Roy Exum: YMCA - Our Biggest Miracle

Tuesday, August 8, 2017 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

Right up front I need to tell you that when December 31st gets here, I will still claim the greatest thing to happen in Chattanooga in 2017 will be the Grand Opening of the “Miracle League” at Warner Park. It will be a very special place where a kid who would otherwise never be able to play baseball is the next batter up. In a society where our weak and infirm are now the last dollar in the budget instead of rightfully being the first, our beloved John Germ and Mike McGauley claim Opening Day for the fall season will be on Sept. 30th.

What’s more, Miller Industries has just put an all-weather athletic field adjacent to the diamond. Children who are physically or mentally challenged in our city will have access to new Play-Core equipment. The YMCA staff will direct the league and Michelle Brogden is expecting 40 players this fall – I hope she gets a 1,000.

But there is a better story. Don’t worry, by the end of September you’ll know a lot more about the Miracle League, with the Chattanooga Football Club welcoming the children on Opening Day and how Miller Industries plunked down half a million for the best field in America for our special needs children.

No, about 10 or 15 minutes after I sat down with a Santa Claus of a woman, the YMCA’s CEO Janet Dunn and a handful of her elves, I learned that our YMCA has a far bigger miracle to share and it is also our biggest secret:

I am blown away by the fact the YMCA has served 350,000 meals to needy children in our area in the last year. I’ve been worried about our inner city kids when schools aren’t in session but when children see the YMCA truck come around the corner, they run to it faster than if it was a snow cone salesman.

You need to grasp the enormity of what this place of miracles is doing. In the last four years, they have gone from four feeding stations to 85 where they serve one or two meals five days a week. Twenty-five of these feeding stations are in places you wouldn’t walk in daylight, which leads to this …

On December 31st this year, I’ll claim that of all the great philanthropic efforts in Chattanooga, not one can compare to today’s YMCA. It is the most unnoticed Godsend in our community because, as Janet told me yesterday, her eight YMCA centers have had over a million visits in the last 12 months.

She also said the key sentence that you will read in this story: “If anyone has the inability to pay, come anyway. We never turn away any adult or child who doesn’t have the money.”

The YMCA gets no money from the city. The YMCA gets no money from the county. Not a dime in city or county taxes while serving our hungry children. That hardly seems fair and politicians all the way to the state legislature should address it. The Y-cap program gets about $30,000 from the state and an ever-dwindling $300,000 from United Way is only six percent of the ever-needy budget. So how do they provide 350,000 meals? Some feeding stations need both breakfast and lunch and now it has become a year-round program.

“The need is overwhelming. We’ll add another 100,000 meals by this time next year,” Janet told me. “The food program and the chronic health needs are our fastest-growing areas but when we hear about a good need that no one else is fulfilling, the YMCA’s mission is to try to help.”

What an understatement. The new Miracle League will join about 90 other programs the YMCA offers but from the medical community comes the loudest praise. If you have diabetes, cancer, Parkinson’s, dementia, high blood pressure, movement problems, concern with your balance, or need nutritional help, there is a program at the YMCA that is guaranteed to make you feel better. You can’t afford it? Come anyway.

“Our program fees are designed to be affordable and our pre-school is believed to be the least expensive in the area,” said Debbie Roth, the executive director of the bustling downtown branch. I can also say we are probably the only pre-school that teaches swimming,” she laughed. “We believe every child should know how to swim and the children love it.”

There are about 60,000 YMCA members at the eight locations in the community and the monthly dues ($58 for an individual, $78 for a family) help offset the operational costs. The phenomenal Y-CAP program, started long ago by Joe Smith with a $40,000 budget, has grown to an $800,000 outlay.

The bottom line is that the YMCA is big business. It is our business. If you have a philanthropic bone in your body think about the new YMCA. When I was in high school we would go lift weights at the Y on Georgia Avenue, eat hamburgers at George’s at Eighth and Cherry, and greet tomorrow. What can you imagine if the YMCA didn’t deliver food tomorrow? To give to the “Community Support Campaign,” please send a contribution to Janet Dunn CEO, The Metropolitan YMCA, 301 West Sixth Street, Chattanooga TN 37402.

Hungry children need for this to work. And, believe this, we are in the YMCA’s finest hour. What they are accomplishing today is an absolute miracle.

* * *

The YMCA is in the midst of a fundraiser to rejuvenate Camp Ocoee, a wonderful place that is endeared by thousands. The goal is $4.6 million and thus far $1.1 has been raised. This is an urgent request. Please earmark your check “Camp Ocoee” and mail it to Janet Dunn at the above address.

* * *

I must appreciate the members of the YMCA who endured my dumb questions to Janet’s brilliant answers. Ed Niedbala, the Y's "idea guy,” made this happen with a special thanks to ‘elves’ Nichole Brogdon, Debbie Roth, Jenni Porter and Cara Standifer. What miracle workers!

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