolding, President & CEO
YMCA of Central Florida

The Y. For a better us.®