Joe Capece’s career with the YMCA has taken him from Florida to Louisiana and for the past year to the Ottawa YMCA.
Capece, who has served as executive director, said the Ottawa Y selection committee liked his operations experience, particularly his ability to look beyond where he serves to tap into nationwide resources to better the Ottawa facility.
“If there’s one thing I brought it is the resources of a big Y USA conglomeration. If you belong to a franchise,” which he noted the Y is not, but operates similarly, “there’s resources available to you usually free of charge, so I brought the resources of Y USA to help in the facility and to kind of utilize our resource director which every state has.
“We have something called best practices in Y USA. These are tried and true things that work nationwide. So it’s, ‘Let’s look at what works and then duplicate it across the country.’”
For example, in January, enrollment in group classes, such as aerobics, yoga, water exercise and silver sneaker classes, was included in membership without a raise in membership. In the past, members had to pay an extra fee to enroll in those classes.
“Something we implemented immediately was value in membership. Were community members seeing a value in having membership here?
“A lot of people, we came to find out, did not like the idea that they were paying for a membership and if they wanted to do classes they were charged more. They were kind of being nickeled and dimed — that’s how they felt. A lot of people left for that reason.”
In the first month after the change, 300 new units of membership were sold.
Capece said he has simple philosophies when it comes to operations: quality customer service, a clean and inviting facility and innovative programming.
Recently, the Y has added new cardio equipment, classes and more consistency in its hours — no winter and summer schedule and no closing for maintenance.
Upon his arrival to Ottawa, Capece said it was the staff, board and community’s dedication to the Y that impressed him.
“I don’t think (people) realize that the board really owns the YMCA. They’re the leaders and this board here is very strong, very dedicated, very community-minded. They’re community leaders.”
Capece said he likes to remind people the Y is a charity — one that is 174 years old and one of the largest in the nation. He pointed out the three causes highlighted on the Y’s latest brochure — youth development, healthy living and social responsibility.
With those causes in mind, Capece noted the Ottawa branch provided more than $150,000 in scholarships in 2018 for families, youths and seniors.
He’s also proud of the second-grade swim program.
“In the past, the branch was charging the schools to bring children to learn water safety. Many schools decided it wasn’t something they could afford to do, so they stopped bringing the children.”
For the current school year, the Y secured donations to fully fund more than 400 students in the service district, which includes schools outside Ottawa as well.
The Y is a second career for Capece, his first was education.
“A lot of what we did in that position was community-based in the small county in Florida where I lived,” Capece said. “I’ve always had an affinity for the Y, because I kind of worked for them before I even went into education. I always liked the mission and what they stand for, so I rejoined the movement in 2008 after I retired and I’ve been with the Y ever since.”
Will the Y build a new facility?
Capece said he and the Ottawa Y board have been looking into a new facility as its current building is aging and in a flood plain.
Once again, Capece said, they will tap into the resources of Y USA.
“You have to imagine there are YMCAs in 10,000 communities across the country, so at any given time there’s building processes going on, so we are tapping the resources of Y USA to help guide us through a capital expansion project. The board is working through that defined process to determine if we can build a new facility and, most importantly, can we sustain it?
“It’s great to build all the bells and whistles and a nice looking place, but if you can’t pay the bills on a monthly basis then it doesn’t do you any good.
“It’s needed. As you can see, this building was built in 1956, if I’m not mistaken. You would not build a facility like this now.”
We need a more modern facility for the community. We hope to embark on that soon.”
Not long after Capece started, the Y experienced flooding in February, with water reaching halfway up the parking lot.
“That’s why you see all the sand bags out front. We had to sand bag real quick. Unfortunately, we are in a flood plain so, yes, that’s always an issue.”