By DON FLETCHER
News Staff Writer
A 23-years-plus era of service came to an end last Friday, November 30, when Atmore Area YMCA’s doors were locked to the public for the final time.
The embattled nonprofit had twice been on the verge of closure in the past four years, most recently six months ago, when dwindling membership and the inherent decline in revenues provided a wall too high for the organization to breach.
Employees enjoyed a special “thank-you cake” as well as other snacks and drinks during their final day of YMCA employment. Robert Heard, the organization’s chief volunteer officer, was at the facility during its final hours, expressing gratitude as each left the Pensacola Avenue structure for the last time. Board members Pete Amerson and Glenda Prewett were also on hand for the closing.
Chason and Kenya Gresham, who was visibly shaken by the reality of the closing as 5 p.m. neared and she and the CEO became the only employees left inside the facility, will continue to work in “wind-down” mode through December 21 to make sure everything required for final dissolution of the Y’s corporate structure is done.
The YMCA was incorporated here in June of 1995 and commenced operations in the historically significant “old” Atmore High School building, which also served as an Atmore Lions Club-sponsored community center.
The Y gained its own identify in 2004, when local Lions sold the building to the YMCA board for $10. But ownership brought unanticipated fiscal burdens, including the cost of occupying the aging building and maintaining its grounds while trying to support a myriad of youth and adult programs.
Ten years after it became the owner of the building, in 2014, the Y found itself on the verge of closing its doors when expenses continued to mount and began to exceed revenues.
An outpouring of financial support from the community, along with a windfall realized just a year or two later from one of the state’s worst natural disasters, kept the Y’s programs going and its doors open.
The local nonprofit was awarded roughly $121,000 in the state’s settlement of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill that wrecked local economies across Alabama’s Gulf Coast and inward. Y officials paid $18,000 of that for the accounting work that led to the settlement, leaving $103,000 that dwindled slowly at first but picked up speed as expenses continued to mount.
In a statement issued on behalf of the Y and its board, Chason credited the many and various funding sources who helped the organization’s Atmore branch survive for nearly a quarter-century as the cost of maintaining its headquarters soared.
“Since the YMCA assumed ownership of the building, the Poarch Band of Creek Indians and many local businesses, civic organizations and individuals have contributed large sums of money to upgrade the facility and to support daily operational costs,” Chason said. “The monies were dispensed on new flooring throughout the facility, lots of fresh paint, new windows and a new roof for all sloped surfaces; however, many facility requirements were unmet and remained unfunded.”
He noted that the Y’s tenure as a local service organization would have ended four years ago if not for a community that fought for its continued existence.
“In June of 2014, we announced our intent to close because of large recurring expenses and a small recurring revenue stream,” he explained. “Our wonderful community stepped up and took proactive measures to keep the YMCA open, allowing the YMCA to continue providing services for our community. Without sustained community financial support, we would not have operated another four-plus years.”
The CEO said he would have much rather been making community history than fading into its pages.
“The YMCA thanks you, our community, for your support and sincerely appreciates everything you’ve done to help us continue our mission,” he said. “It is with great sadness that we say, ‘the YMCA in Atmore has become a part of community history’.”
There was no fanfare on the Y campus Friday afternoon. Silence enveloped the area as Chason slowly lowered the facility’s U.S. flag, he and Amerson folded it, and he and the board members departed.