YMCA hires new director, nears finish of capital project

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 14 October 2014 at 12:00 am

Photo by Tom Rivers – Thom Jennings started on Monday as the new director of the Orleans County YMCA. He is pictured in the refinished gymnasium with people playing basketball.

MEDINA – An organization that only a few years ago was on the verge of extinction is entering a new phase, one that Orleans County YMCA leaders believe will be the most dynamic and engaging since the Y opened more than three decades ago in Medina.

The Y is getting close to finishing a $500,000 capital improvement project that will make a historic building more handicapped accessible, energy efficient and much more appealing and accommodating to its members.

And, starting on Monday, the organization has a new executive director. Thom Jennings is now leading the group and its 50 employees. Jennings has recently worked as a history teacher and social worker.

“We were close to being out of business,” said Dean Bellack, the YMCA board president the past six years.

The Y had an $80,000 annual deficit, but now is the most profitable of the three branches in the GLOW Y, which includes sites in Batavia and Warsaw.

The merger with the GLOW YMCA has been a big boost to the Orleans County Y, Bellack said, bringing resources and expertise. The Orleans agency has maintained its independence, launching a $400,000 capital project 18 months ago.

The community stepped up, and surpassed the fund-raising goal by giving $500,000. That has allowed the Y to tackle several projects at the 90,000-square-foot site.

Dean Bellack, left, has led the YMCA board of directors the past six years. His term ends next month. He will be succeeded as board president by Don Colquhoun.

“We’re very excited about where we are and where we’re going,” Bellack said.

Members have a new side ramp and entrance to a historic building on Pearl Street. The gym floor has been resurfaced.

The racquetball courts were taken out, which freed up space for a new lobby area near the side entrance. A new exercise room also was created.

The Y has added heat and air-conditioning units. There is more work to do on the building project. The 86 windows in the building will all be scraped, primed and painted. A railing will be added to the new steps on the side of the building, which will become the main entrance.

In the spring there will be a unisex bathroom on the main floor. The Y is adding about $20,000 worth of signage throughout the building, as well as a historical timeline and display of the building, which was built for Company F, a local Army National Guard Unit.

Bellack’s term as president ends next month and he will be succeeded as leader of the board by Don Colquhoun, a retired executive director for The Arc of Orleans County. Colquhoun is a long-time member of the Y, and he said the transformation of the organization has been dramatic in the past few years.

“It’s a wonderful feeling,” he said about the vibrant Y. “This is a facility people can be proud of. It’s up to date with programs people can be proud of.”

The Y leaders said Jeff Winters was instrumental in the Y’s recent success. Winters, a Medina native, recently got married and lives in Albany. He took a job with the American Cancer Society.

In Winters’s four years as director, the Y became profitable and quadrupled its members to 2,200. Winters took the reins at the Y when he was 27 with a law degree.

Jennings impressed the Y board and a selection committee with his energy and ideas for more growth and connections in the community for the Y.

“I like people who can create things on their own and don’t just look at the manual,” Bellack said.

Jennings, 48, lives in Albion and sees opportunities to expand the Y in Albion and the Lyndonville communities, as well as in Medina. He wants to build stronger partnerships with GCASA, the United Way and other local agencies, with the goal of improving the community’s health and fitness.

The YMCA operates out of the former Medina Armory, which was built in 1901 on Pearl Street. The building is nearing completion on a $500,000 capitol project.

The Y will be responsive to member feedback and fitness trends, Jennings said.

“I want this to go in the direction that people are driving it,” he said on Monday, his first day on the job.

Jennings may be best known in the community for running for Orleans County Legislature. He tried three times as a Democrat, but didn’t win.

Jennings looks different from his candidate days.

About three years ago he got serious about exercise and healthy living after a bet with his two brothers in law over which of them could lose the most weight. Jennings has lost 100 pounds since then and run two marathons. He won the bet.

He is one of the leaders of the Albion Running Club which is planning three races next year and working on fitness programs in the community.

Jennings is grateful the Y is in such a strong position, and poised to do so much good for the community. He credited Winters, the past executive director, and a dedicated board of directors for building community support and developing programs that proved popular with members.

“The Y has done a great job,” he said. “I want to continue the culture here, which is very positive.”