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Effort Underway to Bring YMCA to Kalispell

By Beacon Staff

A Kalispell woman who hopes to bring the YMCA to the Flathead is hosting public meeting in August to gauge public support for the project, which she believes would be beneficial to the valley.

“There’s such a need for it,” Layla Dropps said.

Dropps said the YMCA’s mission – “to put Christian principles into practice through programs that build healthy spirit, mind and body for all” – could help a great number of people in the Flathead, especially the youth.

She noted that some kids end up turning to unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as drugs or alcohol, if they are emotionally unequipped to handle life’s stresses. A place like the YMCA could help teach these skills, as well as provide an outlet for physical activities, Dropps said.

“If you didn’t go to school and learn algebra, you wouldn’t just know it,” Dropps said. “Making emotional choices, people need to help other people learn how to do that.”

A YMCA could also help out struggling families, Dropps said, with classes and activities meant to strengthen family ties and childcare options.

So far, Dropps has led two public meetings on the project. The first one garnered about 16 people, she said. The second meeting, during which Missoula YMCA CEO David Ports spoke and answered questions, had fewer participants, Dropps added.

Dropps said she hopes for a crowd of at least 50 to show up for the next meeting, taking place on Aug. 3 at the Flathead County Library building in Kalispell at 5 p.m. A representative from The Y USA will be on hand to answer questions, Dropps said, and community members are encouraged to share their opinions.

Ports said this grassroots type of organization is typically how a new YMCA takes root.

“Generally, community leaders identify needs that they feel a YMCA might best meet,” Ports said. “So often, it is just one or two or three folks who say ‘We have a lot of kids who need physical activities,’” as well as other necessities.

It takes a lot of hard work for a community to establish a YMCA, Ports said. It usually starts with reaching out to a neighboring facility to ask questions, he said, followed by the establishment of a steering committee. Then comes fundraising to start programs and a charter from YMCA USA, he said.

The Missoula facility had a very similar start in 1967 with just a few volunteers, Ports said.

The national organization evolved from a safe haven for displaced young men during England’s industrial revolution to today’s family oriented workout facilities, which are stationed in about 10,000 communities throughout the United States.

The YMCA is a federation of independent non-profit organizations, which means they are volunteer-driven and volunteer-led, Ports said.

“The Kalispell group needs to decide if they’re ready to do the hard work it takes to start a Y,” Ports said.

This group has passion for the project, Ports said after meeting them earlier this month. He said he got the impression that a YMCA could be “vibrant and sustainable” in the Flathead, though he noted it may not be the only organization that could bolster the area.

For her part, Dropps, 34, said her urge to bring a YMCA to Kalispell started after a particularly rough time in her life.

“I know how important it is to have ability to see the brighter side,” Dropps said.

She said she saw how easily someone could fall into despair if they are not surrounded by a supporting community, and a place like the YMCA could end up being that backbone for someone else.

Though there is not a yet a structured group pursuing the project, Dropps said she believes the project is gaining support.

“The more I talk about it, the more responses I get and the more energy is created,” Dropps said.

And while she might have brought up the idea, Dropps said a community-wide effort would be needed to bring the YMCA to the Flathead.

“The community has to stand up and say, ‘We want this. We want to make our community stronger and healthier and we’re going to bring this here,’” Dropp said.

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