By Elio Gugliotti, Editor
BEACON FALLS — Even though the Naugatuck YMCA’s service area includes Beacon Falls, the nonprofit organization doesn’t have much, if any, of a presence in town.
That is likely to change soon.
Officials have started preliminary discussions with Naugatuck YMCA CEO Mark LaFortune about the borough-based organization running programs in town.
“There’s a lot of really cool things that I think we can do and we can work together on,” LaFortune told the Board of Selectmen and Board of Finance during a joint budget workshop April 27.
The town sponsors youth activities and summer programs through the Parks and Recreation Commission. Aside from some part-time staff for summer programs, volunteers mainly lead the effort to run the programs.
LaFortune, who grew up in Beacon Falls, said the YMCA offers certified staff and state-licensed programs, and any program run by the Y is insured through the organization. The Y could run programs in town or at the YMCA in Naugatuck, and registration and payments could all be done through the Y’s website.
LaFortune added the YMCA offers financial aid for families who can’t afford programs.
The YMCA has already reached out the Region 16 schools and offered 20 slots for students for summer camp at no cost, he said. The same offer was extended to Naugatuck Public Schools.
“We’re really trying to work with folks over here and get them involved in things we can do,” he said.
The idea of working with the YMCA received a warm welcome.
Laura DeGeorge, a member of the Parks and Recreation Commission, said she participated in gymnastics at the YMCA as a child.
“Those type of programs need to be brought in and offered more to our kids in town,” she said.
The details, including any cost to the town, need to be ironed out. Officials plan to continue with the town’s summer youth programs in place for this year.
LaFortune said he didn’t know what it would mean financially for the Y to get the partnership off the ground. He said there may be a cost to the town at first, but there likely wouldn’t be one as the arrangement progressed.
LaFortune said the YMCA is not looking to make a profit. He said town officials could put money toward programs to help subsidize the cost for Beacon Falls families.
“This would be something that we have to sit down and really try to figure out, but at the end of the day the Y wants to work with Beacon Falls to make sure you guys can run this thing,” he said.
The 2021-22 municipal budget proposal includes $26,000 for a part-time recreation director and $30,000 for a part-time director for the Beacon Falls Senior Center. The recreation director is in this fiscal year’s budget, but the position was not filled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The senior center director is a new proposed position.
While much of the discussion last week focused on youth programs, First Selectman Gerard Smith pointed out the YMCA runs programs for all ages, including senior citizens. He said the money for the positions could be used to offset the cost of programs for residents, rather than hiring part-time directors.
If the partnership with the YMCA works out as well as officials think it could, Smith said the YMCA could be the bridge for programs for youth and seniors in town.