New YMCA CEO looks ahead

By Charles Hamilton, The StarPhoenix January 11, 2014 - Saskatoon's YMCA has been around for more than 100 years, and its new CEO is making plans for 100 more.

A lot has changed since Dean Dodge took over the position in September. The city has announced intentions to build a new leisure facility in the core, the area served by the current YMCA.

Rumours have circulated suggesting the once-struggling community organization and fitness centre is pondering a move, perhaps to the old police headquarters building on Fourth Avenue. Others say the organization may end up near the new police headquarters in the north downtown.

Dodge is tight-lipped about any definite plans to relocate or dramatically overhaul the organization, but he admits change could be on the way.

"We will be limited if we don't make some major changes, either to this building or if we build a new facility," he said in an interview.

Dodge recently left a position as the manager of parks and recreation for the City of Regina to take the job at the YMCA. He said other YMCAs across the country are rapidly expanding and tailoring their programs to a new generation of clients. He points to expansions in Regina, Victoria and Calgary as places that have recently upgraded and taken on a new mandate.

"What all these other cities have done is they have changed. The (YMCA) isn't a 50,000-square-foot, four-storey building - we need to change and adapt. If that means a different location or a new location, we will do that," Dodge said. The current YMCA location at the corner of 22nd Street and Idylwyld Drive opened in 1969 and his been a mainstay of downtown recreation since then.

But the organization is more than just bricks and mortar. The charitable group runs crisis shelters for women and children, operates summer camps for kids and has partnered with the Kinsmen Club to open a new daycare centre on 20th Street.

Still, Dodge admits the fitness facility is the face of the YMCA for many people in Saskatoon. He says the city's plan to build a new recreational centre in the core area will not hurt the YMCA's business - in fact, he is currently in discussions with city officials. The results of those discussions won't be known until officials release their sweeping recreational plan, which is expected to include details about the new core neighbourhood facility.

Dodge grew up in Saskatoon and has been an active member of the YMCA since the age of seven. He was sponsored by the YMCA through the organization's fundraising efforts and enrolled in youth programs. He went to camp through the YMCA, and eventually became its youth and camp director in Regina.

He left the organization to pursue a degree in outdoor education. He taught Grade 8 for a while, then left the teaching profession to manage the Northwest YMCA in Regina, which had a renewed focus on family and youth programs, before going to the Regina YMCA. When the job opportunity opened up in Saskatoon, he just couldn't resist, he said.

"The thing that impressed me about coming back to Saskatoon was how the downtown core has changed ... to me, that was a signal that people's mindsets have changed."

The YMCA is launching its annual fundraising campaign in February. On the heels of that, the group's volunteer board is expected to launch a new strategic plan that could lay the framework for some of the major changes ahead.

"Our (YMCA) has done a great job within these walls. What we want to make sure we do is make sure that continues for the next 106 years," Dodge said.

© Copyright (c) The StarPhoenix