June 16, 2024

Whole Community News

From Kalapuya lands in the Willamette watershed

Come write on the walls: Old Y closing Nov. 30 to prepare for new building grand opening

15 min read
Brian Steffen, CEO, Eugene Family YMCA: "We are at a moment of change in our Y's history. We stand on the shoulders of giants who built this Y and the movement here in Lane County. And so we want to make sure that as we look to the future, that nobody ever feels like we're moving away from the past and forgetting who we were and who built us as an organization, as a movement."

Jana Thrift (KEPW, Legalize Survival): This is Jana with Legalize Survival and I’m here today with my wonderful co-host Julie. Thank you so much for being here with me, Julie.

Julie Lambert (KEPW, Legalize Survival): Happy to be here, Jana.

Jana Thrift (KEPW, Legalize Survival): We’re really pleased that today we have an interview with Brian Steffen. We’re excited to talk about the YMCA because there’s big happenings in our community with the YMCA, getting this beautiful new building. Share with us your role with the YMCA.

Brian Steffen (Eugene Family YMCA): What an exciting time. I’m the CEO here at the Eugene Family YMCA. I’ve been lucky enough to be in that capacity since May of 2018. And in total here, I’ve been a part of different Y’s for a couple of years. I had a YMCA career for eight years and yeah, big happenings here in Eugene. We’re right there at the moment about ready to cut a ribbon and celebrate the new Y in a really historic era in our history.

[00:01:02] Jana Thrift (KEPW, Legalize Survival): It’s so exciting. It’s really exciting. We showcase an amazing organization in town during every show. And Julie suggested that we showcase the Y as it moves into this new era with its new building. And I was like, ‘That’s perfect.’

[00:01:18] And I want to bring it back to Legalize Survival, just because I really think there’s things that the Y offers that we may not realize how important it is in our community in so many different ways. And what it gives to kids. You know, I really feel like I raised my son, not with a lot of resources. I had six children, if that just kind of explains everything.

[00:01:44] And I felt like the Y was a big part of helping him learn a lot about health and wellness when it comes to sports and activities, and I would love for you to talk a little bit about the part that the Y plays in that role for our community.

[00:02:02] Brian Steffen (Eugene Family YMCA): Yeah, yeah. And I love that, the perspective of the Y playing a significant role. It’s a lens that I often approach my career with.

[00:02:13] I became a nonprofit CEO in 2006. So I’ve had a pretty lengthy career leading different nonprofits. Most of my career was in a community action partnership that had federal- and state-funded programs to help people be as independent as possible, and including programs for unhoused individuals. And I was on the Montana Board of Homelessness and did statewide and national initiatives supporting unhoused individuals.

[00:02:48] And so seeing firsthand, boy, just how critical things like the weather and access to charging a cell phone and food to eat, all of those things are so critical. And so that background helps inform a lot of my approach to work with nonprofit organizations and with the YMCA particularly. And I love the fact that the Y has an ability to look upstream as much as possible and try and provide as early intervention in a positive way for households and individuals as possible.

[00:03:25] The Y is the county’s largest child care provider. We work with youth who are unhoused and you can imagine just school stuff anyway, and then trying to navigate school when you’re unhoused and facing life can be really challenging.

[00:03:41] So this new Y is going to be world-class. It’s purpose-built, it’s incredibly beautiful, and it will be very impactful, and it will be very accessible. We provide about $450,000 worth of scholarships right now to help people access Y programs and services, and we anticipate that need at the new Y to grow to over $1 million a year, striving always to help make sure that the Y is accessible and welcoming for all, even if somebody is facing a financial hardship in their life.

[00:04:21] Jana Thrift (KEPW, Legalize Survival): Wow. That’s just, it’s really neat to hear your history and the things that motivate you and how you have helped the Y be the resource that it is in our community for so long. And I really want to thank you for that. I’ve been excited just driving by the building looking inside the big windows just saying, ‘Yeah.’ (Yeah.) It’s exciting. It’s really neat.

[00:04:51] So I think that a lot of people maybe don’t even think about the Y like that. When my son started working at the Y (all things disclosed), and I think it was kind of like a dream job for him, you know, he grew up with the Y being a big part of his life and then he applied for that job, and so he’s been sharing with me and I didn’t know until he shared with me how many people the Y does help with child care. I don’t think it’s something that, like, when I think about the YMCA, I didn’t really put that together, that you’re such a big part of that in the community. Is it true—the largest child care— (in Lane County) in Lane County? (Yeah.) Yeah. That’s what I thought. I wanted to make sure I got that.

[00:05:39] Brian Steffen (Eugene Family YMCA): Yeah, you got it. You were right there.

[00:05:41] Jana Thrift (KEPW, Legalize Survival): Yeah, that’s amazing. And what an important role that that plays for so many families, all kinds of families—housed, unhoused. Unhoused folks really, that is big to be able to have the ability to have those needs met so you can seek to find the support and what you need to get housed again. You know, that can make the difference between people, having the ability to make things happen or not, having that resource. So I think that it’s really amazing. So tell me a little bit about all of the great things the Y offers to the community. I know that it’s a lot.

[00:06:22] Brian Steffen (Eugene Family YMCA): Yeah. Yeah. And I love the fact that you’re touching on the services the Y can offer in in a more expansive way than sometimes people think of the Y. A lot of people are familiar with the YMCA as a place where you can go and work out and get on a treadmill or an exercise bike.

[00:06:41] However, fundamentally, as an organization, as a movement, we’ve existed in the world since 1844. We’ve been in operation here in Eugene since 1887. And so literally as an organization, we predate the invention of some things that today people assume like, ‘That’s what you do at the Y is, you go to the Y to play basketball.’

[00:07:06] Well, we’ve been in Eugene since basketball was invented. Or maybe you play volleyball at the Y. Well, we’ve been in Eugene since volleyball has been invented. Or you go there and you get on an elliptical bike or a treadmill or something. We’ve been in Eugene since before fitness equipment was invented, as it is today, or since treadmills.

So when you think about, well, what did we do before there was volleyball and basketball and treadmills and elliptical bikes and all of the elliptical machines and, you know, bikes and all of that stuff? We were here as an organization focused on youth development, healthy living, and being socially responsible.

[00:07:49] Those are our three pillars and what they meant in the 1800s or the early 1900s, during the World War II and Vietnam War eras, post-traumatic stress, the Civil Rights Movement. Those needs in our community have evolved and adjusted and the Y has been there helping meet those needs.

[00:08:10] And so the facility has always represented for us a tool: It’s a place of offering relationship building and programming. And so the new Y is similar to that, where there could be people coming to the new Y, focusing on their health, their well-being, and never stepping foot on a treadmill or jumping on an exercise bike or an elliptical machine.

[00:08:38] They might come there and focus on their well-being by meeting with friends, having a cup of coffee and playing bridge, or doing a puzzle. They could come there and participate in a computer literacy class or our diabetes prevention program or a Livestrong Cancer Survivors program. Maybe they’re youth and they’re participating in our Creation Station where we have art and robotics and 3D printers and a technology hub with esports and all different kinds of activities.

[00:09:11] It might be a young parent who wants to just drop their kid in a safe drop-in child care and walk on the indoor track with their friend catching up and that’s how they’re focusing on their well-being. So it’s truly a hub of well-being, that’s focusing on relational health, mental health, physical health, social health, social connections, and whatever that might look like for an individual.

And so people will come to the Y, they’ll walk through those front doors with all kinds of weights and worries and concerns, and the Y will be there to help alleviate and support and strengthen and bring hope and bring resilience into their life.

[00:09:54] And it might never take place on a piece of fitness equipment, but we will be there. And so the new Y expands on that DNA deep focus of health and well-being through so many amazing new programs, like I mentioned.

[00:10:11] Jana Thrift (KEPW, Legalize Survival): Wow, I didn’t even know all these great things you guys have in store for that building.

Julie Lambert (KEPW, Legalize Survival): That sounds like a community hub with quite an expansion of what has been available. Am I right?

[00:10:25] Brian Steffen (Eugene Family YMCA): Yeah. Yeah. We want people that have had an impression of the YMCA that maybe is narrowly focused on fitness to come again and explore what it has to offer. There’s several thousand square feet of dedicated education spaces, youth focus spaces, unlike anything we’ve ever had at our current facility.

[00:10:49] I was just down there a few minutes ago, and we were talking with some folks. We said, ‘Yeah, our current Y, our drop-in child care could hold 16 to 18 children at one time. It was very common that it was full. Here at the new Y, we can serve up to around 50 children at one time.’

[00:11:07] And as kids at our current Y age out of drop-in child care, age out of our play care program, they’re nine, 10, 11 years old. They can kind of enter a gray zone where they’re too young to exercise on their own. And they’re maybe too old to feel comfortable in play care.

[00:11:25] Down at the new Y, well, if you’re 10 years old and you’re feeling like you’re aging out, we’ll just move to the next room. The next room has robotics and 3D printers and art and all kinds of technology elements. And if you feel like you’re aging out of that room, we’ll just move next door. We have a technology hub and a kind of a hangout space. And we have different games and activities.

[00:11:48] And then, of course, if you want to go swim or shoot hoops or, you know, attend an exercise class, we have all kinds of new programming opportunities. It’s double the size of our current facility, from the spaces that members are utilizing right now at our Patterson Street location.

[00:12:07] Jana Thrift (KEPW, Legalize Survival): That’s so great. I’m so excited—I’m twice as excited as I was, and I was already pretty excited. So you have to tell us, just for anybody listening that isn’t aware of exactly where the new location is going to be, will you give us the address?

[00:12:24] Brian Steffen (Eugene Family YMCA): Yeah, the address is on the corner of 24th and Hilyard here in South Eugene. It’s where the old Roosevelt Middle School was. So if folks are familiar where South Eugene High School is, where our current Y is, we’re just a little bit south of that, about a quarter mile. And we can’t wait to welcome thousands of new folks to the YMCA to support their well-being journey.

[00:12:50] Julie Lambert (KEPW, Legalize Survival): You said thousands?

[00:12:52] Brian Steffen (Eugene Family YMCA): Yeah, we anticipate that we’ll double the number of members we’re serving down at the new Y. We currently have around 4,000 households that we’re serving. We anticipate the new Y will have up to 8,000 households, you know, 16,000 or 17,000 individuals that we’re serving.

[00:13:15] Julie Lambert (KEPW, Legalize Survival): That’s quite an expansion.

[00:13:17] Jana Thrift (KEPW, Legalize Survival): Wow. (Yeah.) That’s so great. Tell us more about the celebrations that you have planned. When and what’s going on to celebrate these changes?

[00:13:28] Brian Steffen (Eugene Family YMCA): Yeah. We are at a moment of change in our Y’s history. We stand on the shoulders of giants who built this Y and the movement here in Lane County. And so we want to make sure that as we look to the future, that nobody ever feels like we’re moving away from the past and forgetting who we were and who built us as an organization, as a movement.

[00:13:57] So we have a couple of significant dates. We close the facility to all members on Thursday, Nov. 30. And that evening, we have a celebration here at the Patterson Street YMCA from 5 p.m. to 7 p. m., where we’ll have a chance to reflect on the memories made here, the special moments. We’ll have just a little program, a few remarks, but mostly we want to bring people together to reflect, to remember, to laugh, to celebrate, write a message on the wall. And just help us close down this treasured place for our Y for so many years.

[00:14:36] And then we look to the future. We close at the end of November because the new Y is so large and there’s so much new technology and equipment and different supplies that we need a couple of weeks to get all the way trained up on it.

[00:14:50] So in December, we’ll be training up all of our team. And then we will cut the ribbon on Saturday, Dec. 16. We’re right on track for that. We’ll have opportunities that day to hear a few remarks and to tour around the facility and to have some celebrations. And then we officially open the new Y and begin serving the community on Monday, Dec. 18.

[00:15:17] Julie Lambert (KEPW, Legalize Survival): Okay, you mentioned that we could write our names on the wall, a message, and I think that’s really beautiful, but do you know what the plans are for the existing building?

[00:15:28] Brian Steffen (Eugene Family YMCA): Yeah, yeah, as we move out, it will become a very difficult location to keep secure—secure from a lot of things, whether it’s furry friends moving in or leaky roofs or electrical systems that you can’t have an eye on all the time. It also becomes dangerous, if somebody were to enter it and not be aware of the empty pool and they were to fall in, that could be dangerous.

[00:15:57] And so we’re going to have a huge community garage sale where we pass along to the next owner all of the equipment and supplies in the building that are here that we’re not taking with us. And spoiler alert, it’s almost everything. There’s very little that we’re taking with us.

[00:16:15] And once we have the garage sale, we’ll work with Bring Recycling, and they’ll come in, and they’ll be able to take anything that they would like to give it a new purpose and use, and then once the garage sale is done and Bring has wrapped up, then we’ll proceed towards deconstruction. And we anticipate the deconstruction process really going primarily through April, May, and June of 2024 and by this summer, the current facility will be deconstructed.

[00:16:49] And then from there, we will undertake more community listening sessions and research to understand what the community would like the next iteration of the Y’s expansion to be on this property, whether that’s—Well, I hate to plant too many seeds, but whether that’s like an expansion of our tennis center, which will continue to be here on Patterson, or if there’s a combination of some child care, maybe on the site, we know that preschool, particularly infant care is very challenging, and so there’s a wish list that’s very long for what to do at the current location, but we won’t be selling the property and our tennis center will continue, offering robust programming.

[00:17:34] Jana Thrift (KEPW, Legalize Survival): Nice. That’s good to know. All right. Well, I feel like I should give you an opportunity to share anything that you haven’t had a chance to say. You want any last words?

[00:17:45] Brian Steffen (Eugene Family YMCA): Sure, sure. The couple other elements that I would just touch on: We’re moving from a fitness center area that’s about 3,200 square feet to one that’s over 14,000 square feet, and that space will be called the PeaceHealth Wellness Center. PeaceHealth and a variety of other partners have just been so central to this effort, whether it was our local legislators who were really heroic in helping secure $15 million in state funding, Rep. (Peter) DeFazio and Sen. (Ron) Wyden, Sen. (Jeff) Merkley were critical in helping us secure $2 million in federal HUD funding and then, as I mentioned, PeaceHealth and there’s so many other partners.

[00:18:32] One of the reasons I celebrate that is that that PeaceHealth partnership created the largest medical partnership of its kind between the YMCA and the medical provider in the state. And it’s creating an opportunity for medical experts to share with the YMCA folks through a formalized standing committee that’s made up of PeaceHealth leaders and YMCA leaders where the medical experts are sharing with us what they’re seeing in clinics and in ERs and family practices.

[00:19:04] And that insight is informing programming and planning at the new Y so that jointly we can work to address health challenges. We know that addressing health challenges takes more than just any one person or organization can truly do. So partnerships are critical at the new Y.

[00:19:27] The other item I love about the new Y (there’s so much I love): We really wanted the new Y to feel like a YMCA that was built in the Pacific Northwest. So there’s wood elements throughout and amazing views. So we have the warmth of the wood, we have a polished floor with aggregate rock in it. We have some special water features outside with little, almost like little creeks that are there.

[00:19:57] And we love that. We didn’t want it to just feel like a Y in the Pacific Northwest. We wanted it to feel like a Y in our vibrant, energetic Eugene – Springfield community here. And so that for us means artists. And we’re so lucky to have amazing artists here in our community. The new Y has several significant art installations throughout it with murals and custom-built play features for kids and youth.

[00:20:27] I think people will love coming there, just to enjoy the vibrant artistic pieces that are there that help speak to not just the Y in the Pacific Northwest, but a YMCA in Eugene, Oregon.

[00:20:40] Jana Thrift (KEPW, Legalize Survival): Nice. Thank you so much, Brian, for all you do to help the Y be what it is and for this interview.

[00:20:49] Brian Steffen (Eugene Family YMCA): Yeah, absolutely. My pleasure. I’m grateful for your time.

[00:20:52] Julie Lambert (KEPW, Legalize Survival): Thank you for coming and thank you for letting everyone know what’s coming up. I know a lot of people are looking forward to it and I didn’t know until today that so many people were going to be able to enjoy this, but with the expansion and the variety of things that you’re going to be offering, the Y has a new face.

[00:21:12] Brian Steffen (Eugene Family YMCA): We can’t wait. Thank you.

[00:21:13] Jana Thrift (KEPW, Legalize Survival): Thank you everyone for listening. This has been an interview with Brian Steffen at the YMCA. They’re getting ready to move to their new building on the corner of 24th and Hilyard.


Legalize Survival airs every Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. on KEPW 97.3 FM Eugene Peace Works Radio.

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