VIDEO: ‘Don’t lose this Y, please.’ Fauntleroy YMCA fans express fondness and frustration at town-hall meeting

(WSB meeting video, beginning after introductions; public comments start 16 minutes in)

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

“We’re not going to close the doors tomorrow, next week, next month …” promised Greater Seattle YMCA district executive Greg Lewis toward the end of Friday’s two-hour town hall on the Fauntleroy YMCA‘s future.

The meeting was announced earlier this month as the YMCA (WSB sponsor) moved to address rumors that it intended to close the Fauntleroy branch. The organization acknowledged financial challenges but asked members and other supporters to help figure it out.

Y leaders did not bring further financial specifics to the full-house meeting at Fauntleroy Church – long co-housed with the Y – and that was a source of frustration to many who spoke.

The meeting opened with introductory remarks from West Seattle/Fauntleroy branch executive Cleveland King. He had Y staff introduce themselves from around the room – there were a dozen regional and other-branch managers present. That’s not counting the six who were on stage with King – five West Seattle/Fauntleroy managers, and one more regional leader. Also introduced were three local advisory board members, as well as some staffers including instructors.

King said they wanted to “come up with solutions” and “hear what the community wants to tell us.” He also said they wanted to hear that in the format of comments, not questions – “things that you want to let us know – whatever it is, I want to know, I want to hear.”

He noted that the Y works with all ages from “the youngest of the young” to the “more experienced” (which drew a laugh). The Y’s been in Fauntleroy for a century – “that’s a big deal!” King enthused. “We’re talking about a relationship that was built years ago.” He brought up history touchstones – the Colman family, their namesake camp, and more. “Today is (about) how are we going to build on that (history) and move forward … I’m asking for help and solutions. …”

King said the challenges were in large part caused by the pandemic. “We’re trying to recover, and part of that is financial recovery as well.” A lot of businesses are still struggling – and that includes the Y, he said, stressing that they want to be “transparent” about it.

Regarding Fauntleroy specifically, and its limited operating hours, he said Y leaders understand that three mornings a week, three hours a day is “not enough” – but “that’s where we started.” Citing the few financial numbers the organization already has revealed, they looked at the cost of operating Fauntleroy – $400,000 a year – “an estimate. not an exact number, but pretty close.” kAnd the need for 2,000 members to get them to a sustaining level – “there’s no right way to do it.”

King also observed that the Fauntleroy Y has served many different functions over the years – so if there’s something they’re not providing, tell them. “Whatever we need to do to make it work, I’m willing to try.” The church “will stand with us,” King said. “I believe if we come up with a solution, we can make it work.”

At that point, though there was no formal segue to the open-mic period, a community member spoke out and the community comments were off and running from there, with more than 30 people speaking – what follows are the key points each speaker made.

Rebecca said a rolling start for adding more hours coming. out of the pandemic shutdown would have been good. She wondered if the Y is spending too much on advertising, citing a billboard sighting. She also wondered rhetorically if the future West Seattle Sound Transit extension was going to affect the main branch, given its proximity to the route.

Next speaker, David, said his family had belonged to the Y since the ’70s, “we’re really dedicated to keeping the membership open.” He said the hours are a problem -= families can’t come 9-12 three days a week – “if you’re not going to open the hours, you’re not going to get the membership.” That drew applause. “We want the hours opened up – the membership will come – I want to see a commitment from (the Y).” He said his family is paying $160/month but can only use the membership a time or two per month “and that’s not right.”

Next speaker said they would also like to see more hours, and they enjoy the quieter atmosphere of the Fauntleroy Y.

The person after that said that her organization/business would like to partner with them and could create a preschool/elementary daytime program. “During the day we need a space” that teachers, like yoga, could use.

Then a 20-year member said “expanding the hours are really important for us and our family” but also asked for more information – membership and finances before and after the pandemic, “what’s the scope of the problem?”

The next person also wanted to understand “the broader picture of the Y and how it’s financed” – does each branch support itself, “how does the money move around, or does it move around, what does this financial picture really look like?”

The YMCA leaders did not step forward to answer any of those questions, and voices from the audience called out to request some response, but King said that wouldn’t be forthcoming at the meeting – they were just there to listen.

That continued to be a source of frustration throughout the meeting. The nect speaker said she was there for clarity – “I’m here reconfiguring my day because I believe in the Y – but we’re just not getting the information.” She said she had hoped the meeting woul dismantle some of the rumors and distrust. Does her family need to shop for another place to serve its fitness needs? “The whole way this has been handled has left me feeling sad and distrustful.” Big applause, and also for the next speaker, Tish, a Y teacher who said she had ideas: “Pickleball. 7-noon, 4=7 (open hours) – we are leaving out (many) people” that added hours could bring in.

Next at the microphone, Joyce also urged reexamination of the hours. “This is a strong community and when you tell us what you need, we’ll be there to help you.”

Art said he’s been a Y member for 70 years – 13 in this community. He said he’s puzzled that the conversation seems to be framed with the Fauntleroy Y a “separate, extra facility” instead of an integral part of the ‘West Seattle and Fauntleroy Y.” Closing it makes no more sense than if the Y for example decided to close its swim program. He also questioned the number cited for the Fauntleroy operation. “I would rather have the facilities (considered as one).”

After him, a woman who said she questioned the process – “use all the incredible power in the room in a more meaningtul fashion” than just having people line up at the microphone. Maybe for the next meeting, she suggested.

Someone else said they’d like to see the financials and “how many volunteer hours could make the difference …we have a lot of human capital,” including retirees who could step up.

She was followed by someone who said their suspicion is that someone high up at the Y feels this is an “extra appendage they inherited” and keeps trying to push people to the main West Seattle location, which the speaker said they don’t like.

Cheryl said she loved the ideas for problem-solving and had more: “Huge unmet need for middle-and-high-school after-school programs that could be run by trainer coaches, maybe collaborate with a small independent local gym.

Gary, a 15-year member, said “it’s important for you to know that the camaraderie here is much different than the large Y. … We don’t wear earbuds, we talk to each other .. When I come here I feel like I’m a member of the family, and I really love that.” He wondered if the Y had considered asking for government help.

Phil, holding his small child, said he’d been coming here since 14 – now 43, he said “I love this Y,” and got emotional about all the time he had spent here. He suggested it was unfortunate that the Fauntleroy location never had a grand reopening, just quietly reopening for those limited hours. “I just want it to continue, I don’t know the solution, but something can be done. Number one is the hours.”

A church employee said she’d used the West Seattle Y but parking is tough and there’s no nursery space, so she’d like to join here – if the hours would open up.

Next person had more memories to share from her history – ski trips, and the aspiration to become a junior leader. “This YMCA probably had the largest Junior Leader program in the nation ,.. This was the place to come.” It had open gym too. “It became generational and memories were made – to hear the Y is only open nine hours a week. I thought the Y was for families. That’s not for families.” She recalled classes, an arts/crafts fair. “Think out of the box, but don’t lose this Y – please.”

It’s a shared Y – so the cost situation should be shared with the Triangle branch too, declared the next person.

Maria, who helped raise money for the West Seattle Y expansion seven years ago, said she’s hearing passion, nostalgia, honest questions, and frustration. “When you have a room like this … it’s important to consider their questions carefully. When we raised money for the West Seattle Y, we went out into the community with detailed information … and people leaned in.” That could happen again, if enough information is provided.

Angie said “the physical space here is special.” She kept her membership despite the Y’s higher cost because of the experience she’s had here, and the “surrounding beauty of it,” nestled against forested greenbelt space.

Next was David Haggerty from The Hall at Fauntleroy in the historic schoolhouse across the street, a Fauntleroy Community Association board member. “I would love the Y to stay here to be part of this community.” He noted the Y hasn’t participated in the Fauntleroy Fall Festival the past few years. “What the Y does … impacts this community. We want you here.”

The next speaker also reinforced how the Y brings the community together. He had been a youth-team coach. “Let the kids be out there and have fun.” He added, “We all have collective gifts we can bring … let’s come together collaboratively and solve this problem.”

Catherine Bailey, also an FCA board member, reiterated that “this is a huge community of volunteers and I think you can tap into (it).” She brought up the ongoing Lincoln Park pickleball controversy, noting that the Parks Department is seeking alternatives – “that might not be the whole answer here,” but pickleball at the Y could be part of the solution.

Nancy, another longtime Fauntleroy Y member, said that pre-pandemic, “I was amazed at the opportunities it offered” and said the demographics pre-pandemic, with more expanded hours, were very different, It seemed to her like the Fauntleroy Y was “flourishing.” Even now, “if you build it they will come.” She thinks the current problem was caused by the slashed hours. “Hard to see we could solve the problem without making it more broadly available and attractive.”

The next speaker said she remembers coming during work breaks in the mid-afternoon and would find herself lifting weights nect to high-school wrestlers – “it was multigenerational,” Now the constricted hours have cost the Y all that.

After her, a longtime Fauntleroy resident who said she’s aware these are different times but “I don’t think seeing Fauntleroy as the low-hanging fruit [to cut] is the answer … I just want to see this YMCA stay.” She hopes the Y will “take this seriously” and “when you come back to the table, have the numbers, have the financials” so the community can help solve the problems.

Then a member who expressed some anger – first she said she hadn’t gotten word of the problem – the Y is “not transparent” for announcing a possible closure in an email. “I think you need help – find (someone) who can help you run your business.” She said the 45-minute intro at this meeting was a waste of time, and that the meeting time (4 pm) wasn’t helpful either, as well as the branch’s hours: “Who thoght of 9-12? That was the dumbest idea.”

Next person wanted to talk about process and donations – “hopefully this is not the only public meeting … there should be financial disclosures.” He noted the Y asked for donations but the online donation box went to the Greater Seattle Y, not specifically the Fauntleroy Y. “Is this considered an appendage that needs to go away?”

Then Chuck urged the Y team to examine their costs. “On the positive side, you’ve heard from a lot of people willing to help …. please take advantage of that.” He also urged them to support families, and to survey those coming to the Fauntleroy Y – would they continue going to the WS Y if this closed?

Pam said she “never knew that as an older adult I could be as active” as she is in a YMCA class. She said it’s a “boon” to her health, and her insurance pays for it. She also noted the Senior Center of West Seattle‘s growth and perhaps it could ofer satellite programs at a place like this. She also said the community needs to know about the fixed costs such as rent.

Dolly wondered if the branch was in financial trouble pre-COVID – “couldn’t we just go back to that [operating plan]?” She also mentioned the Senior Center, saying it’s added 1,000 new members in the past year – “they’ve never seen anything like that.”

A person who said she might be the only younger person with a flexible schedule who is able to use the Y during its limited hours said she’d like to see more people like her there. She also urged the Y delegation not to waste all the energy and ideas – and also that they put a timeline on it, “don’t waste our time” if doom is inevitable.

After her was a man who said “if you can just keep this going a few more years, I can guarantee you’ll succeed.” Give people “an idea of what it’s going to take to keep this open.”

Mike Dey, FCA president, then took the microphone. “We don’t want you to leave, we would love it if we could help you stay here.” But “without the details of what you’ve tried, what your numbers are,” it’s hard to offer specific ideas. He mentioned a turnaround at another Y branch “and I think you can do the same thing here … We can help you but we need more information.” But there’s possibilities out there (he too mentioned pickleball). He also mentioned the new fitness businesses that are opening in West Seattle and saying that the demographic to whom those businesses appeal might be a lost cause, but for example families with children are still a good target for the Y.

Next speaker was someone who in fact had rejoined the Y after evaluating the gyms in West Seattle, so she offered her assessment. “The classes were fabulous – you guys have really, really good instructors” – a differentiating factor, since anybody can acquire equipment – “so I hope you’ll get those instructors back.” And would they consider a class pass, so people can come to classes even if they’re not members?

The microphone system died then, just in time for King to give wrapup remarks, including “I apologize for the disconnect, I ask you to please give us a chance.” Attendees applauded. “We hear you,” he continued, including “that we needed to get together again.” That’s when he asked for people to join committees. He said “Everyone that’s here in this room, I hear your passion ….I appreciate the education you gave me today. We will as a team work to resolve the issues we have at hand.”

A voice from the back asked for a commitment to another meeting. That was not forthcoming – but King promised an email would go out with “more information.” Closing the meeting was district executive Lewis, who stressed that the problems were not King’s fault, and he promised: “We’re not going to close the doors tomorrow, next week, next month …” However, he continued, there are issues … and not just here: “There are entire Y associations that have closed because of COVID. There are 13 branches in this association … Our purpose here was to get you to dig in and sign up for those committees. … We’re not closing the YMCA, we’re gooing to be here, we’re going to figure this out.”

WHAT’S NEXT: King said toward the start of the meeting that everyone who signed in would receive a survey; a timeline wasn’t mentioned, so we’ll be following up Monday to find out about the survey plan, as well as the plan for distributing more information about the state of the Y’s finances, and whether they will have another community meeting.

25 Replies to "VIDEO: 'Don't lose this Y, please.' Fauntleroy YMCA fans express fondness and frustration at town-hall meeting"

  • Orb January 20, 2024 (8:08 pm)

    I know I would join the Y if they waived the joining fee more than once per year (September). I’d happily pay for extras as a member but a joining fee is a bit old school and I as the customer am not getting anything from it. 

    • WSMom January 20, 2024 (8:48 pm)

      Orb, the joining fee is waived right now for the month of January.

      • Orb January 21, 2024 (3:21 pm)

        I didnt know. Thank you! I get all the emails but never got one advertising this special. 

    • Anywhere but here January 20, 2024 (8:52 pm)

      It’s also free in January. You have until the 31st I believe. 

  • Kyle January 20, 2024 (8:31 pm)

    This was valuable feedback from an engaged community. I hope the Y takes it to heart and leans in to the feedback. Chief among them looking at the hours and volunteer support.

  • WSMom January 20, 2024 (8:50 pm)

    The hours are a huge problem. 90% of the members cannot make those hours work for them.  I believe the Y has been quietly trying to close Fauntleroy for some time and are using the pandemic as an excuse. 

  • A D January 20, 2024 (9:00 pm)

    Our family lives right up the hill and would be thrilled to use the Y facility at Fauntleroy if it were ever open at a useful time. We need morning, evening and weekend hours – people are back to school and back to offices and Y needs to get with the moment and meet families where they have the most need. Also, we are constantly going to bball games for our son…why not take audience donations? 

  • Love WSB and Fauntleroy YMCA January 20, 2024 (9:01 pm)

    Many thanks to West Seattle Blog, for the comprehensive synopsis of this critical meeting!   The Fauntleroy YMCA is a community treasure – and WSB is also a real community treasure!

  • Alki resident January 20, 2024 (9:10 pm)

    Does the Y own the building or the rights to the building? I’m very curious if they’re purposefully trying to close the buildings use of the Y to open a shelter for the immigrants. This has happened at two churches in Burien recently. One of those churches were not transparent to community members, only took questions and were going to email answers back to concerned residents and refused to back down on their decisions despite so many people trying to stop it. Tonites meeting sounds eerily similar. I hope I’m completely wrong. I love Fauntleroy Y and Church and this community. 

    • WSB January 20, 2024 (9:46 pm)

      No, that was a rumor and the pastor has already debunked it. The church owns the building.

      • Alki resident January 20, 2024 (9:50 pm)

        I’m happy to hear this. I didnt hear rumors, I just know this is happening many places including schools. I saw a few friends in this video and can’t wait to hear the results of this incredible turnout. I know many more would’ve made it had it been a different time. 

    • Just wondering January 21, 2024 (6:02 am)

      “the immigrants”?  

      • Alki resident January 21, 2024 (12:24 pm)

        Actually the migrants, I didn’t correct in time. There’s a church in Tukwila temp housing 400 in tents. Some have gone into motels for now. 

      • WS Res January 21, 2024 (12:32 pm)

        Apparently they’re not as worthy of love.

  • star 55 January 20, 2024 (10:21 pm)

    Bring back volunteers at both sites!!!

  • 22blades January 21, 2024 (4:31 am)

    My $.02 worth.  My late mother was active in her later years at the downtown YWCA, even while she battled with the onslaught of Parkinson’s. When the YWCA “decided to go another direction” & cut Seniors programs, the effect on my mother was immediate & profound. It makes me angry & sad just writing this. If the YMCA is truly integral in the community, I urge them to revisit any decision to leave.

  • Copper January 21, 2024 (9:19 am)

    I am also considered about the lack of open hours.  The gym is often open basketball practice in the afternoon and evenings, I wonder why the rest of the facility isn’t open then as well.

  • s January 21, 2024 (9:55 am)

    I don’t blame the Fauntleroy community for wanting their own neighborhood YMCA, but the suggestions of some of them to be a money-losing location that survives by being subsidized by the main YMCA is incredibly entitled. The YMCA should expand hours to see if enough people sign up for memberships to make the location financially viable. But if not, it should be shut down and resources should go towards locations that can serve the greatest number of people.

    • WSMom January 21, 2024 (11:06 am)

      That is a good idea. The Y should at least give the community a chance and if it doesn’t work out then reconsider closing. 

  • Pat January 21, 2024 (1:11 pm)

    It was a bumpy beginning. Now there is a great opportunity for leadership to listen more and be more transparent. Our West Seattle population has grown. The Fauntleroy Y can again become a hive of activity for people all ages. There is a strong cohort of folks with loyalty and ideas. Some of the resources are: a strong local community; friendly spaces with lots of different sizes, functions, and equipment; parking; easy bus access; the Vashon Ferry; adjacency to outdoor space; daycare; event space adjacency,  and a plethora of WS health and wellness professionals, educators, and potential volunteers.I love the idea of preparing a “Charrette” to explore inspired creative programming. I do think hiring a facilitator is a great idea (pls get one with an appropriate background) . Let’s see this location flourish again.

  • Alki resident January 21, 2024 (5:31 pm)

    I’m with the one gentleman who commented on getting Inslee to help financially since he was the one who shut down businesses during covid which ultimately made people lose their businesses. If a petition is created to get funding through him I’d like to sign it. 

    • Neighbor January 21, 2024 (7:06 pm)

      I appreciate the effects of Covid have been wide-ranging, but not sure how much public officials are to blame for obvious lack of will on the part of the Y to re-emerge post-pandemic. I can’t square the 9 hours/week open hours in 2024 with the need to mandate restrictions for a few months at the start of a public health emergency in 2020. Other gyms have been back for a very long time by now and have recovered.

      • Alki resident January 22, 2024 (4:19 pm)

        The gym in Westwood went downhill during Covid and now it’s gone. Perfect example of my comment. 

  • JEP January 22, 2024 (9:49 am)

    Because of physical limitations now(and no chance to get acquainted with the Y when I was a kid, I am not a member but know its importance to the greater Fauntleroy community.  I’ve heard from many people how poorly the Greater Seattle YMCA has been managed in recent years, to the detriment of operations at the local level.  Staff royally mis-managed the “town hall”; it felt as if they were just going through the motions and wasting our time, with no intention of reversing the decision to close.  The church is fully able to find new tenants who will match community needs/interests if Y management wants to continue to run the organization into the ground.

  • Jalice January 22, 2024 (3:05 pm)

    This article kind of skimmed past Jessica, director of Hazelwood Preschool, who spoke at 23:00 minutes into the video. I personally thought she had the best suggestion of all.  Her preschool (a nonprofit) and several local nearby schools (like Fauntleroy Children’s Center across the street) need more space for expanded classes and programs for kids. Perhaps working with the Y, or at least subletting the space at Fauntleroy, there could be a lot more community kids programs everyone could benefit from! Also has the bonus benefit of encouraging those same kids’ families to join the YMCA once they realize what’s available to their little ones!

Sorry, comment time is over.