BOTKINS — Sidney-Shelby County YMCA CEO Ed Thomas was honored for his commitment to the Shelby County United Way during the annual kickoff luncheon at the Palazzo in Botkins Thursday. Thomas had announced earlier this year he would be retiring from the YMCA in December.
After reviewing Thomas’ career path — Uruguay South America, Wisconsin, Florida, Texas and Ohio — Shelby County United Way President/CEO Scott Barr told the audience Thomas has been responsible for streamlining the YMCA’s membership tiers “changing the structure that led to extensive growth and best in the nation retention rates.”
Thomas, said Barr, has improved technology and upgraded the equipment in the fitness and wellness center.
“More recently, they became one of the few YMCA’s in the nation to offer disease prevention initiatives such as diabetic prevention, Live strong for cancer survivors and Delay the Disease for those challenged by Parkinson’s,” said Barr. “The YMCA Child Development Center, a partner agency of the Shelby County United Way, has continued to grow and is one of the larger centers in the region serving close to 200 children daily.”
An emotional Thomas said “I’m speechless,” after he took the stage to be one of the guest speakers at the kickoff luncheon. “I was not expecting this. I’m honored and grateful for the moving comments.”
Thomas said “now that my days are numbered until retirement — 3 months and two weeks — it’s liberating and freeing to be able to say almost anything I want.”
Thomas said he and his wife were active with each community’s United Way where he had worked at a YMCA.
“Shelby County has generous and giving people,” said Thomas. “This is the most effective United Way organization bar none.”
Thomas said the YMCA has been a partner agency with the United Way since 1985, the longest partnership in the county. The YMCA was also part of the first Pacesetters program.
COVID-19, he said, put the YMCA on the front lines when it was declared a pandemic childcare provider for first responders and healthcare workers. They cared for 100 children a week until Gov. Mike DeWine allowed daycare centers to reopen.
Thomas shared two stories about the Childcare Development Center. A preschooler was placed in the custody of his grandmother, said Thomas. She wanted to re-enroll him in the YMCA’s daycare program.
“He’s back in the program thanks to the United Way,” said Thomas. And the boy’s cousin has also been enrolled int he program.
Another preschooler, he said, was enrolled in a program that was cut and he wasn’t receiving the services he needed.
“The single mom reached out to the YMCA and thanks to the United way he’s been enrolled in a full day program at the YMCA at a rate she could afford,” said Thomas.
Thomas said in 2005, when he started at the YMCA, 50% of children in the childcare program received financial assistance. Today, 73% of the children receive assistance.
“We will never turn a child away,” said Thomas.
Danielle Sweitzer, New Choices Domestic Violence Shelter director, was also a speaker at the luncheon. She shared that she started her job just as the governor implemented the stay at home order because of the pandemic.
“Some days the job is really hard,” she said. “Some days the job is emotional. Everyday the job is rewarding.”
The shelter, she said, has been full for the past five months.
“We have five bedrooms and 15 beds. We’ve had to cut our occupancy by half (because of COVID),” she said. “We’ve received extra funding from the United Way for cleaning supplies and PPE (personal protection equipment). We made our enclosed porch into a meeting place” for telephone hearings with the courts when the courts were closed.
“I’m proud to say our staff has reported to their shift, every day in and day out,” she said.
Suzanne Cline, Shelby County Libraries executive director, is the chairman of this year’s United Way campaign.
Both Barr and Cline said this year’s campaign will be different because of COVID-19.
The Pacesetters campaign had 27 companies, businesses and organizations participating this year. The group ha raised $152,297 to kickoff the campaign, said Barr.
“This total is higher than last year,” said Barr.
In 2019, 27 partner agencies and programs served just over 17,000 Shelby County residents. The United Way awarded 43 additional grants through the special projects, POWER and Student United way Grant programs. The Student United Way awarded over $10,,000 in grants. POWER participated in Match Day and awarded more than $21,5000 to 18 recipients who provide youth and family programming.
“This impact would not be possible without the support of almost 270 companies and organizations and well over 3,200 unique donors,” said Barr. “The Shelby County United Way was an active leader during the COVID crisis.
Barr also touched on all the funds which have been given to agencies during the pandemic.
The United Way is also working with the Workforce Partnership of Shelby County to assist high school graduates who are entering the workforce and not attending college. Kelly Edwards was hired as a career coach.
The campaign finale will be held Nov. 5 at 11:30 a.m. at the Sidney American Legion. At that time, campaign totals will be announced.
Reach the writer at 937-538-4822.