“I’m a 35-year YMCA brat. I literally started at 15 years old. You can do the math. I started as a camp counselor at the YMCA out of Eau Claire at Camp Manito, and I never looked back. I remember that summer just having a blast and talking to my director at the time, I asked him, “You do this for a living, don’t you?” And he said, “Yep.” I honestly never looked back and wanted to do this work my entire life.”

Bryan Soper, CEO and Executive Director at The Red Wing Family YMCA continued working at the YMCA in Eau Claire through college. He majored in Vocational Rehabilitations at UW Stout, the study of working with adults with acquired disabilities. Studying in this field provided the foundation for job training, job performance, fundraising, and board development. After graduating college, Bryan worked as the Program Director for the Eau Claire YMCA in Youth Sports and Wellness.

“I’ve always said, in the YMCA, if people know you can improve programs, you’ll never be unemployed.”

Bryan’s ability to improve programs landed him in YMCAs across the country, Phoenix, AZ; Mobile, AL; and Nashville, TN. Becoming a CEO was a goal when he first started his career with the YMCA, which meant he needed a diverse background exposing him to various programming and demographics.

Bryan and his family were looking to return to the Midwest when the CEO role in Red Wing became available. They couldn’t be happier to be back in the Midwest and Red Wing. “We are all happy to be back near family and friends.”

The last few years have greatly affected YMCA memberships.

“No YMCA has seen the recovery yet. Most YMCAs are still hovering around 60-65% of their membership. We’re actually looking a little better. We’re closer to 75%. We have focused back on family programming like childcare and preschool. That’s been our biggest shift this last year, the expansion of our Early Childhood Education Center, which includes our part-day preschool (Sunshine Corner), and then a full-day preschool (Peach Tree). We are grateful that the Red Wing community, including the United Way of Goodhue, Wabasha & Pierce Counties, has supported childcare funding, which includes scholarships to kids. One-fourth of our kids are on scholarship.”

“Our summer camp has been huge for us. We had one of our best summers in 2022. We had almost 500 camper weeks, which greatly benefited us. Also, our onsite day camp had about 75 kids a day. We are off to a great start this year as well. Last year in December we had 21 kids registered and this year we already have close to 100.”

Bringing back programming for senior groups has been the third focus. “If you look at the studies on seniors and connectedness and wellness, it’s just unbelievable. It is essential that seniors have a connection point and be able to come in and have those interactions daily. Senior programming also addresses chronic disease prevention. Another program we have added is Rock Steady Boxing, a fantastic program for Parkinson’s patients that is free to our members. We are happy to say we have partnered with Tivity Health and Optum Health to bring Silver Sneakers and One Pass to our YMCA. These membership programs generally impact Seniors. We have found new ground with these companies to make them true partners to our YMCA.”

Pickle Ball is alive and well at the YMCA, a sport that crosses boundaries of age and abilities. There may be as many as 28+ people playing on the three courts daily. There is Pickle Ball 7 days a week.

Bryan shares this about the Red Wing YMCA, “If you look at communities of this size across the country, you don’t have facilities the size of our YMCA. The size and diversity of the facility attracts members from outside of the Red Wing community. We have people drive in from Hastings, Hudson, WI and Rochester daily because they love our Y. Camp Pepin is a huge asset as well. It offers additional variety in programming and is a great location for our day camps and events.”

He also shares that the Red Wing YMCA is independent, unlike many regional YMCAs which are part of the YMCA of the North organization. Red Wing Family YMCA is a charter of YMCA USA out of Chicago. This provides their team with some freedom in programming, which can be tailored more toward the needs of our community.

Bryan brings up the importance of fundraising, finance, and budgeting when operating during a time of significant change coming out of the pandemic. “I wake up thinking about budgets and fall asleep thinking about budgets. We want to keep a Y in Red Wing for generations to come. We have seen Y’s close across the state and the country from the impact of Covid on membership. Every decision we make right now is essential to make us sustainable.”

The YMCA is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, which gives them access to many grants, which factor into their financial planning. “We are very thankful to our donors and grant partners for sustaining our programs over the years.”

We closed the interview with some rapid-fire questions.

Question: If you had not had an opportunity to have a career with the YMCA, what job would you have?

Answer: “I would be working with Special Olympics.”

Question: What is the most favorite program that you have implemented in your entire career?

Answer: “We started First Tee in Nashville, a youth program encouraging kids to get involved in golf and the First Tee value system. We would have the kids that participated in the program pair up with community leaders as part of a foursome during our annual golf tournament fundraiser. If it had not been for that program, these kids would not have had the opportunity to interact with community leaders in that setting.”

It was a pleasure getting to know Bryan and the YMCA more. We thank them for being a long-standing Partner of Downtown Red Wing.

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