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Tallahassee's YMCA Looks Beyond Its 'Swim & Gym' Roots

Tom Flanigan

It’s been just over two years since Tallahassee’s YMCA closed amidst massive money problems. But now  reports, the organization is looking to re-establish a Capital City presence.

There aren’t many non-profit organizations that have had their own hit record.

When that 1978 smash by the Village People was tearing up the charts, hundreds of American cities sported a large YMCA facility. Many offered transient lodging as the song referenced and nearly all had plenty of physical fitness programs, basketball courts, swimming pools, and workout rooms. Tallahassee’s “Y” off Apalachee Parkway, had all of those things until the financial bottom fell out in the fall of 2017.

“We’ve had some fantastic board members who in some cases gave personally just trying to keep it going. But at the end of the day, trying to meet obligations and still uphold the standards of the ‘Y’ can be a significant burden in some cases in trying to keep the doors open and it wasn’t able to happen any longer.”

John Trombetta, vice president of operations with the Florida Alliance of YMCAs, said the demise of Tallahassee’s ‘Y’ was not an isolated incident.

“So many of our ‘Ys’ are not ‘swims-and-gyms’ anymore. If we’re just going to be a facility with weight machines and aerobics classes and trying to compete against the Kinetics and LA Fitnesses of the world, that’s not our model, really.”

But Trombetta insisted this doesn’t mean the organization itself is losing relevance.

“We’ve got so much programming that’s happening outside our four walls, we don’t have to build big facilities; we don’t have to have the latest state-of-the-art fitness equipment. We try to serve the community at the most local of levels and meet them where they are, whether that means a church or a community center or classroom somewhere, we’re there. That’s where we are.”

That outreach, said Trombetta, is already underway locally.

“We do have a small live presence here at Ruediger Elementary where we’re running a ‘Y Reads’ program, which is an after-school literacy program to help kids who aren’t reading on grade level to read on grade level. And that’s under the auspices of the First Coast Y in Jacksonville. So it’s little programs like that that can regenerate growth the right way.”

Credit Tom Flanigan
Tallahassee's YMCA pool saw its last swimmers in late 2017

He said there are other offerings as well.

“We’re also working with a couple of schools to bring our Youth in Government program back. That’s a program that I came up through in Tallahassee and it doesn’t take a bunch of money, just a bunch of students who are interested in civic education to get started in something like that.”

And now Trombetta said there’s a new community initiative that just seems custom-made for YMCA program involvement.

“We’ve had some conversations with the folks on the south side about the Purpose-Built Community. And if you go to the flagship Purpose-Built Community in Atlanta, the Y is a big component there offering programming in before and after school care, VPK, career training, things like that.”

In the meanwhile, Trombetta said there may be other possible partnerships that make sense.

“We’ve got ideas and we’ve got programs and good people who can help with the work, but it starts at the community level and I’m a product of this community. I live here now and would love nothing more than to have a larger ‘Y’ presence here so I’m happy to talk with anyone who’s interested.”

It may no longer have a big gym or swimming pool, but the YMCA is still in Tallahassee.