North Suburban YMCA, Small Business of the Year

North Suburban YMCA, Small Business of the Year

The Chamber is pleased to announce the three winners of the seventh annual Business Awards, which highlights excellence in the Northbrook business community. The Corporate Citizen of the Year is recognized for promoting a spirit of giving and community involvement; the Small Business of the Year is honored for excellent business practices and the Volunteer of the Year is selected for consistently helping the Chamber achieve its goals. The businesses will be formally honored at the Annual Meeting and Dinner on Wednesday, February 27th at the Renaissance Hotel. The two business award winners will receive plaques along with a $500 donation to be given to the charity of their choice. The Volunteer award winner receives a $200 honorarium.

 North Suburban YMCA, Small Business of the Year

In 2006, the North Suburban YMCA was at the brink of its own fiscal cliff. Faced with crippling debt, membership at an all-time low, deteriorating infrastructure and with the threat of losing its charter from the National Y-USA, the situation could not have been bleaker. The beloved Northbrook institution that provided over 40 years of countless family programs and community events was literally on the verge of closing its doors for good.

Taking on the seemingly hopeless task of turning things around, Executive Director Howard Schultz wasted no time asking the Y leadership to recommit themselves to the Y’s core value of serving the community and immediately launched a “Save the Y” campaign. The fundraising effort started with the Y’s deep roots in the community and then reached out to new potential partners and supporters.

“We knew there were relationships in the community that would be receptive to our goals,” comments Schultz. “Our individual donors, including dedicated board members, had their individual ‘Y Stories’ — memories of how much the Y meant to them growing up. We were committed to making our Y a community center that would provide vital services, open to everyone.” Major donations from local corporations and civic organizations quickly followed.

Soon, membership and participation stopped declining and began to turn around. Momentum built quickly and steadily, enabling the Y to completely discharge its $2.3 million of debt by March 2008 and reassure the Y USA of its viability. A capital campaign continued, raising a total of $5.8 million to date, providing funds to remake the facility into an attractive, welcoming location and to replace much of its aging mechanical systems. Other improvements targeted the Y’s core programs in childhood activities, adult fitness, and community multi-use spaces.

“What happened with the Y these last few years is nothing short of miraculous,” comments Ron Bernardi, who helped found the organization along with his Rotary colleagues in 1968. He credits the Y for maintaining the creed of its Rotary founders – emphasizing the importance of “Service Above Self”. He adds that that the Y turnaround brought the community together, due in part to its customer service philosophy. “The Y is like the Sunset Foods of family recreation,” he says. “They are truly committed to serving their customers and the community.”

Y membership growth and participation is another part of its success story. The Y has experienced a 31% overall growth in membership, from a little over 1550 dues paying member households (not including those on scholarship) in November 2009 to 2030 member households in December 2012. Other statistics: 

  • Young adult memberships (ages 18 – 30) are now three times what they were just two years ago, growing from around 70 in January 2011 to a little over 210 by the end of 2012.
  • Family memberships have also increased 36%, growing from 673 in November 2009 to 884 by the end of 2012.
  •  For 2012, membership revenue exceeded budget by over 20% from the previous year

The Y also continues to fulfill its mission of serving those in financial need. Thanks in part to the annual Ken & Alta Thiel Strong Kids Dinner, over $1.8 million has been raised in the past 6 years to help families and children participate in Y activities. Y officials estimate that one out of five participants (roughly 20 percent) is a recipient of some form of financial aid enabling participation ranging from day camps to child care to family programs and beyond. Schultz estimates the Y gave out nearly $490,000 in financial assistance last year alone.

Bolstered by the recent $1.7 million renovation, the Y is now a thriving organization, a model for other Ys, and serves as a hub for community activities, including concerts, art exhibitions, and cultural events.

It is in recognition of its complete turnaround, consistent improvement in membership growth and continued support of the community that the Y was selected as the Small Business of the Year

“We always believed that if we could show the public the potential for a rejuvenated Y, we could achieve extraordinary things here,” comments Y Board President Matthew Brennan. “We hope everyone who comes through our doors is inspired by what’s been accomplished and shares our vision for the future. We continue to look for new ways to serve the community, with the confidence that we’ll be here for the long haul.”