BIDDEFORD – A new logo over the door and fresh paint are the most obvious signs of change at the Northern York County Family YMCA in Biddeford, but members will be seeing a lot more changes in the days to come.
On Monday, the Biddeford Y joined with three other YMCAs in the greater Portland area to become the YMCA of Southern Maine.
The merger will allow all four facilities to offer more programming and resources to members, said Helen Breña, the new CEO of the four-branch organization.
“When we did an in-depth, due-diligence study, including best practices,” Breña said, “we came to see that we had a very similar mission and focus, and we could see the many, many benefits of becoming one.”
“I think our members will be excited and get on board when they see the expanded programs and services and all the resources that will now be available,” said Heather Gendron, the new executive director of the Biddeford Y.
A key benefit to members of the Biddeford Y is that now they’ll be able to take part in any program or event offered at the other three Ys, which are located in Portland, Freeport and New Gloucester.
All four facilities will retain their own names and will have individual executive directors on site, according to Breña.
A document explaining the merger to Y members said, “We do not anticipate many staffing changes. By joining together, we will see some economies in our operation but are committed to providing the same quality programs and services our members have come to rely on.”
However, through the merger, the facilities have realized “operational efficiencies,” the document added, including in the areas of human resources, accounting and payroll, financial development and marketing and communications.
Breña said one thing discovered while exploring the merger option was that many people who live in the Biddeford area work in Portland or the other way around, which means commuters can now exercise at the Y of their choice.
In addition to its new name, the YMCA of Southern Maine is introducing several new programs starting this week.
One is a collaboration with the Southern Maine Agency on Aging called Living Well. Another new program is specially designed for active older adults to help them maintain strength and balance.
Also, with a family membership, the four Ys will now offer free swim lessons to children and free exercise classes. The YMCA of Southern Maine is also offering assistance from certified personal trainers to employees of the state who are obese or at risk of becoming obese through a program called ME First.
And this is just the start, according to Breña.
She said now that the merger is complete, the new board of directors will begin a strategic planning process that will include an analysis of programming, staffing and facilities.
“Decisions to add additional staff positions will be determined through a continual review of programs and services,” Breña said.
Becky Harkema, the former director of the Biddeford Y, who has since moved back to her home state of Iowa, first contacted the Cumberland County YMCA earlier this year to discuss the possibility of joining forces, Breña said.
The idea was to make the Ys stronger, according to Breña.
“We entered into this process driven by the goal of determining how the YMCA could best serve our communities. This partnership will elevate our impact in all of the communities we serve in Cumberland and northern York counties,” she said.
The first step toward the merger took place in May, when the Biddeford Y and the Cumberland County Y entered into an agreement to share management resources.
Based on the success of that initial agreement, the board of directors of both Ys voted unanimously in July to become one entity, Breña said.
“By combining our resources and traditions, we will be able to more effectively address critical community needs,” said Scott Maker, chairman of the Cumberland County YMCA. “We also will be able to offer an enhanced membership experience to our current and future members.”
Karin Gregory, chairwoman of the Northern York County YMCA board, agreed.
“We sought to strengthen our organization to better serve the communities in (our) service area and have found such a partner in the Cumberland County YMCA. Our members and their families will benefit from the integration of our two organizations,” she said.
Gregory said the impetus behind the merger was “really looking for better ways to serve the community” and the Biddeford Ys local membership.
She said the Biddeford Y gets its funding from memberships, special events, an annual campaign and from various grants and other funding sources, and said the organization was getting essentially the same level of support it always had.
Breña said the YMCA of Southern Maine will have one combined board of directors, but the Biddeford Y would continue to have what she described as an advisory board that would support the work of Gendron and the other local staff.
Gendron said the Biddeford Y has 3,200 members, and the three other branches have about 16,000 members among them.