South Mountain YMCA named Branch of the Year by state’s largest association of YMCAs

Photo Courtesy of Margaret McHugh
The South Mountain YMCA staff celebrates a successful 2016, looks forward to an even more successful 2017.

MAPLEWOOD, NJ — South Mountain YMCA had a banner 2016, boosting enrollment in child care and summer camps, exceeding expectations for the annual Memorial Day duck race in Maplewood, and extending its reach far beyond its walls.

“South Mountain YMCA is a powerhouse, creating innovative opportunities across Maplewood and South Orange for children, families and adults to grow, strengthen ties and have fun,” Richard K. Gorab, president and CEO of the Metropolitan YMCA of the Oranges, said in a press release. “The branch puts into action the Y’s mission of youth development, healthy living and social responsibility.”

The Metro YMCA, the largest association of YMCAs with six branches, named South Mountain YMCA the 2016 Branch of the Year at its 40th annual recognition dinner at the Hanover Manor in East Hanover. More than 200 people attended.

“We’re thrilled for this acknowledgement of our staff, which works hard to ensure South Mountain YMCA’s reputation remains in high regard,” said James Goodger, executive director of the South Mountain Y, which has 76 full-time and 160 part-time employees. “We’re Branch of the Year because we have a very sturdy foundation, and that allows us to dream big and think outside the box — to destroy the box.”

One of the Y’s major achievements was increasing summer camp enrollment by 12.5 percent from 2015 through expanded marketing efforts and two new specialty camps, a skateboard clinic and Glam Camp, a hands-on introduction to fashion.

This summer, the Y is adding three more specialty camps. In Masters of Art, children entering grades three through five will explore artists from around the world. Build It at The Woodland will offer children entering grades two to four the chance to design and build bridges, boats, towers, wheels and rockets. And in Superhero Academy, children entering kindergarten through second grade will create their own superhero and land in a real comic book, on a T-shirt and in a movie.

Enrollment in the Y’s School-Age Child Care program grew by 6 percent, and the program at Marshall Elementary School in South Orange created a multicultural library to introduce children to different cultures through age-appropriate reading material.

The Y increased the number of travel basketball teams, expanded its theater program into the Montrose School in South Orange, launched an array of new programs, increased its presence at community events like the annual PlayDay South Orange, and installed a generator on the gymnasium roof so the Y can be used by the community in cases of major weather events and power outages.

Not all the Y’s endeavors in 2016 panned out. Looking to expand services in South Orange, the Y tried to secure a lease on a Walton Avenue property owned by the township. While the Y didn’t win the bid, “we were able to make important community connections,” Goodger said.

Working with Maplewood and South Orange recreation departments, the school district and several other organizations, the Y took the lead on a competitive federal grant application to improve middle schoolers’ activity levels. The well-received application was not selected for the grant, but again, the Y deepened ties with its partners, Goodger said.

The 2,000-plus member Y also is strengthening its relationship with supporters. It created Friends of the Y, to thank donors and keep them abreast of how their donations are being used for good. More than 80 supporters attended a Friends of the Y reception last May, and Goodger has begun writing a quarterly newsletter to share stories of the Y’s impact.

“The greatest thing about 2016 was that the team rose to the occasion to raise the bar at the branch, despite many challenges and hurdles,” Rob Harrigan, chairman of the South Mountain YMCA board of managers, said. “They were able to focus on a year of incredible innovation in programming and services for the communities we serve.”