The YMCA of Boulder Valley: more than a recreation center

Posted by Tom Kalinski Founder RE/MAX of Boulder on Wednesday, April 10th, 2013 at 1:57pm.

Except during the Depression and World War II, when it was inactive, the YMCA of Boulder Valley has been a part of the community for nearly 140 years.

Today, the organization as well as its spirit permeates the Boulder Valley through services and programs not just for youth, but for the young at heart of any age.

At its facilities in Boulder and Lafayette, the YMCA offers class for the very young through the elderly including dance, fitness, swimming, Pilates, martial arts, Yoga, weight management and ice skating. It also offers sports programs that cover the gamut of interests, community and before- and after-school programs as well as preschool, a senior exercise class and a program for people with Parkinson’s disease.

“The YMCA is not just for youth anymore; it’s for everybody,” says Joan Chartrand, vice president of financial development for the YMCA of Boulder Valley.

And thus the YMCA has come a long way from the national organization’s original purpose: to provide young men who came to the city with nothing a place to stay, meet others and recreate.

“There’s a lot more to the YMCA than meets the eye these days,” says Joan, who came to the YMCA of Boulder Valley 10 years ago and spent the bulk of her career – 29 years of it – with the Y’s in Boston, Rhode Island, western Massachusetts and, now, Boulder Valley.

“It certainly is a good fit for me,” says Joan, who has a background in early childhood development. “I’m a lifer in the ‘Y.’”

Joan came to Boulder in 2000 to marry her husband, Ken, and she served as the director of the Acorn School for Early Childhood Development for 2½ years before returning to employment with the YMCA.

“For me, it’s everything to do with the mission: youth development, healthy living and social responsibility,” she says. “It’s not only a nonprofit; it’s one of the largest nonprofits in the country. We are a charitable organization; we provide financial assistance for anyone who wouldn’t otherwise be able to participate.”

And that’s nothing to sneeze at: 3.5 of every 10 children who participate in YMCA programs or use the YMCA are on some kind of financial assistance, Joan says. The YMCA has to raise $1 million a year so that no one ever has to be turned away because of their inability to pay.

The organization has two facilities, yet its reach is far wider with programs offered at 50 other locations throughout Boulder County and 13 after-school programs.

“Wherever there’s a need for a program, that’s where the Y is. That’s part of our social responsibility and community outreach,” Joan explains. "There are all kinds of social programs that most people don’t know about.”

The YMCA facilities also house a number of other nonprofits at no cost including Safe Exchange, which provides a secure location where divorced parents with shared custody can drop off and pick up their children, as well as foster-parent training.

“We have a deep partnership with the Boulder Valley School District that goes back about 40 years,” Joan says, highlighting the YMCA’s English Language Learners summer camp that provides an opportunity for children who wouldn’t get to go to a camp otherwise while immersing them in English.

The YMCA also partners with the Boulder Public Library so that every one of its summer camps will have a library on-site, she says.

The YMCA offers a free after-school program for teens geared toward helping kids practice good behavior, as well as a before-school program for middle schools that start late on Wednesdays, providing activities such as dance, basketball, soccer, homework help, board games, art projects, skateboarding – “anything the kids are interested in,” Joan says. “They have a safe place to go with adult supervision, with adults they can trust, whom they can form relationships with.”

And the YMCA isn’t done yet as it seeks to further services to the Boulder Valley, she notes. Its newest project is to get a “bubble” – or cover – for its Lafayette center’s outdoor pool so it can offer swim lessons in the winter. Joan says the YMCA’s goal is to make sure every Lafayette-area second-grader can swim.

Working in conjunction with the Flat Irons Swim Club, the YMCA needs to raise $480,000 for the pool cover in addition to the $315,000 it needs to offer financial assistance for the year; Joan says the YMCA has already $175,000 for the pool cover from its inner family of contributors, corporations and matching grants.

And it’s in renovating both of its facilities in recent years as well as the economic recession that have spurred the YMCA’s growth, she says.

“When the economy went down the tubes, we saw more and more applications for financial assistance from people out of work,” she says. “There’s still a high need and it grows every year.”

Requests for financial assistance nearly doubled between 2008 and 2010, though the requests haven’t increased quite that much since, indicating that the economy is improving, Joan says.

Both membership as well as program participation have grown, as well. Last year, the YMCA served 85,000 people, up from 35,000 in 2005.

“We made a commitment in 2005 to become a partner in the community, and that’s where we saw a lot of growth in our outreach programs,” Joan says.

That kind of a commitment requires more than 900 program volunteers, about 50 policy volunteers (board and community members), 100 volunteers who work to raise funds, and 400 full- and part-time employees.

The YMCA has two locations:

Mapleton Center, 2850 Mapleton Ave. in Boulder, (303) 442-2778; and the Arapaho Center/Administrative Offices, 2800 Dany Way in Lafayette, (303) 664-5455.

 For hours, programs, classes and activities, visit

Tom Kalinski 
Owner and Founder
RE/MAX of Boulder

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