New Riverfront YMCA Opening December 26th - Insights from President and CEO Danny McConnell and the YMCA of Greater Augusta

Mollee D. Harper

Friday, December 8th, 2017

Georgia CEO travels to downtown Augusta to sit down with Danny McConnell, President and CEO of the YMCA of Greater Augusta. During our one-on-one, McConnell highlights the exciting programs he is leading at the 10 area branches that serve the CSRA. He also provides details about the YMCA’s upcoming move to the old Discovery Plaza and their plans to showcase the new riverfront location with indoor/outdoor workout space, river programming, and more. McConnell also shares the Augusta’s YMCA service offering that extends beyond swim and gym, in order to better serve the surrounding citizens and communities in Georgia and South Carolina.

Countdown to New Riverfront YMCA on 7th & Reynolds

“We are in the process of opening our new facility where the old Fort Discovery was located. We are scheduled to open the day after Christmas on Dec 26. We are excited about that. It represents a very strategic move. We loved our last building, but it made sense to sell that building and position ourselves better for service to the downtown area for the next 20 years. This move solves that and it gives us better parking which we didn’t have before. Tax Slayer bought the building, and they are doing some neat things that will benefit the community, including adding new jobs.” 

“We are moving over to the river. The Y will be on the water. We are renaming the facility to the Riverfront YMCA.” 

“We will be physically located at One 7th Street at the corner of 7th and Reynolds in the old Discovery Plaza. Unisys is headquartered in that building and is hiring as well. It’s a great location. Being downtown and on the water allows us to do unique things at the YMCA going forward. We will be able to offer unique programs like river programming, walking and running programs around the river and a unique indoor/outdoor workout space.  It will be great to offer new programs using the space around the beautiful environment.” 

“Our YMCA was first opened in 1923. We’ve always been in downtown, for over 100 years now. In the 70s, folks started moving out of downtown. Six years ago, we were offered the building and were able to open back up with a physical location in downtown Augusta again. Now, the new site will soon open on the water with adequate parking including a garage. This move positions us well to serve the entire downtown community in a new way.” 

McConnell shared, “This February will mark the completion of my 16th year with the YMCA of Greater Augusta.”

The Focus of the Augusta YMCA

“Our biggest challenge is telling our story. Most people know our name but don’t know all we do.  Being able to expand the awareness of our impact is always a challenge. It’s really important to get the word out so the people who like to get involved know of all of the programs we work on and offer, so they can participate too.” 

“At the YMCA, we do three things, nationally and locally. Youth Development:  We develop children. Healthy Living:  We work to have a positive impact on the health of the community. Social Responsibility:  We try to teach social responsibility. “

“The organization now has grown to where we are serving six counties in the CSRA. We have grown to 51,000 members as well as 30,000 non-member program participants.  These numbers combined represent an impact of 1 out of 6 people in the CSRA.”

McConnell described, “The YMCA of Greater Augusta represents 10 branches which are physical locations where people can join, donate and volunteer. We also have a large number of program locations including: 38 after school sites, Camp Lakeside and the Child Development Center on 15th Street that operates in partnership with the Housing Authority and United Way.” 

“Our largest program is childcare; it falls under our Youth Development focus”

“The Child Development Center does some really unique things. They accept a child as young as two weeks old for parents who need to get back to work quickly or who attend school.  We also have our Head Start programs in seven locations covering two counties, which we were awarded two years ago as part of a federal grant, and serves as our early childhood development program.”

“Camp Lakeside is a big program that we’re proud of as we are able to provide camping experiences and services to all children including those with special needs.  The entire site is under development and once completed will be handicapped-accessible.  Through a partnership with the Children’s Hospital of Georgia we will be able to provide camping experiences for children with cancer and other diseases.  The partnership also provides medical staff that donates their time to provide care for these children onsite.” 

“We are also one of the top employers in the Central Savannah River Area (CSRA).” 

“The YMCA of Greater Augusta is unique in that we serve two states. We are located in Augusta, Georgia but serve South Carolina too. They are part of our service area since we are so close. Our South Carolina branches are located in Barnwell, Graniteville serving Aiken County, and North Augusta.” 

“A big part of what I do is work with great volunteers who represent the strength of our YMCA.   Each year, thousands of people donate their time that ranges from coaching a youth sports team to our Board of Directors that oversee each of the branches. Working with volunteers is a big part of my day. We count heavily on those volunteers to assist and identify resources to grow and fund projects. 

YMCA Funding Arms

“The funding for the YMCA is self-generated. Our membership dues and program fees make up over 70% of the funds we need to operate.   The remainder of our budget comes from funds raised in our annual campaign, United Way, and grants. The gifts we receive are a critical part of our business.  In our annual campaign, we raise $1.3 million annually. We also give out over $2 million in scholarships each year. We are always trying to balance what we can give and what we can raise.” 

Our business is fueled by the volunteers and donors. We are so happy people believe in the mission of the YMCA and continue to support our efforts and growth.” 

“We never want finances to be a roadblock for someone to participate. We want the people who need the services in our communities to be able to get them.  We never turn anyone away for inability to pay.” 

“The second arm of our funding is an endowment we have. We are an old YMCA and have been open for 158 years. We started the endowment five years ago. The Heritage Club has 42 members that help with donations that are written into wills.”  

“The third arm is the capital in our brick-and-mortar efforts. We try to expand services within our local community. An example of that is that we just finished the largest capital campaign of $6 million in McDuffie County in the Town of Thomson.  It serves the five counties around it. One of our volunteers got the University Hospital to donate their old property to the YMCA. It is 76,000 square acres. We didn’t need all that space. We took the newest section, renovated and turned it into the new Thomson YMCA. It offers the first public pool in this county for decades which gives children there a place to learn to swim. 

“Another capital effort we are currently working on is forming a capital campaign in Burke County, in Waynesboro, right now that should turn into a new facility in the next two years. It got jump started by Georgia Power and business partners, including Vogtle. We are so thankful they chose the YMCA to be one of their special projects. We are working out final memorandum and will launch into a design phase for the new YMCA for Burke County next. It will include a pool, water park and work out facility as well as youth development space. It’s right on the bypass and directly beside the Recreation Center and School System. I love the location. It will take us about two years to complete. We hope to open that YMCA in summer of 2019.” 

“The fourth area of funding is our grant-oriented programs. We work with the federal government to receive $5 million a year that provides after school care, Head Start and summer camps.”

“The fifth and final arm is through the United Way. Certain programs are funded by the United Way, such as the Child Development Center. They have been a key partner to the Y for many years.”

Our Signature Programs

McConnell offered, “We have some signature programs that are noteworthy. Our largest program is Youth Development, which includes Head Start Program, after school care, summer camps and the Child Development Center. Each YMCA tends to have a local identity. I am very proud of our local identity is service to the adapted community. It starts with one person. Claudia Collins started providing rehabilitation services in the pool to people with disabilities and diseases. We built on that and navigated into other programs like our partnership with the VA where we built a new handicap-accessible Miracle League ball field. It was specially built to handle wheelchairs. I can’t describe the joy you see in the children who are in wheelchairs when they get to play a sport for the first time in their lives. We are very proud of it. It is also a special place for veterans to use as a recreational space during the day.” 

“Our Wilson Branch located on Wheeler Road is the only gym in town that is totally handicap-accessible from water to land.  This facility features Katie’s Pool and a Total Access Gym, which together provides a unique water/land rehab options for patrons. 

McConnell added, “A lot of folks think of the Y as a swim and gym. They don’t know about our summer food program where we feed people who are in need in our communities. We did 75,000 meals during 10-weeks this past summer. We also feed all of the children in our camps. We were able to get grant funding to supplement that program. A lot of folks don’t realize the YMCA helps feed people.”

“Another outreach program is our SAW (Safety Around Water) classes which teach second graders in Richmond County water safety techniques.  We are six years into this program and have provided water safety skills to over 16,000 second graders at no cost to the families.”

“We also have a Place to Dream program. We found out a lot of children in the low-income communities are sleeping on the floor. We partnered with the Augusta Housing Authority to find families who have the greatest needs in our community.  Other community partners are Merritt Flooring and the Richmond County Sheriff’s Department.   We had 200 apply in two weeks. We just put 41 beds into one housing community for 10 families. We want to do 500 beds in the next three years. We think we will need to do more of this type of service and are working to expand that program. That is just in Richmond County. We need to extend this offering to our other five counties.” 

Executive Bio

Danny McConnell serves as President and CEO for the YMCA of Greater Augusta, since 2002. McConnell began his career at the YMCA of Greater Charlotte and later served with the YMCA of Coastal Georgia in Savannah, where he served as Chief Operating Officer and oversaw the Volunteer Committee and Branch Chairs Operating Council for 10 branch YMCAs. McConnell earned his B.A. degree in Humanities and Human Relations from High Point College, and his A.A. degree from Lees McRae College.

For more information on YMCA of Greater Augusta, visit their website at: