Community Center for Youth, YMCA join forces in Walla Walla

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WALLA WALLA — After many months of courtship, a wedding of sorts took place on Aug. 12 when Community Center for Youth merged its efforts with the YMCA to serve teens in the Valley.

While the physical location of the youth program will stay the same for another year or more, the co-joining of agencies brings more donated dollars directly to helping kids by slicing administrative costs in half.

Community Center for Youth members will also be able to access activities at the Y on Park Street on a sliding-fee scale, and continue to participate in the free programs they already enjoy.

It’s like having cake and eating it, too — and members of both boards say they couldn’t be happier.

On one side of the aisle was a 7,000-member strong Walla Walla YMCA with building and programs firmly established. On the other side were 145 area teens who looked to Community Center for Youth to provide a place for safe and healthy social interaction.

“The merger with the YMCA allows the mission of CCY to continue on,” said Dondi Cortinas, board president of Community Center for Youth, who joined the YMCA board this month.

He was attracted to the all-inclusive teen program in earlier days when it was housed in the Army National Guard Armory on Colville Street.

“It was just hoppin’. It was downtown but away from the downtown businesses, so you had the best of both worlds,” he said.

When a major remodel was slated for the Armory, Community Center for Youth had to relocate. The program ended up bouncing from place to place for the classes, social events and gym sessions it traditionally offered.

Participation dropped as teens felt disengaged and “homeless,” Cortinas said. Even in the longer-term home of St. Patrick Catholic Church, where Community Center for Youth has been for the past few years, things had to be put away at the end of an evening. That made it impossible to tackle many art, cooking and computer projects.

The move from the armory was the beginning of the end, he added. At about the same time funding sources began drying up and more competition vied for the money that was still in the pot.

It all added up to a less healthy program, reflected by a succession of directors who rapidly came and went, although staffing stayed stable, Cortinas said.

“That is confusing to kids, trying to find a place and not knowing who would show up,” said former board member Bill Jordan.

And “place” was important to the founders of Community Center for Youth.

“A place for all kids in our community, regardless of income or where they lived,” Jordan said.

For its part, the YMCA has been good at attracting elementary-schoolers to its programs. Yet older children are often reluctant — and so are their parents, Cortinas said, explaining that families who use the Community Center for Youth are typically not YMCA members or exposed to its services.

“The Y provided a great foundation, financially and (in) reputation,” he said. “We provide the clients they never had access to.”

The matchmaker in the move is consultant Kay Sohl, who facilitated the merger and plan development. Her vision is that Community Center for Youth become self-sustainable within the YMCA.

A new, full-time teen director will be hired, YMCA officials said in a news release. The program will remain at St. Patrick for at least another year and Community Center for Youth’s five staff members will remain in place.

Plans call for a permanent satellite location for the teen program, which will eventually lose the Community Center for Youth name and be renamed by its members, said Randy Grant, YMCA executive director.

“This merger allows more contributed dollars to go directly to teen programs by removing a layer of administrative overhead,” he said, estimating that 50 percent of Community Center for Youth’s funding went into paying costs such salary, fundraising efforts and insurance. “They were paying $5,000 a year for insurance. We’re now rolling them up into our insurance.”

Sheila Hagar can be reached at sheilahagar@wwub.com or 526-8322.

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