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Matt Beem
President and COO
Kinetic Fundraising, Inc.

We must come together and find new use for YMCA

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Saturday, April 13, 2013

Independence, MO – The YMCA of Greater Kansas City’s plans to build a state-of-the-art downtown facility have been anything but secret.

The new urban Y has been discussed for more than a year in papers and on television and radio stations around town. In fact, I spoke early on with YMCA of Greater Kansas City CEO David Byrd about the organization I lead providing fundraising counsel for the downtown campus campaign.

I’m all for re-investing in the urban core, in which the Mid-America Regional Council says my home lies. I’ve drunk the Kool-Aid and put my roots down deep in northwestern Independence, just blocks from the home of former President Harry Truman and the historic Independence Square.

That’s why the Y’s plans to close the Independence, Raytown and Kansas City, Kan. facilities – which were shared for the first time several weeks ago – shocked me. The decision to close the three Ys, which it has linked to the new downtown location, is inconsistent with the organization’s mission.

From the YMCA of Greater Kansas City’s web site: “We know that lasting personal and social change comes about when we all work together. That’s why, at the Y, strengthening community is our cause. Every day, we work side-by-side with our neighbors to make sure that everyone, regardless of age, income or background, has the opportunity to learn, grow and thrive.”

While the downtown facility will benefit individuals and families that live nearby, its prioritization above the Independence, Raytown and Kansas City, Kan., facilities doesn’t just fail to strengthen community, it erodes it. The closest remaining Missouri Y is in Blue Springs, nearly 30 minutes by car from the Independence location. That leaves many of the senior adults and families on limited incomes served by the current Y without a viable alternative.

At the end of the day, though, we can’t dwell in the past. We can, however, take charge of our present and forge our future.

Which is precisely what I propose.

The March 29 Kansas City Business Journal reported that the Independence School District and city of Independence have expressed interest in continuing the services the Independence Y provided. It said the school district made an offer to buy the facility, which was rejected by the Y’s bank. The city, meanwhile, voiced concerns about the building’s structural integrity.

Notwithstanding the apparent impasse, school district, city and YMCA leaders need to sit down with interested citizens to create a plan to acquire the Y facility, which closed its doors yesterday. There are great examples of similar community centers in Overland Park, North Kansas City and Lee’s Summit. There’s no reason Independence can’t have the same.

One option would be to create a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization to own and operate the facility. There are significant philanthropic dollars available from area and regional foundations to support capital improvements and programmatic growth in organizations that serve individuals and families. What’s more, local residents would have the opportunity to invest philanthropically in their hometown community center.

What do you think? I’m eager to hear from you.

Send your ideas on how we can reclaim and repurpose the Independence Y facility for individuals and families in our community to Let’s take charge of our future.

> Matt Beem Bio