RED WING – Bryan Soper started as the YMCA’s new executive director on Oct. 1, 2021, bringing 30 years of nonprofit experience to help ease pandemic-related challenges.
“I worked in the nonprofit world for most of my career,” Soper said in 2021. “I was serving at the YMCA of Middle Tennessee as operations executive director before this.”
As the Red Wing CEO, Soper is responsible for bettering the YMCA and upholding its core values of caring, honesty, respect and responsibility for all. Right now, he is focusing on combating decreased membership by reintroducing classes and operation hours that were cut back during the height of the pandemic.
The Republican Eagle spoke with Soper about how the Y is dealing with COVID-19 issues, his goals and more.
How have you been liking the position?
Red Wing has been great. My family and I have found a home in town and recently moved in. It is great to have a Y with the community support that we have. The transition to the position has been very smooth. I have great volunteer board members and some longtime staff who have made the process easier to navigate. I have been in Y work for over 30 years because I love the work we do in our YMCA communities. We have great members in Red Wing, and it has been great getting to know them. Our members have been very gracious and understanding of our leadership transitions this past year and rebuilding process.
What goals and initiatives have you been working on to improve the Y?
Our main focus areas have been on the benefits of membership, Camp Pepin and facility needs. We have been focused on our membership experience as we bring back our offerings. Having open swim available every night, the guarantee of open gym and free child watch are a few of the ways we are keeping our focus on the member experience. As we recover from the COVID-19 closures we have been growing our group class offerings back with the recent return of Zumba. We also have facility needs that come with an aging building.
What challenges have you faced and how have you overcome them?
COVID was a hard hit to every Y. Bringing back our member benefits is our first challenge. We have consistent pool hours back, we now have over 30 free group exercise classes a week for members and we now have free Child Watch for our family memberships. Now families with memberships can drop off kids from ages 1-8 while they use the Y for free. With a decrease in membership we have looked to more funding sources for our Y through our annual campaign, local funding, grants and expanded programs.
Membership revenue has decreased. How are you combating this?
We did have a decrease in membership due to the closures. One of our brightest spots right now is our aquatics programming. Our aquatics team has been doing a great job delivering our swim lesson and drowning prevention programs. We are on track to deliver over 1,700 swim lessons this year. Staffing is the main way we have reduced expenses. Occupancy of our building is a fairly static expense as most stay the same regardless of foot traffic, a large aquatics center, four level facility and a resident camp. We have fantastic childcare and preschool programs, but they all come with fixed expenses as they should to maintain program quality. We are running the rest of our operation with about 300 less staffing hours a week from two years ago as it is one of the controllable expenses we have.
Is the YMCA back to pre-pandemic memberships and operation?
We will have a long build back to those numbers. No one has been through this before, but we expect this to be at least a three-year process. Last June membership had dipped to about 54% of our pre-pandemic numbers. We finished March at 64%. We continue to get more members coming back and new community members coming in for the first time. It has been great to see the growth in membership and have the energy back in the building. The volleyball leagues returned, pickleball is happening five days a week, and summer camp already has 270 camper weeks registered.
We have been slowly bringing back building hours as traffic has been picking up. We had almost 10,000 visits in March. We will continue to bring more group exercise classes to our members as we increase usage. We owe it to the long-term sustainability of our Y to be good stewards of our resources and that makes it more important than ever for us to prioritize our added services by those with the largest impact.
How are you enticing people to get a membership or stay at the Y?
We will be releasing a survey this month to see what our members and former members would like to see in our Y. We want to use this to help prioritize what we add for our members. Our current members will always be our best drivers for new members. We have some of the lowest membership rates in the country for YMCA’s. We always want to remind people about our scholarship programs as well. If finances are a barrier to getting a Y membership so you can access our programs, please stop in or download a scholarship application off our website. We give over $230,000 a year in scholarships and membership subsidies so individuals can participate in the Y and our programs.
As we go into spring and summer, what goals do you have?
Our role as a YMCA is to offer programs for youth development, healthy living and social responsibility. If we are offering healthy living programs that fight chronic disease, youth programs that develop great kids and socially responsible programs like swim lessons to prevent drownings, we will have membership growth. We would love to be back to pre-pandemic levels, and we will get there if we do the programs Red Wing needs.