The news that Windsor YMCA would be closing due to COVID-19 came as a complete "shock" to staff members who found out Tuesday, devastated to lose the community hub.
The organization told staff members privately, but wrote a public post on their Facebook page saying the pandemic, which has affected many local businesses, has also caused a negative impact on the YMCA.
"While we have done everything we can do to mitigate the negative impact of the pandemic on this branch, the temporary closure has resulted in declining membership and ultimately, an unsustainable operating model," the statement said. "This decline occurred despite not collecting membership fees during the closure and we anticipate this trend would continue if we were to resume operations."
Staff member Susan McCrindle said she, along with her other colleagues, were "devastated" when management broke the news to them in a private phone call.
"The Y was the best job I've ever had, between the people and the members and the work itself, I've never worked somewhere that I was so passionate about. And it didn't feel like work," she told CBC News.
Though she said she's never been athletic or "into fitness," McCrindle said she found a sense of belonging at the YMCA.
"You feel like you're part of something bigger than just a gym, and to get the opportunity to become a part of that team as a fitness instructor was not something I would have ever dreamed of. I'm in my mid-50s. The last thing I ever thought would become is a fitness instructor in my 50s," she said.
McCrindle said the subsidized gym membership is important within the community, which has now been taken away due to COVID-19. But she doesn't blame management or the YMCA for the unfortunate closure.
"This is more than just a gym, this is a family and a community and we're we're all going to be there for each other and support each other through this," she said. "It's just unfortunate that this is a loss that the city's going to carry, not just those of us who work there."
Simply put, YMCA's general manager Andy Sullivan is heartbroken. He was part of the fitness centre's launch when it first opened back in 2016. Speaking with CBC News on Wednesday, Sullivan recalled all the work that went into the facility made possible by fellow staff.
"[For] so many members, this was a part of their life," said Sullivan, adding he never expected a full-on closure to take place. "It's devastating."
With Windsor-Essex being among the last regions to enter Stage 3 of the province's reopening plan, the YMCA was able to resume operations at its other facilities sooner.
According to Sullivan, between 30 and 50 per cent members at those centres returned. With Windsor s YMCA already "so far in the hole," keeping the facility open was no longer financially viable.
"It was just too much. It was insurmountable that we couldn't see an operating model that would ever get us out of this hole," said Sullivan.
He added his efforts Tuesday were dedicated to supporting staff members affected by the closure. But Wednesday's focus shifted toward the members of the YMCA and hearing some of their personal stories about how the facility has affected them
"How they learned how to swim and how they've overcome different things and some that went on to volunteer and then came on to be staff," he said. "It's been really cool to hear their Y stories and their Y journeys."
One of those members, Jill Moysiuk, said she first joined the Windsor YMCA because it was the closest gym in proximity to her house that also had a daycare program for her infant son and year-round swimming for her six-year-old daughter.
"We were there in the morning and at night and spending quite a lot of time there and we got to know a lot of the members and a lot of the staff there," she said, adding the facility became "a second home" for her family.
Prior to the announced closure, Moysiuk was planning to have her daughter enrol in the YMCA's babysitting program. She said she's "definitely missed" going to the centre during the pandemic and was planning to go back once "things sort of blow over."
"I think the Y in any community is a place that everyone knows is a safe space for you to go to, no matter what your walk of life, no matter how old or young you are," said Moysiuk.
"I think that Windsor losing that very big and permanent and prominent place where they ran will be a big blow to the city — devastating to Windsor."
Outpouring of support on social media
Many Windsorites have taken to social media to express their disappointment at the loss of the facility.
"The support coming from members in the community toward the news has been — they're as shocked as we are," said McCrindle. "They're really upset because the Y offers so much to our community and it's such a valuable resource, especially for those who are lower income."
"It was one of the greatest things I've ever done. And the people I've met there, I really believe we will have long- standing friendships," said McCrindle.
Windsor YMCA said memberships will be cancelled effective immediately and members need not take further steps.
The organization said they will continue to offer programs in Windsor-Essex, but that the branch located at 3402 Grand Marais Rd. E. will remain closed.