SOUTH ORANGE, NJ - It was a great year for the South Mountain YMCA in 2016, with increased enrollment in its child care and summer camp programs, a successful Memorial Day Duck Race, the first year the YMCA had hosted this annual Maplewood event, and the honor of being named YMCA Branch of the Year.

The Metro YMCA, which has six branches and is the largest association of YMCAs, named South Mountain YMCA the 2016 Branch of the Year at its 40th annual recognition dinner, held April 5 at the Hanover Manor in East Hanover. More than 200 people attended. 

“South Mountain YMCA is a powerhouse, creating innovative opportunities across Maplewood and South Orange for children, families, and adults to grow, strengthen ties, and have fun,” said Richard K. Gorab, president and CEO of the Metropolitan YMCA of the Oranges. “The branch puts into action the Y’s mission of youth development, healthy living and social responsibility.”

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“We’re thrilled for this acknowledgement of our staff, which works hard to ensure South Mountain YMCA’s reputation remains in high regard,” said James Goodger, executive director of the South Mountain Y, which has 76 full-time and 160 part-time employees. “We’re Branch of the Year because we have a very sturdy foundation, and that allows us to dream big and think outside the box — to destroy the box.”

One of the Y’s major achievements, according to a press release from the organization, was increasing summer camp enrollment, which increased by 12.5 percent from 2015 through expanded marketing efforts and the addition of two new specialty camps, a skateboard clinic and Glam Camp, a hands-on introduction to fashion.

This summer, the Y is adding three more specialty camps: Masters of Art, Build It, and Superhero Academy. In Masters of Art, children entering grades 3 through 5 will explore artists from around the world. Build It at The Woodland in South Orange will offer children entering grades 2 to 4 the chance to design and build bridges, boats, towers, wheels and rockets. And in Superhero Academy, children entering kindergarten through second grade will create their own superhero and land in a real comic book, on a T-shirt, and in a movie.

Enrollment in the Y’s School-Age Child Care (SACC) program grew by 6 percent, stated a release from the YMCA, and the program at Marshall Elementary School in South Orange created a multicultural library to introduce children to different cultures through age-appropriate reading material. 

The South Mountain YMCA also increased enrollment in several of its other programs. 2016 saw an increase in the number of travel basketball teams, an expansion of the theater program into the Montrose School in South Orange, and the launch of an array of new programs.

The YMCA also increased its presence at community events like South Orange's annual PlayDay. A generator was installed in the gymnasium roof so the Y can be used by the community in times of major weather events and power outages. The Y ran the annual Memorial Day Duck Race Day in Maplewood for the first time in 2106, and despite uncooperative weather which moved the event indoors, the event raised $4,000 more than projected. 

Despite these many successes, not all went as planned in 2016 for the YMCA. Looking to expand services in South Orange, the Y tried to secure a lease on a Walton Avenue property owned by the township. While the Y didn’t win the bid, “we were able to make important community connections,” Goodger said. 

Working with Maplewood and South Orange recreation departments, the school district and several other organizations, the Y took the lead on a competitive federal grant application to improve middle schoolers’ activity levels. The well-received application was not selected for the grant, but again, the Y deepened ties with its partners, Goodger said.

The 2,000-plus member South Mountain YMCA continues to strengthen its relationship with supporters. It created Friends of the Y, to thank donors and keep them abreast of how their donations are being used for good. More than 80 supporters attended a Friends of the Y reception last May, and Goodger has begun writing a quarterly newsletter to share stories of the Y’s impact.

“The greatest thing about 2016 was that the team rose to the occasion to raise the bar at the branch, despite many challenges and hurdles,” said Rob Harrigan, chairman of the South Mountain YMCA Board of Managers. “They were able to focus on a year of incredible innovation in programming and services for the communities we serve.”

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