The Y Without Walls

Participation by Bozeman area families and children in Gallatin Valley YMCA (GVY) programs doubled to almost 4,000 in 2012, after almost doubling in 2011. This past year, more than 1,000 Bozeman/Belgrade-area children played on GVY’s youth sports teams, 2,013 attended after-school and summer camps, and 271 learned how to swim. Thirty infants, toddlers and other children attended the Y’s Hawk’s Nest program at Bozeman Senior High School.

The GVY’s programs are growing rapidly despite its being the only Montana YMCA without a facility. GVY is a “Y Without Walls.” In some ways it is similar to “store front YMCAs” located in impoverished areas that lack either the vision or the resources for gyms, pools, and other recreation venues. GVY currently operates out of a leased metal building, renting space for its diverse programs in local schools, churches, parks, athletic fields, and even a parking lot. In 2012, The Bozeman Ys operating budget of over $400,000 gave $104,909 in scholarships and program subsides to the community while its 252 volunteers donated a combined 8,000 hours of their time.

The Y Board has long realized the need to build a recreation home and gathering place for all our community’s children and families. The GVY’s programs are overflowing at the same time many Bozeman residents and community leaders are discussing the need to replace 74-year-old Bogert Pool and renovate the 39-year-old Swim Center. Bozeman is the only major city in Montana without a community recreation center, and a wide range of people feel that lack. There is no place for teens in the city to just “hang out,” for Big Brothers and Big Sisters to shoot hoops or play chess with their “Littles” on winter nights, or for a mom or dad to get a brief respite from their family’s “cabin fever.” A recent City/County Survey showed strong support for expanded swim facilities and even stronger support for a new community recreation center.

A fully-equipped Y could serve a wide range of needs. In Bozeman and Belgrade, more than one in every four elementary-school children qualifies for school lunch subsidies, and family recreation is neither affordable nor available. Older brothers and sisters are pressed into babysitting younger siblings while their parents work late hours. The presence of a YMCA could change the lives of those families. The Y stresses active learning, healthy living, positive self-affirmation and responsible citizenship. Y programs help encourage Early Childhood learning through interaction. They help students retain knowledge over the summer between grades.

Since 2008, the not-for-profit GVY has acquired 23 acres strategically located on the edge of the Regional 100 Acre Park between Bozeman and Belgrade. This land is ideal for a Y and could be serviced by a Streamline Bus. The GVY has formed a committee to further collect public opinion about what Bozeman wants in a recreational facility and to determine the community’s financial will and commitment to meet these needs. The City/County study estimated the cost of a recreation/aquatic center at $27 to $32 million; the Y’s early projections are that it could build a quality recreation/aquatic center at considerably less cost.

In other communities, YMCAs have worked as partners with cities, counties, schools, and/or hospitals, combining both expertise and resources. Boise and Caldwell, Idaho, for instance, moved beyond turf issues to work for the common good. Crime rates/domestic violence statistics declined; city tax costs for recreation declined; private health clubs prospered. Could this happen in the Gallatin Valley?

Between them, the YMCA property and the County Fairgrounds provide suitable land for indoor/outdoor pools, a recreation center, athletic fields, ice arena, a climbing tower, an expanded baseball field, a BMX track, and other amenities. Perhaps neither has sufficient land to provide for all these needs or wishes. Preparing each of these sites for multiple uses would reduce the costs of roads, utilities, and landscaping in more than two sites. Shared parking lots, locker rooms and other necessities that do not produce revenue or provide service would also reduce total costs.

Financially failing and low membership recreation facilities, scattered across the country, bear witness that a recreation facility is more than a building. Trained program staff meeting the needs of all ages, from children through senior citizens is critical. A YMCA is more than a fitness center, swim center, child or senior center. It is a community center, a meeting place built around youth development, healthy living, and social responsibility. It is a highly specialized community service that must know how to work with volunteers, and how to mentor youth and adult leaders. When a community recreation facility is developed properly, it brings together a diversity of participants; it becomes a community asset, attracting persons who are relocating, or businesses seeking a home.

The GVY and the Bozeman community can benefit from the experience and capabilities of the GVY’s parent organization, YMCA USA, the largest charity in America. The national Y organization does not build facilities in local communities but drawing on more than 100 years experience in over 10,000 neighborhoods, it offers help with design, maintenance, staff training, and programing. It stretches the resources and effectiveness of a local YMCA. The national organization already has helped Bozeman

• Providing scholarships for staff to attend state and national training workshops.
• Bringing Y professionals and staff to Bozeman to advise our Board of Directors and staff.
• Funding a program of outdoor leadership for middle school students, beginning this summer.
• Providing architectural frameworks as local professionals begin design of our future facility.
• Providing tested program resources and guidance for children/youth activities.

The Gallatin Valley YMCA welcomes discussions about the recreation center or other topics, as well as volunteer help, donations and partnerships. GVY representatives are available to speak to civic groups, organizations, and churches. The GVY’s phone number is 406-994-9622 and website is

John Soderberg is a retired minister, chaplain, and employee assistance counselor who served Bozeman United Methodist Church from 1975-85. He and his wife, Donna, a retired Marriage and Family Therapist, feel called to help build opportunities for future generations.