A new direction: Rec center preps for interim director for the new year

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BENNINGTON — As Jessie Rumlow volunteered to teach swim lessons at her local YMCA at age 15, she had no idea she would eventually become the associate director of the Berkshire Family YMCA years later.

She also did not know that she would simultaneously take on another position during this time: interim director of the Bennington Recreation Center.

Beginning Jan 1. 2018 and ending Dec. 31 of the same year, Rumlow will lend her vast expertise working for the YMCA to the small town, which has been in discussions with the Berkshire Family YMCA since late 2016 about some sort of partnership or merger.

At the Nov. 26 Select Board meeting, members unanimously approved a management agreement that places Rumlow in the position of interim director of the center and allows one year for the two parties to determine whether a 2020 YMCA takeover is appropriate.

Instead of hiring a new full time director to replace former director Tracy Knights, who died in August, the town opted for the 12-month agreement with the YMCA to explore the feasibility of the takeover, said Community Development Director Zirwat Chowdhury. During the next year, rec center rates and staffing will remain unchanged through the end of 2019.

Growing with the Y

Starting in the new year, Rumlow will be onsite at the rec center for a minimum of 15 days per month and will provide consultation by phone when she is in Massachusetts.

Rumlow began working as the associate director of the Berkshire Family YMCA last January, and next year will mark her six-year anniversary working for the organization. Throughout this time, Rumlow says she has "a lot of experience through various departments" within the Y, which she believes makes her uniquely qualified for her position.

Even as a teenager, Rumlow was involved with the organization, volunteering to teach swim lessons at age 15 and working as a lifeguard at 16.

"I basically worked at the YMCA all the way through college," she said.

Immediately after college, she worked as a 21st century coordinator for a YMCA after-school program, and then was promoted to welcome desk manager.

"I have worked in basically all of the departments at this point," she said.

Rumlow has been involved in talks about the partnership between the rec center and the YMCA since preliminary discussions began in 2016, but it was not until late 2018 that she learned she would become the rec center's interim director for a year.

Now, she has a vision for what she would like to bring to the center.

"I would just love to see the rec center become kind of a hub of the community and a place where residents of all ages come together, because that's what a YMCA is about," she said. "We're not just serving our youth, we're not just serving seniors, but we're really a place for the community."

She believes implementing YMCA programs at the rec center will help strengthen Bennington as a community, and already has ideas of what sort of programs the community may like to see.

Yoga, cycling, and strength training are just a few of the classes she thinks Bennington would enjoy.

"I would love to be able to see more classes coming in to that building to generate membership growth," she said.

Additionally, she firmly believes the youth sports program needs to make a comeback and she would like to implement a program that has found much success in the Berkshires: Kid's Night Out.

This program allows parents to drop off their children at the YMCA for two hours on a Friday night, where children are supervised and fed while they play with others.

"You can go to dinner, you can have a little date night," she said. "And the kids, you know that they're safe and they're having fun."

Rumlow has already been in communication with the town and knows school-age programs are a top priority for the community.

"For [the YMCA], we specialize in after school programs and school-age programs," she said. "We know historically that's a revenue building program."

She says the United Counseling Service early childhood services expansion coming to the rec center in 2020 could easily benefit the YMCA if it takes over.

"Their services and what we bring can align with each other and enhance one another," she said. "In all the communities we're in, we partner and work with the other childcare agencies and things like that all the time. I think that it's a great way to get more families involved with the rec center too."

If parents take their children to the rec center for childcare, it will be easier for them to use other services offered by the center, like adult exercise programs, Rumlow said.

"The YMCA has always historically been about strengthening a community and offering what the community needs," she said.

All YMCAs typically offer similar programming, but offerings differ slightly from location to location based upon community feedback. "The town has recognized that there is a lot of room for growth and development," she said. "And that's what the YMCA can do."

The road ahead

The year 2019 will be used for the YMCA and the town of Bennington to assess the community's needs and "lay out the road map" for the potential transition, Rumlow said.

Much of this process will be to communicate with established community partners and determine new partnerships to form.

"This is about the community," she said. "There's no point in duplicating services, but how can we enhance what's here? We are going to strategically put programs and resources into place to continue moving Bennington forward."

In the first month of the assessment, Rumlow plans to closely examine senior programs and determine what can be added in addition to what already-existing services can be expanded. For example, a popular class may gain more class times.

"If something is working, I have no intention of changing it," she said. "Maybe there's a really new ideas, or interesting things we can bring in."

Another program Rumlow believes Bennington could benefit from is evidence-based programs, like diabetes prevention or Livestrong classes that offer support and exercise to cancer survivors at no extra cost to the participants.

"I think everyone could benefit from a program like Livestrong at the YMCA because cancer touches everyone," she said.

Rumlow welcomes Bennington residents' questions or comments regarding the agreement period, and asks that people email her at jrumlow@bfymca.org.

While she lives in the Berkshires with her husband, Rumlow says she intends to become more involved with Bennington, too. After all, she will be spending at least half of her time here in the next year.

"I may not live here, but I can definitely recognize being a part of the community is extremely important even if it's not where I'm from," she said. "I look forward to this opportunity; I love new challenges. This is my challenge for 2019."

Christie Wisniewski can be reached at cwisniewski@benningtonbanner.com and at 802-447-7567, ext. 111.

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