Wilton Family Y to run Norwalk group

The Wilton Family Y is always a busy place, especially as spring moves into summer. The fitness center is active, the pool is bubbling, and the sounds of people moving outside of Executive Director Bob McDowell’s office are evident. Now, in some respects, things will get even busier.

The Wilton organization entered into a management services agreement with the Norwalk Y after it closed its building in December. The Norwalk Y had existed for 84 years.

“It helps them out with their existing programs and to begin the strategy to develop new programs,” Mr. McDowell said.

It’s a two-year agreement Mr. McDowell said was “guided by the YMCA of the U.S.”

“We started talking with them about six months ago,” he continued.

He will assume the title of executive director of the Norwalk Y, but while Wilton will assist in some ways, the two will be separate organizations.

“We’ll do all of the back office stuff, in terms of software, management, and payroll,” Mr. McDowell said. “They’ll maintain an office. They have five schools that they work with for childcare, and one day camp. Anything that is new will be implemented by us, but developed for the Norwalk Y.

“That’s the goal. To really help people in Norwalk. Why would we do this? It’s the right thing to do.”

The Wilton staff will help manage and develop programs, but Norwalk, which has a staff that operates the child and day care programs, will continue to do so.

Overall, the agreement will have minimal impact on the Wilton Family Y. Mr. McDowell said the two are not planning to integrate. He said 13% of day campers, and 12% of membership, are from Norwalk.

“We picked up about 12 memberships when the Norwalk Y closed,” he added.

At the Wilton Y near the high school on Route 7 (Danbury Road), traffic speeds by while trees obscure the grounds. A children’s play area sits near the front door, not too far away from baseball fields, the swimming pool and more.

Among the signature programs is diabetes prevention, as well as a cancer survivor program, a back-to-fitness program for those coming back from cancer. Also the Silver Sneakers program consists of 450 seniors staying active.

Then there are the day camps, getting ready to start as the school year ends.

“A day camper coming to the Y has a lot of options,” Mr. McDowell said. “They look around and note I have a rope course over here, I’ve got archery over there, I’ve got this big swimming pool, I’ve got a pond, I can canoe, I can paddleboat. There’s a lot. I can play miniature golf, I can play on the ballfields, I can fish, all in the six hours that I’m here.”

While he said the camps are filling up and some weeks might not be available, Mr. McDowell offered that it’s not too late to register. Prospective campers and their families should contact Aaron Britton. Information is available on the website: wiltonymca.org.

“Coming out of the recession we’re seeing an increase in participation again,” Mr. McDowell said. Day camp, swim team, and gymnastics are all doing well.

Those who can’t afford to join the Y may receive financial assistance.

“We have $180,000 of financial assistance for those who can’t afford to attend the Y,” he said. Still, he has no interest in who receives the money. He just wants everyone to be there.

“No one would know,” he said. “I don’t know. I don’t want to know. Our staff doesn’t know.

There are challenges for the Wilton Family Y. The 501(c)3 organization needs to do fund raising for people to go to the Y and for the creation and support of programs. The current goal, Mr. McDowell said, is $225,000.

“We’re always looking to raise money, from a charitable standpoint,” he said.

Additionally, they have their collective eye on updating and upgrading the facility, which was built in 1972 and modified in 1993 and 2002.

“We’re in the due diligence period right now,” he said. “We don’t have anything concrete right now.”

The facility continues to bustle with staff, many of whom are volunteers.

“There were 24,000 volunteer hours last year,” he said “We couldn’t do what we do without volunteers.”

A large number of the volunteers are teenagers.

“They get their first opportunity to work at the Y,” he said. “We take great pride in training these people.

“People don’t think of us that way, but that’s youth development, to me. Even the swim team, I view that as youth development.

“They spend 12, 15, 18 hours a week here at the Y, working with caring professionals. It’s not about swimming fast, or doing great gymnastics, but how’s school going? Oh, you’re a junior in high school? What are we talking about with college.”

With school ending this week, those teenagers will be keeping the Wilton Family Y alive.