YMCA of Metropolitan Milwaukee seeks to grow community reach outside its facilities

Will offer services in more community-based settings

The YMCA of Metropolitan Milwaukee this week unveiled a new direction for the organization with the goal of doubling its community reach by 2021.

Under the new vision, the Milwaukee Y is departing from its traditional model, in which community members have come to Y facilities to access its services. Instead of growing its physical footprint, the organization said it will bring its services to more community-based settings.

Leaders said the organization’s new strategic plan and operating model is a response to the changing needs of the community. It also comes after four years of working toward greater financial and operational stability. In 2014, the Y sold 70 percent of its owned real estate assets as part of a complex bankruptcy deal that eventually erased $30 million of debt accrued over two decades.

Carrie Wall, president and chief executive officer of the Milwaukee Y, took over in the summer of 2017 after eight years as president and CEO of the YMCA of Dane County.

The Milwaukee Y currently has five branches — Downtown, Northside, Parklawn and Rite-Hite Family YMCA in Brown Deer — and Camp Minikani on Lake Amy Belle in Hubertus. Countywide, the organization has more than 36,000 members.

Since 2014, the Milwaukee Y has developed a strategic plan that involved conducting a community needs assessment of 475 community stakeholders, including Y members, staff, CEOs, nonprofit leaders, donors, elected officials and school district leaders. Through that process, Milwaukee Y leaders determined its three focus areas moving forward will be youth development, healthy living and social responsibility.

“Our strategic plan focuses on our neighbors and their needs,” said Carrie Wall, president and chief executive officer. “The Milwaukee YMCA is committed to tackling issues such as the achievement gap, nurturing the academic potential of young minds, preventing childhood drowning, teaching safe and healthy habits for a lifetime and more.”

The Milwaukee Y has several existing community partnerships. It provides programming at 70 companies, 60 schools and four county parks. Under its new direction, the organization said it will no longer be defined by its facilities, where it has traditionally offered services, but will expand its reach through more community-based settings and in collaboration with other nonprofits.

The organization pointed to its existing partnership with Milwaukee-based early childhood education organization Next Door, through which Y locations offer infant and toddler care with support and coaching from Next Door staff. Leaders envision that partnership expanding.

“The Y is a natural fit for this partnership,” said Tracey Sparrow, president of Next Door. “They are really helping us to ensure we are offering the best infant and toddler care that we can in the city. I’d love to see us expand that partnership to thinking about health and wellness for our families so that they truly are thriving. We could just be at the beginning of what this partnership could look like, so that’s very exciting.”

Another existing partnership with Sixteenth Street Community Health Centers, through which the organization has offered Zuma at its south side clinic, could also grow.

“We hope this will lead to a larger partnership between the YMCA and Sixteenth Street,” said Chris Mambu Rasch, director of government and community relations at Sixteenth Street Community Health Centers. “We wanted to start with something that made sense for both organizations, and the goal is to grow this partnership. Zumba is something that’s culturally appropriate to the community, and something that resonates with the community.”

The Y has also partnered with Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin to form a diversity and inclusion task force that is focused on promoting diversity and inclusion among its staff and member base.

“The YMCA needs to be part of the solution in terms of identifying ways to bring this segregated community together, while becoming a bridge to help make improvements in these areas,” Wall said.

Y leaders are also seeking partnership with health care and insurance providers to increase its focus on preventive health care for seniors, the organization said.

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