RED BANK: FIREFIGHTERS KEEP FREE Y ACCESS

red bank ymcaThe Red Bank nonprofit says no families of kids now in a free membership program will be turned away. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge.)

By JOHN T. WARD

hot topic red bank njRed Bank’s volunteer firefighters will get to keep their free memberships to the local YMCA, the organization announced Wednesday.

Police will still have to pay, though now at a discount, a spokeswoman for the nonprofit said. But there’s no change to the plan unveiled last week to end across-the-board free memberships for borough schoolchildren.

Partially reversing changes made public last week that would have eliminated free memberships for all emergency first-responders and borough kids up to grade eight, the Y said Wednesday that:

• firefighters and first aid volunteers will continue to have free access to the Maple Avenue facility

• police will be offered memberships at a 20-percent discount

• kids will lose the free Healthy Kids membership, which is being dissolved, as previously announced. Their parents will have to pay for family memberships.

Still, the Y “won’t be turning anyone away,” and will “work with” families who face financial hardship to retain access, marketing director Teicia Gaupp told redbankgreen Wednesday.

“People who want and need YMCA memberships will not be impacted,” she said.

Borough parents can apply for needs-based discounted family memberships, executive director Katie McAdoo told redbankgreen last week.

Close to 90 percent of children in the local school district’s primary and middle schools qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, and that status will be taken into account, Gaupp reiterated.

In a prepared statement issued Wednesday, the Y said it is “working with our community partners and the Red Bank school district to outreach and ensure a continuum of access with the deepest impact. We acknowledge the public concern over these changes, thank those who have provided feedback, and value being part of an incredibly caring community.

“The Y’s goal is to ensure a smooth transition and retain 100% of families who are currently members of the Healthy Kids program, regardless of the ability to pay,” the statement continued.

The elimination of the freebies, effective September 1, was done to improve the Y’s “accountability” to funders, McAdoo said.

The changes would impact 211 borough kids enrolled in Healthy Kids and 56 borough police and volunteer emergency responders with free memberships, she said.

The latest changes follow a meeting held Monday between Community YMCA CEO Laurie Goganzer and Mayor Pasquale Menna and borough Business Administrator Ziad Shehady.

Menna last week blasted the proposed changes, which he said had been made without any advance notice to or discussion with his administration. In particular, he zeroed in on the impact of firefighters, who he said “are constantly responding” to alarms at the facility.

In addition, he said, the freebies for firefighters and police had been granted as part of a settlement of a legal dispute, he said.

Menna called Monday’s meeting “productive and candid” but declined immediate comment Wednesday, saying he planned to review the latest changes with the council at its workshop session later in the day.

As to the children, he said, “Evidently  the YMCA and the Board of Education have reached an understanding  on the participation of our students.  I am pleased that the specter of termination of the relationship has been removed.”

Fire Chief Wayne Hartman could not be reached for immediate comment.

The elimination of the freebies without regard to need was done to improve the Y’s “accountability” to funders, McAdoo said. The changes go into effect September 1.

The Y is currently providing to Red Bank children $50,000 a year worth of “Y Cares” subsidies, $9,350 worth of swimming lessons for third graders and $13,000 worth of summer-camp scholarships, Gaupp said.

In addition, the Maple Avenue facility is open and free to the public on holidays, including Fourth of July, from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., she said.