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Lakewood Ranch Y merges with YMCA of Southwest Florida

The merger increases support to the local Y, which it will use to expand programs.

Lakewood Ranch's Sissy Overlees loves the programs at the Lakewood Ranch YMCA. She's been a member for 10 years.
Lakewood Ranch's Sissy Overlees loves the programs at the Lakewood Ranch YMCA. She's been a member for 10 years.
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Lakewood Ranch’s Sissy Overlees has been a member of the Lakewood Ranch YMCA for 10 years, taking as many classes and participating in as many programs as possible.

After doing 2 miles on the treadmill March 18, she hopped on a stationary bike to participate in the Y’s spin cycle class. 

“I’m happy doing this,” Overlees said. “It elevates me.” 

As the years passed, Overlees said her workout preferences shifted. 

First she loved the step exercise class until she fell off the platform one time and realized her body couldn’t take more of that class. 

Then it was a "body-pump class" until her doctor said she shouldn’t be lifting barbells anymore. 

Now her favorite is the spin class.

“There’s always something else,” Overlees said. “If you can’t do one thing, there’s a substitute. So I got on the bike. I thought I couldn't ride that bike. Now I just love riding the bike. When you can’t do one thing, you do another. I don’t take no for an answer. I find a way to keep going.”

Overlees will have more classes to choose from as a result of the Lakewood Ranch YMCA having merged with the YMCA of Southwest Florida. 

The YMCA of Southwest Florida includes nine YMCAs, four early learning academies and two charter schools that span from Bonita Springs to Lakewood Ranch. The Manatee County YMCA, which includes the Bradenton and Lakewood Ranch YMCAs, officially merged with the YMCA of Southwest Florida on Jan. 1.

“We’re a larger organization, so the YMCA of Southwest Florida has resources available to all of our branches to ensure the success of their programs,” said Jamie Browning, the vice president of development for the YMCA of Southwest Florida. “We’re better together, and we’re pulling together our resources to be the most effective, efficient and impactful YMCA possible for our communities that we serve.”

The YMCA of Southwest Florida supports the Lakewood Ranch YMCA in operations, finance, development and staffing. 

Lakewood Ranch's Noreen Higdon lifts weights at the Lakewood Ranch YMCA. She's excited to see the new programs that will come to the YMCA.
Lakewood Ranch's Noreen Higdon lifts weights at the Lakewood Ranch YMCA. She's excited to see the new programs that will come to the YMCA.

Members of the Lakewood Ranch branch also will be able to use Ys in other locations that are part of the YMCA of Southwest Florida. 

The Lakewood Ranch YMCA is starting new programs as a result of the merger.

“It’s so nice to be a part of a big organization and to share ideas,” said Jennifer Haughey, the associate executive director for the Lakewood Ranch branch. “It’s great to collaborate with all these other branches."

She said members can expect to see new active older adult classes and programs, such as chair yoga and a mahjong group. 

“Those socialization pieces and their social activities are imperative for our seniors because this is their social interaction for a lot of them," Haughey said. 

Youth programming will be expanded, including different spring and summer camps. 

“We are firm believers that there should be a camp for every child, every age, every gender and every interest,” Browning said. “Whatever the child is interested in, we are offering increased camp offerings to tailor to the interest of what children like.” 

The Y started a youth travel basketball program that has teams traveling to the different branches within the YMCA of Southwest Florida to compete. 

Other new programs that will become available are mini sports sampler programs, infant classes and a preschool playgroup. 

The Lakewood Ranch branch plans to roll out more Power Hour programming, which provides various activities for children as their parents do their own activities. For example, the parents might work out on the wellness floor or participate in a class while one child goes to soccer and another has swim lessons.

A new summer camp at the Y is the aquatics camp where children spend time in swim lessons, playing aquatic games and enjoying time for a free swim. There are also specialized sports camps. The Y will provide full-day specialty camps whereas in the past those camps were not a full day.

Although the Lakewood Ranch YMCA staff members are excited to expand summer camps, Rhiannon Blaney, the senior program director for the Y, said the organization is struggling to hire people for its summer camps.

Blaney said the Y had trouble hiring last year, which resulted in the Y having families on a waitlist for the camps. 

“We lowered our ratios (of counselors to campers), which means you need more staff members to make sure we’re creating a safe camp environment coming out of COVID-19," Blaney said. "It was the staff that had us limit the amount of campers we could take. It was hard because we wanted to take everybody.”

If the Y can’t find enough people to hire, participation will be limited. 

Blaney and Haughey said the Y is seeking teens to fill the positions.

“Working at the Y as a summer camp counselor (who must be at least 18), I tell people all the time, ‘You have the opportunity to change a child’s life forever,’” Haughey said.

The organization is holding job fairs and providing incentives. If staff members complete all 10 weeks of camp working at least 35 hours per week, they receive a $750 bonus. If they finish nine weeks of camp, it’ll be a $500 bonus. 

“We are doing things we’ve never done before to try to get people in,” Haughey said. “It’s such a rewarding job.”

Blaney and Haughey said they are unsure why the Y is having trouble finding people willing to work in the summer camps because before the pandemic, it was never an issue. 

A camp with 250 participants requires about five support staff, 17 counselors, an assistant camp director and a camp director.

Blaney would like to finish the recruitment process for new hires by April 15 to ensure training can begin in May. 


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