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Palm Harbor YMCA providing more scholarships

The Suncoast News
Published:   |   Updated: May 16, 2013 at 01:09 AM

In these tough economic times, the Greater Palm Harbor Branch YMCA is focusing on its mission and creed, never turning anyone away because of an inability to pay for membership.

Membership is actually up at the Palm Harbor unit of the Clearwater-based YMCA of the Suncoast as people learn about all the programs and classes it offers. About 9,000 families and individuals belong to the branch.

"We really have so much going on here, from offering massages to workouts," Randy Nilsson, Palm Harbor branch executive director, said.

The problem is an ever-increasing percentage of those members are in need of some form of membership assistance.

Many people confronting the current difficult economic times need the Y's stress-reducing programs and services, Nilsson said.

People are still surprised at how affordable an individual or family membership can be, Nilsson said. Financial counselors assist current members or would-be members who want to participate but have a limited income.

When the Palm Harbor branch opened five years ago, only about 10 percent of members received scholarship assistance paying memberships or program fees. That number has grown to about 20 percent.

In 2010 the branch plans to give an estimated $140,000 in scholarships. That compares to $125,000 in 2009 and $90,000 in 2008. The 2010 scholarship total is up 55 percent, compared to 2008.

To defray some of this added cost, Nilsson said, the YMCA is asking the community's better-off members to donate to its year-round "Keeping the Promise" fundraising program. Y leaders hope it raises at least $90,000.

"We would like to be able to defray the entire cost of providing scholarships," Nilsson said. Unfortunately, nearly everyone is cutting back, making it more difficult to reach the fundraising goal, she said.

On the spending side, Nilsson and other Y leaders are stressing cost containment, along with tailoring programs to fit members' interests. The Palm Harbor branch is operating more efficiently but hasn't had to resort to staff layoffs, she said.

The Palm Harbor branch is lucky to have several big draws. These include two full-size swimming pools and aquatic classes and programs for people of all ages. The YMCA unit at 1600 16th St. is home to the Palm Harbor University High's swim team.

The branch also offers before- and after-school programs for middle-schoolers.

One young member donated her piggy bank and jar filled with pennies to the YMCA to help build a gymnasium, a multimillion-dollar expansion project that has been put on the back burner until more benefactors come forward, Nilsson said. If the Y had its own gym, it would not have to rent space at local middle schools to conduct its basketball program and other offerings, she said.

A recent expansion created a fitness center and group exercise studio and improved the Kids' Zone and teen center.

The branch's strength-training center features Cybex circuit training machines, exercise benches, free weights and a stretching area. The cardiovascular center offers treadmills, Cybex ARC cross-training machines, Stairmasters, Precor ellipticals, a Nu-Step seated stepper and Cybex recumbent bicycles.

The outdoor lighted tennis center features four hard courts and two clay courts.

The telephone number of the Palm Harbor Branch YMCA is 727-787-9622.

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