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YMCA Leaders Hold Contentious Town Hall

Members and YMCA leaders squared off over the proposed Philadelphia/Freedom Valley YMCA merger.

Board members and YMCA leadership held a town hall at the Spring Valley YMCA on Monday night to discuss the proposed merger between Freedom Valley YMCAs and Philadephia YMCAs. 

Freedom Valley's chief volunteer officer Sanford Lipstein started off the meeting by telling the approximately 200 members in attendance that the board hasn't done a very good job of getting information out to the members regarding the merger. 

Lipstein gave a presentation on what the merger will and will not mean for the membership. 

Lipstein said that there will be no reciprocity for use of the outdoor pools at Freedom Valley's branches, nor will Philadelphia members be allowed to sign up for fitness classes. Freedom Valley members will not be allowed to register for free classes at Philadelphia branches (they will be able to attend paid classes).  

The benefits, Lipstein said, include better risk management, more purchasing power for the merged YMCAs in insurance and supply buying, and a larger presence among the national YMCA's policy-making team. 

Once the meeting was opened up for a question and answer period, the mood turned occasionally hostile. 

Several members of the audience complained that they are being required to attend a vote, which is scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday evening at Chadwick's Restaurant in Audubon.

Lipstein said that Pennsylvania state law governing non-profit organizations required the vote to be in person and that a majority of the votes cast by those who attend will decide whether the merger passes or fails. 

"If you wish to vote, find a way to get there," Lipstein told the audience.

Multiple attendees said they are concerned about the validity of votes and feel that the YMCA is trying to "pull one over" on the membership. 

Lipstein said that everyone will be asked to sign in and that it's likely the vote will be done by ballot. If the vote is done by ballot, Lipstein said, people voting will be required to provide their name and address so that their membership can be verified. 

One audience member asked if the YMCA would refund membership fees for members who aren't happy with the merger.

Lipstein said that post-merger, if someone isn't happy and has paid in advance, they could request a refund of their unused membership time. 

At several points during the question-and-answer session, the discussion threatened to turn into a shouting match. 

A few audience members said they don't like how fast the merger is happening and felt that the vote should be delayed, but Lipstein refused to consider delaying. 

One unhappy audience member said he was concerned the management was "hiding information."

"We can't see how you got here," he said. 

Lipstein did say that the merger has to pass in both regions. Philadelphia's membership is also voting on Thursday at the YMCA office in Center City. 

"Both sides have to agree," Lipstein said. 

Sean Quinn November 13, 2012 at 07:26 PM
Not concerned at all about the merger; sounds like an economy-of-scale merger that won't affect day to day operations. Who is trekking from Philly to Phoenixville to use the gym? I am, however, concerned as a member that this is the first I'm hearing of it. Seems like a pretty big deal that should have been communicated in several ways to members. They seem able to reach me quite frequently with newsletters, fundraising appeals, etc. This wasn't worth a postcard?
Y Member November 13, 2012 at 08:26 PM
I work for one of the Freedom Valley Y's and I have to say, hearing the "concerns" about Philly members coming all the way to Spring Valley to use their facility is utterly ridiculous. How much of a high horse are you on to think that out of all the YMCA's everyone is going to flood into Spring Valley? I live closer to Philadelphia than I do SV and I don't even go there. Myself, and other co-workers think this merger will be great. And as FVYMCA employees, we are embarassed for some of these opinions. You know, we wouldn't be in business if it wasn't for having members. So next time you deposit your paycheck into your account, you should be happy that anyone is coming through your doors, especially in this economy. It seems that people are completely losing sight of what the YMCA is supposed to stand for. We are supposed to help the community, so if someone is spending time in your YMCA instead of on the streets getting into trouble, then you should be happy, because it helps make the world a better place. So stop complaining and start being more thankful and grateful that you can provide more opportunity to people.
Erin Marie November 13, 2012 at 08:28 PM
Sean...we got a letter in the mail about 3-4 weeks ago or so, explaining the merger (though I don't remember it having much detail) and mentioning the vote on Thursday. I'm sure they want to protect their jobs, but does anyone know if the staff at Phoenixville's Y is for this? I really like our Y and if the merger will protect it as it is (which is great) then fine. But it just seems like it would open it up to more potential nonsense and screw up the good thing they have going.
Adam Marks November 14, 2012 at 12:16 PM
I work at the Phoenixville Y. Everything I have been told about the merger leads me to believe that virtually nothing will change in the day-to-day lives of members and staff. The benefits of the merger are overwhelming, both financially and with regards to programming and the opportunity we have to expand our presence in the community. For those that have any questions, the best course of action is to contact your local Y administrators, they will be happy to sit down with you and answer any questions.
Peter C. Brown November 14, 2012 at 01:06 PM
Pinch yourself!
Chris Ann Myers November 14, 2012 at 04:13 PM
For me the bigger question is, why merge with Philadelphia. Can't the same economies of scale be realized by merging with YMCA of the Upper Main Line (Berwyn, Lionville etc.). They are closer and there could be more benefit to members from that kind of merger rather than Philadelphia.
E McCann November 15, 2012 at 01:03 AM
Why would UMLY want to merge with Freedom Valley? They have incredible facilities and programs. They would be more justified worrying about the FV members overrunning their facilities than the unjustified concerns voiced by the FV members. I let my membership lapse. If the merger goes through, I will rejoin. Having the option of classes for my son at Ambler or Audobon makes it easier to justify the cost. Freedom Valley doesn't have a monopoly on nice facilities. Have you seen the Ambler Y? I don't think they have busloads of people coming in from Philadelphia and they're closer to the city than us. I hope people do the right thing and approve the merger.

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