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Criticism of Waverly YMCA isn't fair

Baltimore Ceasefire participants participate in a walking meditation at the Waverly YMCA in Baltimore.
Baltimore Ceasefire participants participate in a walking meditation at the Waverly YMCA in Baltimore. (Marie Machin/For City Paper)

Recently, The Baltimore Sun published a commentary from Remington resident Maggie Master discussing the closing of the Mondawmin Target store under the rubric of “white supremacy” (“The tale of two Targets, a Baltimore segregation story,” Nov. 20). The writer was understandably frustrated by the setback in local retail and suggested that there are institutions which should do more to “level the playing field” in Baltimore. In describing community resources available in more prosperous communities, the writer mentions differences between the YMCA family centers in Waverly and in Towson. I’m the volunteer board chair for the YMCA of Central Maryland, a recently-retired lifelong metropolitan Baltimore resident, and I believe the writer’s view of the Y is mistaken. There are certainly conditions in Baltimore City that call for change, but it’s constructive to understand key differences among the institutions with roles in making our city better.

Our city government struggles with an aging infrastructure and a waning tax base as residents, black and white, have abandoned old housing and moved elsewhere. The city endeavors to attract investment by enterprises like Under Armour and Sagamore that make a sustainable profit to fund payrolls in the city. City officials not only can’t dictate where retailers like Target rent space, but only rarely have opportunities to offer inducements to property owners to invest in a way that can enable those payrolls.

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Target is a for-profit enterprise whose management’s primary mission is to produce value for its investors — the beneficiaries of which are mainly retirees like me who depend on dividends from our savings in our post-working years. Target management is competing with Amazon and retail mega-trends, as well as other brands, as they decide where they invest and pay rent.

In contrast, the region’s YMCA is actively working to mitigate the conditions that Ms. Master calls out. It’s a not-for-profit organization so there are no financial investors depending on dividends. The Y’s diverse volunteer board from throughout the region works with Y management to deliver youth development and healthy living resources through 13 family centers in the city and surrounding counties, all of which we try to sustain at a high level of quality. The writer describes “toggling” between Towson and Waverly — as membership in one center enables access to all of them. While professional staff are managed as a region, the mix of membership and staff at each center reflects the local communities which, in turn, reflect the local history. The Towson center is actually smaller than the one in Waverly; it is the most recently updated center, so it has more current features. Our board is currently working to raise funds to improve and expand facilities in Waverly, to improve our other Baltimore site and open a third in the southwest city on the site of the former Cardinal Gibbons School.

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As a regional organization, we have more than doubled the scale of Y resources over the last 11 years which helps attract investment enabling expansion in the city. Beyond the family centers, the organization’s professional depth builds careers running Head Start in the city and two counties and other youth development programs at school, church and other sites. The Y, like residents of neighborhoods like Remington, is investing for the city’s well-being.

City government and international corporate brands are higher profile than not-for-profits like the Y, so it’s understandable that there is less awareness of our work toward making Baltimore better. We should be careful to not paint all these institutions with the same broad brush.

Tom Brandt

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