When 2020 began, we were ready for a year-long celebration.
Our Y association was eager to commemorate 150 years of serving the community. We contacted the local press, reserved billboards and displayed advertisements. We booked radio interviews and crafted cute PSAs. We tagged everything with a really cool 150th logo that was fun and brand-compliant. We started the festivities on New Year’s Day with a 150-minute workout when our Ys would normally be closed for the holiday.
We created banners and posters, and T-shirts with catchy sayings like “150 Years Look Good on Me.” We contracted for a special microsite, changed our donation message, and revised our thank you cards and stationery to reflect this once-in-a-lifetime milestone. We even order a slew of really fancy 150th anniversary pens.
Key activities like our 100-Mile Swim Challenge, Summer Stretch and Super Senior Series were revamped to reflect the 150-year theme, while we additionally added new things like a job fair promising 150 new jobs and a May promotion with a $1.50 start-up fee, instead of the normal $50. We stocked up on 150th anniversary clad water bottles and tote bags, along with all the posters, flyers and Facebook hoopla we could cram into the budget and timeline hyped for a year of “FUN, FUN, FUN.”
We formed a great committee for the 150th Anniversary Gala and had loads of planning meetings. We got a fantastic honorary chair, made a “save the date” video, booked the band, caterer and larger-than-life circus tent, as well as out-of-this-world set dressings to go with the catchy vibe of “The Sky’s the Limit.” We even thought about making a really tall rocket ship.
Then, the sky started to fall.
COVID-19 took us by surprise. Like the rest of the country, we heard about it through news sources. But it wasn’t until the statewide order to shut down on March 16 that the reality hit and the trickle turned into a storm.
Our facilities were ordered to close, along with other gyms (gosh, we hate to be categorized that way), as well as our childcare centers, camps, alternative school and main office. We had to lay off our part-time staff, numbering well into the hundreds.
Four of our childcare locations reopened as Pandemic Childcare Centers and one branch became a respite for medical personnel. One camp assisted with EMT worker relief.
But the celebratory mood sparked in January was starting to fizzle.
Our big gala was set for August. We expected 500 people. We were only having a milestone event once in the lives of all our leadership staff and many of our donors, members and friends. This was the year — until it wasn’t.
The responsible thing to do was call it a day — or more accurately, a year. So what if we celebrated in 2021? Sure, we’d be 151 years old and not the milestone 150, but wouldn’t that be even better? We would have another year under our belts, being able to share stories of how we overcame obstacles in the unprecedented time of a pandemic.
Wouldn’t it be better to recap the work the Y has done in 2020 by meeting community needs, as we have so aptly done through world wars, depressions, recessions and goodness knows what else has come through our legacy?
We can address how our members stood by us and how our staff stepped up. We can show the progress we made in stepping up procedures to make sure the health and safety of everyone walking through our doors is the No.1 priority.
The story we will have to tell next year, when we do have time to celebrate, will be richer.
For the remainder of this year, we have a new chapter to write, and we will write it well. Besides, I’m fine with a party in 2021. The cocktail dress I planned to wear for this summer’s event no longer fits. Blame it on COVID-19, and working months and months without social distancing from my carbohydrate-clad kitchen.
In the meantime, I’ll save a space on my fridge for an updated invitation, thinking about it every doggone time I open the door to see if I really did finish that open bottle of wine.
Judi Christy is the director of marketing and communication at the Akron Area YMCA.
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