The YMCA of Northern Rock County recently spent about $10,000 to freshen up the look and functionality of the child watch room in its downtown Janesville location off West Court Street.
The face-lift is noticeable because:
- It’s the first time in about a decade the day care room has seen so much as a fresh coat of paint—let alone new carpeting, age-appropriate developmental games and toys, and a dedicated spot for infants and toddlers to play.
- The entire room is visible through a glass wall, and it is the first thing people see when they walk into the YMCA’s entrance. That and the new logo above the membership service desk: a brightly colored, cleanly designed sign that announces the facility as “The Y.”
Optics like that might be important, but it’s what’s behind the optics—change—that new CEO Angie Bolson sees as the future for an institution that was under a black cloud just a year ago.
Bolson arrived in the months after longtime CEO Tom Den Boer left the Y. Den Boer’s departure came after a league of members threatened lawsuits over complaints Den Boer flouted bylaws by improperly removing board and gym members who sought more transparency in the organization’s governance and financial dealings.
Bolson, a former leader at the Y in Oconomowoc, took over in Janeville in August. Since March, she had been one of two interim directors who had been working to inventory what might need mending at the Y—both the old facility’s bones and its reputation.
In an interview last week, Bolson said she and a board committee this summer made several changes to the bylaws. One such change, she said, is that the CEO no longer will handle disciplinary or “termination” actions against gym or board members. That will be the board’s job.
The Y now is in the midst of a $100,000 face-lift that involves infrastructure revamps, replacement of 40-year-old carpeting and an overall freshening of spaces Bolson said haven’t seen a lot of TLC in years.
What might have gone unnoticed by the public or some of the 6,000-plus members, she said, are recent efforts to mend fences with community groups and the school district—relationships that had become fractious under former leadership.
“A face-lift to the facility and a brand-new, fancy logo is important, but more important is that behind that logo is the way we start portraying ourselves in the community,” she said. “We need to start telling the story about a Y that makes and builds great relationships.”
This fall, Janesville Superintendent Steve Pophal joined the Y’s board. That could be pivotal: Bolson said it comes as the Y has begun to reach out to the school district to try to rekindle their educational partnership.
The Y once served as one location for P4J, the school district’s prekindergarten program. That partnership was severed last year under Den Boer’s leadership.
“Collaboration between us (Y and the school district) is really important. I feel like if we have thriving school districts, we have a thriving community,” Bolson said.
“I’m working really hard with the district to show them that we’re ready and capable of getting P4J back. The YMCA is a national leader in child care. This is what we do. Sitting in the Fourth Ward and sitting in the area we do, the center of the city, this is an area where we need to serve.”
Last year, the United Way Blackhawk Region barred the Y from receiving any grant funding over the next two years. The decision stemmed from grant requests submitted by the Y that United Way leaders said showed financial “inconsistencies” and “potentially misrepresented information.”
Y leaders and new board members—some of whom were reinstated this year after being removed by Den Boer—have been talking to the United Way’s board about how two organizations can work together more cohesively, Bolson said.
“At the end of the day, in order to be a partner, we need to have a shared impact, and we need to be transparent,” she said. “A level of transparency is what’s needed for their (United Way’s) donor base? It’s simple. To me, the transparency is low-hanging fruit because that’s what we should be doing anyway.”
That might be the right answer, too, for Y members—particularly the 53 members whose concerns sparked an internal review by the board and the YMCA of the USA that culminated in Den Boer’s departure.
In early November, the Y held its annual meeting, which was part fundraiser dinner, part town hall for members.
Bolson said members who attended—230 of them—didn’t voice a lot of concerns or questions.
That might be because the Y held several town halls for members earlier this year. And for the first time in years, the Y has placed comment boxes in its facilities in Janesville and Milton.
Bolson thinks many members and the revamped board are starting to see it’s time for change—and also time to move forward.
The dinner fundraiser brought in $40,000, including donations from members who had been kicked out under Den Boer. That event was more successful in raising donations than the Y’s Tropical Fiesta fundraisers held over the last decade, Bolson said.
“After the dinner, people came up to me and said, ‘It feels like the band is back together,’” she said. “I’ve learned in a short time that this community is resilient and forgiving. Hope is exactly the word I’d use to describe that.”