After signing up more than 4,000 members since opening last November, Innisfil’s new YMCA appears to have caught the public’s attention.
Yet, not everyone sees the YMCA, which operates programs out of the town’s new recreation complex, as an all-inclusive facility.
Some residents claim it caters to the relatively well heeled, with the cost of a basic membership ($89 per month for a two-parent family) remaining out-of-reach for many, including middle-income families.
The fact the Town of Innisfil negotiated a 40 per cent discount for municipal employees while others are left on the sidelines makes matters even worse, according to at least one resident.
“Of course government employees should not be given a discount,” said Churchill resident Debbie Placidi.
“Especially because the YMCA was originally supposed to benefit the poorest. The YMCA was always about being there for those who could not afford the high price of a regular gym. How is the Y benefiting the whole community if not all can afford it?”
Any Town of Innisfil employee, working more than 25 hours per week, is eligible for a 40 per cent discount off the YMCA’s posted rate, Town of Innisfil CAO Larry Allison said.
“It matches what the YMCA does with their staff,” Allison said. “It includes the Innisfil Public Library, South Simcoe Police Service and Innisfil Hydro employees.”
The town’s mayor, deputy mayor and the rest of Innisfil council are also eligible for the special discount.
Dawn McAlpine, city clerk for Barrie, and Andrea Say, town clerk for Midland, told the Journal employees in those municipalities do not receive a YMCA discount.
Fee discount programs aside, the YMCA of Simcoe-Muskoka boasts of a long-standing policy of helping people of lesser economic means join. This fact is documented in their 2007-2008 annual report. At year’s end, there were 11,976 full fee members, the document states. There were 3,975 “assisted members” on the roll too, a figure representing 25 per cent of the total membership.
The policy is reaffirmed in a message from Tom Coon, the YMCA’s CEO for Simcoe-Muskoka and Mike Rowe, chairperson of the board.
“The YMCA has been there for the many thousands of individuals who, because of their personal economic circumstances, could not afford the full fee, but who were able to participate because of our values in action of never turning away anyone on the basis of need.”
Having to prove need is something Placidi finds distasteful.
“Yes, the staff is willing to sit with you and discuss lower payment options but why do we have to do this at all? Why do we who can’t afford the prices of the Y have to be pulled aside, show proof of income and other papers that are required. For most, this is a degrading, humiliating and embarrassing procedure that not all are comfortable doing. Many would not bother; therefore the Y automatically eliminates the poor. This is outrageous.”
Elizabeth Oakley, the YMCA’s regional marketing and communications co-ordinator, said residents seeking fee reductions speak to a specialist on staff.
“We don’t turn anybody away. There’s no obstacle. They speak to a specialist at our membership desk. They will look at a person’s rent or mortgage and life expenses. It’s based on the individual.”
Silvana Bowman of Ireton Street believes her family wouldn’t be eligible for reductions even though the regular YMCA fees keep the facility remains out of reach.
“We’re a two income family,” Bowman says. “I don’t feel we would qualify (for a subsidy), but I didn’t ask. I don’t know what the procedures are, but I know right now we couldn’t afford it.”
Bowman and her neighbours wonder why there isn’t a discount program that could be offered to
Innisfil residents so they could enjoy the municipally-owned facility.
“I think it’s great (Town staff) is getting a discount, but I think 40 per cent is a bit much. The police are definitely OK, but where do you draw the line? They should be able to offer something to the public, too. I have a friend who just wants to use the pool for a few laps two or three days a week.
But not at $9 a pop (day use fee).”
Meanwhile, Bowman’s neighbour, Melinda Baker, switched to the Innisfil Y from a private health club.
“We joined the Y at Christmas,” she says. “We go primarily because my son needed some personal training. We were very pleased when we had two exchange students visiting from Japan. They were added to our family membership.”
“They’re definitely doing a lot of good things for the community,” Bowman agrees.
However, Baker asks, “If we got 20 families on our street together, could we get a discount? If the numbers are high could the service be enhanced for everyone? We want the Y to make a profit but could we get a break as well? They could offer incentives. If you recommend a member, can you get a discount? At the end of the day, it’s a business whether they get one person or family at $89 per month or a group at $50 (each) a month. A lot of seniors are on a fixed income. Could you bring a group from Sandy Cove acres and get a discount?
“These days, we have employers asking for no wage increases, or even wage cuts, some people are working fewer hours and being asked to take less holidays. If the Y has incentives for larger corporations, could they do it for the public, too?”