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Breaking barriers: WRHCF matching grant to YMCA reaches all in community

Worthington Area YMCA Executive Director Andy Johnson (from left) stands with Worthington Regional Health Care Foundation Executive Director Jeff Rotert and incoming Y board president Chad NIxon at a Thursday check presentation for the Y's 2018 Strong Kids campaign. The total amount of the check was $100,770. with $50,000 in matching dollars from the foundation and $50,770 in donations from individuals and businesses. (Special to The Globe)

WORTHINGTON — As fall arrives, the Worthington Regional Health Care Foundation (WRHCF) continues moving through a banner year.

2018 marks its first decade as a public foundation, and the WRHCF has awarded more than $2 million in grants to 60-plus organizations in that time.

“So far this year, we’ve made grants totaling $153,565 to six organizations,” said Jeff Rotert, WRHCF executive director. “And $24,500 in scholarships have been awarded to 16 area students pursuing health care careers.”

One local 2018 grant recipient is the Worthington Area YMCA.

On Thursday, a check for $50,000 — representing matching funds for the $50,770 in donations made to the YMCA’s 2018 Strong Kids campaign — was presented to YMCA staff and volunteers.

“We’re fortunate to have an organization in town offering these funds,” said Andy Johnson, executive director and CEO of the Worthington Area YMCA.

“Our board members work hard to raise the necessary dollars that enable us to serve kids and families across this community, and with the support of the WRHCF, we’re able to reach out to more and more kids.”

With the YMCA’s fitting mantra of “For youth development, healthy living and social responsibility,” the goals of the YMCA and the WRHCF are similar.

“Our organization has essentially the same mission: to keep people healthier and to help them stay active,” said Rotert.

“Certainly, ‘health’ and ‘wellness’ are in our mission statement, so it’s been a great partnership to be able to make matching grants to the YMCA that reduce barriers kids might face in pursuing healthy activities.”

Each year, the YMCA staff and volunteers set out to raise dollars that allow them to enrich the lives of kids in this community.

“The Y has costs to get things done,” pointed out Johnson, “and with matching grants like this one from the WRHCF, we can lower the fees that all kids pay for our youth programming.”

“When we’re trying to expand emerging programs, like last year when we wanted to meet the demand for indoor soccer, these extra dollars permitted us to get the necessary equipment.

“We look forward to doing it again this year because there’s been an explosion of interest in soccer here.”

Colin O’Donnell, immediate past chair of the YMCA board, likes the concept of a matching grant.

“It’s a tremendous help with the Y’s Strong Kids fundraiser because the gifts people give are multiplied,” said O’Donnell.

“That allows us to not only focus on getting kids involved who couldn’t participate without the help of scholarships, but also lets us lower the cost bar for ALL kids and families.”

Incoming YMCA board president Chad Nixon agrees.

“The WRHCF’s support is crucial to our youth programs, and it extends our reach,” said Nixon.

“We’re extremely grateful to the WRHCF, and we simply wouldn’t be able to touch the numbers of lives we do without that partnership.”

Nixon, who saved a young adult from drowning in Lake Okabena a few years ago during an employee appreciation event, has seen firsthand the impact certain YMCA programs can make.

“I’ll never forget it,” said Nixon of that memorable rescue. “Knowing that the Jami Cummings Learn to Swim program is now in place here, with every second-grader in the county given the chance to have swimming lessons, really hits home.

“The WRHCF has been a huge partner in making sure we can provide that swimming instruction, and it’s really something to see kids being able to gain a skill that can mean not only the difference between life and death but also is a healthy activity they can use throughout their lives.”

Nixon has occasionally taken advantage of the YMCA’s early morning lap swim schedule for his own watery workout, prompting this observation: “A lot of the people up at 5:45 a.m. swimming laps are over 60,” he said.

“You really can do this all your life.”

Both Nixon and O’Donnell commend their fellow 13 YMCA board members for their efforts, and they also praise Johnson for doing what it takes to raise the dollars and maximize the matching grant offer from the WRHCF.

“Andy Johnson puts in a lot of hard work for the Strong Kids campaign so we can open our doors to everyone,” said O’Donnell.

“We don’t just want the YMCA to be seen as a fitness facility, but as a place where kids — all kids in the community — can come and make memories that last a lifetime,” added Nixon.

“Because of the WRHCF’s contributions, the YMCA has been able to broaden its reach and make its programs affordable so everyone who wants to can participate,” he continued.

“To me, that’s huge; that’s a real feel-good moment.”

Currently, donations to the Worthington Regional Health Care Foundation will be matched by a gift of up to $10,000 from First State Bank Southwest. Donations may be made online at wrhcf.com, or mailed to the WRHCF at 1121 Third Ave., Worthington 56187. For more information about the WRHCF, its grants and scholarship programs, visit wrhcf.com or call Jeff Rotert at 372-2919.

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