The Herald, Sharon, Pa.


May 4, 2010

YMCA chief cites shared benefit

SHENANGO VALLEY — “United we stand, divided we fall.”

It’s a clichéd mantra, but Joellen Arenas, chief executive officer of the Shenango Valley YMCA, believes they are words to live by. Ms. Arenas is putting the motto into practice in the YMCA’s latest endeavor: Managing recreation in the Greenville area.

Although the YMCA’s potential involvement in Greenville’s recreation has only been publicly known for a few months, Ms. Arenas said it started before Greenville Area Leisure Services Association Director Erik S. Bielata was laid off last year.

When GALSA’s financial woes ballooned and Bielata was let go, Ms. Arenas stepped forward with a plan to ensure there’s organized recreation in Greenville. Last week, borough council approved an agreement that allows the YMCA to manage recreation for the borough until the end of the year — keeping GALSA’s programming in place at no additional charge to the borough, Ms. Arenas said.

Meantime, with cooperation from Greenville officials, a survey is being floated to determine what Greenville-area residents’ recreational wants and needs are. Ms. Arenas will use this information, along with meetings with borough officials and community leaders she said will begin this week, to come up with a plan of action for the future.

Northern Mercer County has always been a part of the YMCA’s service area, Ms. Arenas said.

“We’ve just never done anything there,” she said.

Now they are.

Ms. Arenas said she felt an obligation to “step up and help” in the town’s time of need.

“I just think it’s going to be the best of all our communities,” she said.

The YMCA has programming at its Hermitage headquarters and also operates an after-school program at the Robert E. Chavers Center in Farrell, Ms. Arenas said.

Adding services in Greenville will be a plus for the Y, she said, mentioning Mercer County’s sense of parochialism that keeps some Greenville residents from driving south to use the YMCA.

“If they can’t come to us, we’ll come to them,” she said.

It’s also the next logical step as other non-profit organizations move toward regionalization.

Almost two years ago, the merger of the Shenango Valley United Way and the Northern Mercer County United Way was completed and its success has inspired her to expand the YMCA into Greenville, she said.

She compared the YMCA’s operations to hospitals and other health care organizations that have several offices, but one chief executive overseeing it, instead of several top-level managers that eat up cash that could be used for programming.

“United we stand, divided we fall,” Ms. Arenas repeated her mantra. “I feel in my heart this is the only way to serve our county better.”

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