Montreal

'People are ready to fight back' to keep the YMCA in Pointe-Saint-Charles, parent says

After-school programs and day camps that include special needs children are among the programs that are being re-evaluated at the Pointe-Saint-Charles YMCA, one of three Montreal Ys shutting their doors at the end of the year.

After-school programs, summer day camps are among programs being re-evaluated as Y shuts its doors

Annabelle Agnew is just one of several residents concerned about the future of after-school programs at the Pointe-Saint-Charles YMCA. (Claire Loewen/CBC)

Annabelle Agnew's two children practically grew up at the Pointe-Saint-Charles YMCA, so when she heard that the Y is closing at the end of the year, she knew she was in for an uncomfortable conversation.

"We all had to talk about it at the dinner table last night — and they had lots of questions." Agnew told CBC News Thursday. "They were both really upset."

Agnew says her whole family uses the Y's services: She goes to bootcamp classes to train for big runs, while her two children go to after-school programs there, where they do their homework and take part in physical activities.

"My son gets to run around for hours after school, which is something that all children need. I can't provide that service inside my home," Agnew said.

Agnew's 13-year-old daughter, participates in a tutoring program at the Y called Pathways, which also offers a bursary to help defray the cost of post-secondary education.

As a working parent, Agnew says she finds the Y's programs invaluable, because they allow her to pick her children after work in a community where alternatives for after-school child-care are scarce.

"It really is an under-served neighbourhood," said Agnew.

Day camps include kids with special needs

Judith Cayer, whose 10-year-old daughter Louve attends a summer day camp at the Y, says she also sees few other options for her daughter.

Louve, who has autism and is non-verbal, has been going to the YMCA camp for four years now. 

"It's the only camp in the neighbourhood with real expertise in integrating kids with special needs," said Cayer. 

Judith Cayer's daughter Louve,who has autism, has attended YMCA's summer day camp for four years. Cayer, right, said it is the only program in the community that has expertise in integrating children with special needs. (Submitted by Judith Cayer)

"I'm really upset," she said. "I don't know what I'm going to do with her next summer."

Camps that cater to children with special needs are rare in Montreal, Cayer says — and many of those that do have prohibitively long waiting lists.

'There's no one sorrier than I am'

"There's no one sorrier than I am," said Stéphane Vaillancourt, the president and CEO of the YMCAs of Québec, on CBC Montreal's Daybreak Friday.

"But we have a responsibility to make sure our YMCA stays in a good financial position, overall."

YMCA programs are funded by memberships, but the Pointe-Saint-Charles Y does not get enough revenue from memberships to pay for its programs — and that deficit that has become too much to bear, said Vaillancourt.

Vaillancourt also blamed the rising cost of maintaining and operating the Y buildings for the decision to shutter three of them. He said revenues are no match for escalating costs. 

The plan is to re-evaluate the programs at Pointe-Saint-Charles, as well as in Hochelaga, and relocate some of them to other spaces in the community.

But Agnew says she can't imagine that plan working out well for her family. 

"There aren't a lot of spaces in Pointe-Saint-Charles that are large enough to provide the services this Y provides," she said.

Agnew said scattering the programs in different locations throughout the community would not be a viable solution in the long term, either.

Cayer says she is hoping the community will rally to keep the YMCA.

"People are ready to fight back to maintain the Y in the neigbourhood," she said.

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