September 13, 2023 at 8:40 p.m.

Sale of YMCAs Imminent?

WAYNE HOWARD | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

By now, most readers are likely aware of the current social media discussions regarding the two YMCAs in Lincoln County--the Lincoln County Family YMCA in Lincolnton and Sally's Y off Optimist Club Road in eastern Lincoln County.

It is our policy (and we think a good one) to seek information from official sources instead of reporting rumors from social media.  Many (likely most) social media posts come up a degree of intent and sometimes opinion gets in the way of comprehensive information.

Some of you have likely also read an email that was said to be a communication from Lincoln County Schools Superintendent Dr. Aaron Allen to the leaders of the Greater Charlotte YMCA.  We attempted to call Dr. Allen to confirm the validity of the 'letter,' but as of Wednesday afternoon (Sept. 13th), he hasn't returned our call.  

In the interest of accuracy, we also phoned and emailed the Vice President of Public Relations and Communications of the YMCA of Greater Charlotte; but likewise, so far we have received no response. [The name, phone numbers and email address we used were on the YMCA of Greater Charlotte website under 'Press Inquiries.']

For anyone who doesn't know the history of the two YMCAs here: the one in Lincolnton was built many years ago.  A fund-raising effort in 1998-1999 raised the money and the Y was opened in 2001. The property on which it sits previously belonged to Lincoln County Hospital, to which it was donated by the family of Dr. John Gamble.  When Atrium moved to its current Lincolnton location, the hospital property was returned to County ownership.  People who have contacted us about the current story say that a deed restriction prohibits the use of the Lincolnton Y property for a purpose other than a YMCA, but we have been unable to confirm that.

Sally's Y was opened in 2011 after David & Jo Clark proposed the project (and donated the land) to honor the memory of their daughter, Sally, who was killed along with her cousin, Grace Jordan, in an auto accident in 2004. [Not that it matters, but this reporter was a charter member of Sally's Y and maintains a membership.]

The current discussion about the two YMCAs here involves what is said to be (not from any official source) a probable sale of the two. 

As said, the Greater Charlotte YMCA has yet to respond to my inquiry--but that is not unusual.  It has been my experience that the Y does a terrible job of publicizing the things it does (many of them very beneficial to the community).  My best friend was on the board of directors of the Lincoln County Family YMCA, and I used to get some info from him before he moved to Florida over four years ago.  When I called the local Y, I was often told that information would have to come from Charlotte, and they almost never responded when I called.  

He did tell me (when we talked Wednesday) that when he was on the board, the Lincolnton Y was unable to fully support itself when he was here and had to rely on money supplied by the Greater Charlotte YMCA for operations.

I am am publishing the 'letter' said to be from Dr. Allen that has been on Facebook and shared elsewhere.  Some of the information contained in his comments I cannot confirm but assume he knows much more about the situation than I have been able to learn.  As I told the VP of the Greater Charlotte YMCA in my email to them, 

"As a reporter, I obviously need to report 'something;' but I prefer to report facts, not rumors.  Of course, since the story has significant local importance, I need to proceed with some kind of report ASAP.  If the Greater Charlotte Y chooses not to comment, I will have no alternative but to go with the best available information from wherever I can gather it."

Letter said to be from Dr. Aaron Allen:

Good morning YMCA Charlotte leaders-

I am reaching out to you with deep concerns about what I have recently heard about the possible futures of both YMCAs in Lincoln County. I come to you as the leader of the largest employer in Lincoln County, the Superintendent of Lincoln County Schools, and the past Lincoln County YMCA Board Chair.

I have worked with our two YMCAs for nine years to serve our county, children, and families well with opportunities for quality, cost efficient, and timely resources for families and youth. But what I have been hearing over the last few weeks is troubling.

We were all made aware of the desire for the YMCA of Charlotte to unload at least the Lincoln County Family YMCA while working on a plan to keep Sally's as part of the association. Then we heard that both were up for grabs as an option if that is what would be conducive (on many fronts). We were kept in the loop (as an executive board group) that the Gaston Y was our strongest possibility to acquire our branches. Then Gaston backed out at the 11th hour. Then we heard Catawba submitted at LOI and agreed to give you what you were asking for in order to keep our branches open, viable as a YMCA, and to continue services. 

All the while, we knew Cleveland Co YMCA was a backup long shot for Lincoln CoUnty YMCA if both YMCAs could not go as a package.

Imagine my shock when I hear, from the grapevine of public chatter, that the Lincoln Charter School personnel reached out with a last minute offer to surpass the asking price for both of our branches. BOTH!

I have tried to process why the YMCA of Charlotte would not seek any form of input from either of our boards during this process, surveyed county leaders, and inquired with members what they feel would be the best possible options. 

I am trying to give you all the benefit of the doubt that you are discussing doing what is right for our community and not just chasing a dollar bill to help diminish financial issues. I am also hoping that you would take the time to validate what the charter school is communicating to you regarding community wide support from key partners.

I have known about the charter school's desire to expand their campuses. They have had 1:1 discussions with me dating back several months about land, expansion, etc. To be clear- the Lincoln Charter School is not part of Lincoln Co. Schools. And this email is not about the public school vs charter school dilemma. It is about our charge to serve ALL of our community by obligation and not by choice. It is about looking after all of our communities for the needs that they possess and how to support families during this tumultuous time to raise a child, provide for needs, have access to services, and become engaged with our community that live here and work here...not just drive through here. 

When I asked the charter leaders about this latest endeavor, I was met with "How did you know about was supposed to be a secret." At that time it was just for Sally's Y so they could expand their offices, open a Pre K, and build a pool. Now I hear that they want both YMCAs. This conversation was in June and I have not discussed anything with them since then. I have a working relationship with the charter school but if I knew they were seeking to purchase one of our greatest partnerships and potentially fundamentally change the service, opportunity, capacity to grow with the community, partner with countless organizations, and serve ALL families- then I would not be so cordial. This is wrong. Just wrong. They get to pick and choose from their lottery who they serve. They get to send students back to us when "it is just not working out" or "we can't serve your needs here any longer." 

These branches are, at the core, fundamentally supposed to serve those that need the most with equitable chances to improve 'self.' The Lincoln Co. YMCA acquisition plan is an afterthought from the charter school and with that approach, I am demonstratively disappointed that the spirit of the YMCA has been lost due to the chance to chase a dollar.

The Lincoln Co. YMCA membership units pre-Covid (Aug. 2019) vs August 2023 units, as you can see in any report you can run, has the HIGHEST retention rate out of ALL the other YMCAs except for Dowd (which is one of the largest in the nation and recently went through a multi-million dollar renovation). From what some of us see, we have the greatest community backing in comparison to all other branches. If revenue is not there but volume is, maybe it’s a market alignment issue with pricing structure. Catawba would fix that for us. We are also projecting to hit in the positive; higher than what was budgeted for overall operational revenue. Programs would in theory also carry this same narrative.

The partnership with Lincoln Co. Schools and the Y was strengthened when the local YMCA took over our before and after school care program. For many years, this has been a financial lynchpin that has proven its community need across the county and has provided a key visual and physical partnership that led into summer camp participation both as a camper and an employment opportunity for so many. The Safety Around Water program has proven its value time after time as we have partnered with the both YMCAs, Lincolnton Parks and Rec, and all of our 2nd graders year after year. The Lincoln Co. YMCA supports our four high school programs with a place to practice for their swim teams each winter. The programmatic options both YMCAs create for youth sports is an absolute need to continue partnering with both Lincoln Co. Parks and Rec and Lincolnton Parks and Rec to ensure our children stay healthy and active. The Lincoln Co. YMCA's New American Welcome Center is a key resource in the part of the county that has the most immigrants that need support.

I know your board in Charlotte makes the final decision. I don't know when this will be made. I have been told that Charlotte 'has been trying to unload Lincoln Co. to other associations for many years.' Well you finally had that chance with Catawba and then told them no thanks. We deserve, this county deserves, our members deserve, to be informed, be considered, and be given the chance to let their voice be recognized. This move can be in harmony or with discord...that rests in the hands of you all as the leaders of the Charlotte Y. 

Ever since Joe left as our ED, our voice has been negated. Who is our advocate in Charlotte?

I still have hope that you will encourage deeper dialogue, dig for truth, understand the impact to one of the poorest communities in the Charlotte area, and care about the ripples that you will make throughout organizations that have supported these YMCAs over years.

I have also included our current Lincoln Co. Y Chair in this email, a member of the Sally's Board, a county commissioner, and the Mayor of Lincolnton so they can be made aware of these backdoor dealings. I pray that your business plan can be fulfilled while also honoring the needs of our entire community.

Aaron Allen


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