Buoyed by past success, CEO Kerrie Ann Webb navigates organization through still another threatening crisis
By Lou Sorendo
Kerrie Ann Webb is familiar with what it takes to make a successful comeback.
The executive director and CEO of the Oswego YMCA took over as leader of the organization during a turbulent time in its history in 2014.
Thanks to her high resolve and energy at that critical time, she plucked the financially challenged organization that has served the Port City for the past 165 years from the precipice of extinction.
Now, she is focused on coordinating another rebound effort as the novel coronavirus loosens its grip on the Central New York area and nation.
In mid-March, the YMCAs in Oswego and Fulton both closed for regular operation due to COVID-19.
Webb helped set up logistics to have both facilities serve as emergency childcare centers during the global pandemic for youngsters whose parents are first responders and essential workers who need to work every day.
“The last thing people need to be stressing about is taking care of their kids when knowing they have to go to work,” Webb said.
City of Oswego Mayor William Barlow signed an executive order that covered the costs of this emergency childcare.
The Oswego Y also set up virtual classes that are offered online so members can enjoy them on an interactive basis and stay engaged.
The Oswego County Community Foundation partnered with the United Way of Greater Oswego County and the Richard S. Shineman Foundation to support the YMCA with some of its revenue loss and operational expenses during the pandemic.
With assistance from the Alliance of New York State YMCAs and Pathfinder Bank, the Oswego YMCA was also able to receive funds through the federal Payroll Protection Plan (PPP) initiative.
In mid-May, Webb was working to gradually bring back staff and started to recall workers in order to meet the requirements of PPP loan forgiveness.
The plan at that time was to bring back furloughed workers by June 5.
Nearly 80 of the staff of 96 were furloughed. Of that 96, five are full-time workers.
The current situation regarding COVID-19 has not dampened Webb’s passion for what she does.
“For me, the most satisfying aspect of this job is to know we are supporting and helping people in our community,” she said. “The thing that I miss most is I know people come to us for socialization and to feel like they belong somewhere. That part is sad and definitely missed right now.”
Prior to the global pandemic, the Oswego Y featured more than 1,700 members, the highest mark since Webb’s tenure as leader.
Webb said the YMCA was enjoying a “phenomenal” first quarter this year, a culmination of a fruitful five-year plan.
Webb has been corresponding with the Alliance of New York State YMCAs in efforts to rebound successfully from COVID-19.
“When we un-pause and get ready to reopen, it’s going to be similar across the state for all YMCAs,” said Webb, noting rebounds will vary regionally due to downstate being hit harder by the virus.
The comeback effort will be made under the guidance of the New York State Department of Health.
“It will be different. I can’t say there will ever be normalcy again, because this is the new normalcy,” she said.
“When people walk back in, it’s not going to be the YMCA they left in March. There will be different policies and procedures and we have to adapt to them. But we are still going to be able to offer what we know our community needs,” she added.
As far as 2020 is concerned, Webb said many plans have gone back to the drawing board because of the global pandemic.
She said the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention and the state DOH are going to mandate new standards, and the Oswego Y will need to readdress how it is going to handle programming.
However, life and progress go on at the Oswego Y.
When longtime Oswego Y member Margaret “Peg” McKenney died in 2019, she asked that contributions in her honor be made to the Oswego Y.
As a result, the organization is constructing a new entryway floor and an entire remodel of its lobby and entryway.
“This will just knock the socks off when people walk back in,” Webb said.
Meanwhile, attention will be placed on the newly relocated skate park and recreation center.
These resources have been relocated to 201 E. Sixth St. in back of Grace Evangelical Church.
The facilities are expected to reopen during phase 4 of the statewide reopening plan.
Saved from disaster
Webb has overseen significant developments at the Oswego YMCA since she has taken on her leadership role.
After the closing of the historic Oswego Armory in 2004, the Oswego Y purchased the Armory and has since run most of its programming out of the building on West First Street.
Aside from the relocation and other significant initiatives, Webb said the most significant development during her tenure has been a change in programming geared to maintain and grow membership.
Programming needed a complete overhaul, Webb said, and family programming was non-existent.
“It was mostly adult programming and a child care center,” said Webb, who is a 1993 graduate of Oswego High School.
Webb, 45, began as respite director at the Oswego YMCA in May of 2012.
When Webb became CEO and chief executive officer in 2014, the doors at the Oswego Y were scheduled to close due to financial reasons.
That’s when Webb refused to see the Oswego Y fold.
“I didn’t feel like we were at that point,” the Oswego native and resident said. “I was a staff member at the time and really felt with an overhaul and some redirection, we really could be what we were supposed to be and serve our community.”
In 2015, the Oswego Y was forced to shift its operations to the adjacent Armory due to structural failure of its main building which cut off access to the pool, the only handicapped-accessible pool in Oswego.
A vital capital campaign raised funds toward needed renovations, including a project designed to create a connector between the Armory building and the pool via the agency’s garage.
That project is ongoing and currently at a standstill due to COVID-19.
The loss of the pool resulted in cancelation of important swimming and related programs, which helped lead to a significant loss in membership.
“When we moved, membership plummeted to just under 1,000 members by Christmas of 2015. That was terrifying to me,” Webb said.
The Oswego Y is an independent organization that relies on members and donors for financial support.
“People fear change. There had been several changes as far as leadership, changes insofar as what the direction of the organization was going to be, and change of facilities,” Webb said. “People just don’t like change, so you lose trust and security, and that’s obviously what happened when we lost our members.”
Webb said keys to the rebound included “really difficult conversations and asking people, ‘Why don’t you trust us? Why did you leave? What is it that you need? Where are we falling short? It was also not just asking and hearing an answer, but asking and following through to see if it is something you can actually address.”
Webb said keys to her overall success at the Oswego Y revolve around the ability to build relationships.
“Shortly after I took the role, I joined the Greater Oswego-Fulton Chamber of Commerce, and that allowed me to really introduce myself as the new leader of the Y,” she said.
Webb said she was able to gain trust in people by showing them who she is, sharing her game plan, and taking part in and committing to other boards and task forces.
Since that point, membership at the Oswego Y has steadily grown during Webb’s tenure as leader.
Over the past five years, it has increased by 83%.
“It’s safe to say that 70% of that is our family membership program,” she said.
The Y offers about 60 health and wellness classes and anywhere from 15 to 20 family and youth program classes each week.
A ‘go-to’ place
In terms of popular programs, members are highly interested in programs such as high-intensity interval training, boots camp fitness classes and challenges, Webb said.
On the events side, the annual Oswego YMCA Harborfest 5K Run/Walk and 10K Run is a popular event, while the annual Oswego Dragon Boat Festival is something the community looks forward to.
Last year, the Oswego YMCA took over the CNY Great Pumpkin Festival, held in the fall at Washington Square Park in Oswego.
The Oswego Y is gearing up for its summer mini-camps, which are highly successful because they are family driven, Webb said.
Classes offered include those in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), photography, and spray paint art.
The Oswego Y has also grown to feature enhancement resources for home-schooled children.
The Port City area features a large homeschooling community, and the Oswego Y began offering home-school extension classes three years ago. The program started with only a handful of children and now features more than 150 youngsters.
“The biggest thing that we hear from families is the benefit of socialization, which typically is what students struggle with, whether that’s why they moved to being a home-schooled family or not,” Webb said.
“Bringing them into the YMCA to do these classes exposes them to their peers. They work on socialization and communication skills, which is really key to them to be able to grow up,” she said.
The Oswego YMCA also has a school-aged childcare program that it offers at local elementary schools.
While gauging the success of a given program on volume, the Oswego Y also puts out surveys and features a separate Facebook page for Oswego Y moms and dads (Oswego YMCA Moms and Dads!)
Meanwhile, the volunteer spirit remains high at the Oswego Y.
“We value having them here. We do have an amazing group of volunteers that we pull from on a regular basis, and we still have many volunteers who teach for us,” she added.
Volunteers run at least 70% of the Y’s programming, Webb said.
The Black Student Union at SUNY Oswego also volunteers its time and energy to support the annual Healthy Kids Day.
“They help us set up, run it and break it down,” Webb said. “Through the years, they have always been there for us.”
Webb said this level of volunteerism is the “heartbeat” that keeps the Oswego Y going.
Volunteers include college students looking to fulfill education-related needs or recent retirees who have extra time on their hands and miss feeling connected.
“What we do find is that after volunteering, they don’t want to leave,” said Webb. “They see where they have impacted somebody or they felt the success of being part of something, and they tend to stay with us.”
The Oswego Y takes a team approach when it comes to coordinating volunteers.
Trish Levine, the health and wellness director at the Oswego Y, and Amy Murphy, education and professional learning community director, play key roles along with Webb in coordinating volunteer help.
Webb is a member of several boards, including the Safe Haven Holocaust Refugee Shelter Museum, the Greater Oswego-Fulton Chamber of Commerce, and the Oswego Health Foundation. She has also worked with the city on LIFT (Learn, Identity, Focus and Transform) Partners that is geared to address poverty initiatives.
Webb earned a Bachelor of Science degree in elementary education as a non-traditional student and mom at SUNY Oswego in 2003. She then went on to teach at Kingsford Park Elementary School in Oswego for seven years.
She also earned an organizational leadership certificate through Y-USA’s CEO Bridge Program.
Webb has two adult children— Ben 25, and Turner, 20 — as well as Finnegan, 8, and Murphy, 5.
While the two eldest sons are now out of the house, Murphy and Finnegan attend school and then are dropped off at the Oswego Y to take advantage of after-school resources.
“The quality of care is high because I am putting my own children in those places,” she said.
The Oswego Y is located at 265 W. First St., Oswego. For more information, call 315-342-6082 or visit www.oswegoymca.org.
Oswego Y: Quality of Life Booster
By Lou Sorendo
Trish Levine, director of health and wellness at the Oswego YMCA, has dedicated herself to the sustainability and success of the Oswego YMCA for many years.
“For over 30 years, the Y has been a part of me — providing a sense of belonging, a sense of family,” she said. “I am fortunate that I’ve been able to contribute to the organization in a variety of roles, including as a volunteer, fitness instructor, board member and fundraiser.”
She has served as director of health and wellness for the last seven years.
“There is an impact that is felt when people connect through different programs at the Y, a feeling that is not tangible but very concrete,” she said. “It’s not just in exercise and physical activity, but as a place that helps to create individual pride and a sense of community. The Y is all about providing opportunity to create social and personal change and for this, I have always felt this strong sense of giving back.”
Oswego resident Liane Benedict is a returning member of the Oswego Y.
“I am proud to be a member of the YMCA. I will admit, I left for about 18 months or so for a variety of reasons, personal and other,” she said. “My daughter and son remained members and then I returned several months ago.
“Since returning, so many changes are obvious to me — increased programming to meet a variety of needs, a desire to be responsive to the needs of the community and its members, a sense of caring on a personal level, improving the building’s look and feel and always remaining financially accessible. I love that they offer fun events that bring people together, even if I cannot attend many of them.”
Benedict said the Oswego Y “creates a positive energy in the community that is needed and comes from no other organization in our community the way it does from the Y. My daughter has been an avid member for years with gaps only when she is away at college. She feels comfortable and safe there; that means a lot to me.”
Ruthe Ayres, an Oswego resident and one of the Oswego Y’s active senior adult members, has been a member of the organization for two years.
She said based on her two-year experience, the Y features a variety of classes for all levels of fitness.
“The friendly atmosphere and fun classes make it a welcoming place for those of us who want to exercise in a class setting, make new friends and be challenged physically,” Ayres said. “The class variety is very good and the teachers are excellent.
She said as a senior adult, it is important to keep active and fit by practicing balance skills, strengthening by using weights and cardiovascular wellness with spinning, stepping or other activities.
“It’s just fun and good for one’s head and body. There is always a friendly face and a welcoming smile. The Y is there for the community and is a great asset,” she said.
For City of Oswego Mayor William Barlow, having a YMCA in the Port City community is a huge amenity that not every community can boast of.
“Our YMCA is in our downtown area, which makes it even better,” he said. “The YMCA provides a safe, reliable place for people of all ages to go for various activities and that is extremely important.”
In terms of attracting and retaining residents, assets like the YMCA are important to people while deciding where to live, he added.