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Banking on KC – John Mikos of YMCA of Greater Kansas City

 

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John Mikos of YMCA of Greater Kansas City: Strengthening KC Communities for More Than a Century

 

Kelly Scanlon:

Welcome to Banking on KC. I'm your host Kelly Scanlon. Thank you for joining us. With us on this episode is John Mikos, the President, and CEO of the YMCA of Greater Kansas City. Welcome, John.

John Mikos:

Thank you. Glad to be here.

Kelly Scanlon:

I am excited about a big announcement that you have. You just formed a partnership with KC Current. Tell us about the details of that relationship.

John Mikos:

Yeah, very excited about this and for those who are not aware, Kansas City Currents, the new women's professional soccer team that's now in Kansas City and we've announced a partnership where they are going to be working with us to be able to support our youth and bitty soccer programs, which are for the younger age groups, as well as our Challenger program, which is specifically for those individuals with physical disabilities. So the program's going to begin this spring and we couldn't be more excited with the relationship with the KC Current.

Kelly Scanlon:

You mentioned the youth soccer programs. The YMCA though is so multifaceted. And in a way, it's a bit of a challenge to figure out where start as for example, when I was growing up, I knew the Y basically as a sports league. When people said the Y, they usually meant they were playing on a sports team and you've also got other youth activities. But when you hear the stories of like Joyce Hall, starting Hallmark with a shoebox full of cards that he'd brought from Nebraska, and he did that out all while living at a room at the YMCA and that was many years ago. I mean, decades ago, the 1910s, if I remember right. So 100 years ago, you have a rich history, you've been serving Kansas City since 1860. How did the YMCA get its start? What brought it to Kansas City?

John Mikos:

A long time ago, long before I was here, but I have read stories.

Kelly Scanlon:

All of us. Yeah.

John Mikos:

So it was during around 1860. And at the time there were only about 4,000 people that were living in Kansas City. And that was kind of the new frontier, the industrial revolution and the Wild West and things happening with the development of what was going to be a fantastic city into the future. But at the time, there was an individual by the name of Reverend W.M Leftwich, and he was actually a pastor of an Episcopal church and it was on South Fifth Street here in the Kansas City area between Delaware and Wyandotte streets. And he was very concerned around a lot of the moral dangers that men faced particularly in that environment. A lot of people that were sinister or maybe didn't have an individual's desires to ensure that they were doing the right thing.

John Mikos:

So he wanted to be able to have a place where young men can kind of come together and make sure that they were being guided properly because he knew at that time, those would be our civic leaders for the future. And so it started in 1860 through him wanting to work on this. And about 14 years later, actually started getting facilities and meeting in churches and former banks. And then away from there, the Y continued on in the Kansas City area.

Kelly Scanlon:

And there's also some really fun facts that are associated with the Y that I don't think a lot of our listeners have any idea that they have roots in the YMCA. Do you want to talk about some of those?

John Mikos:

Well, a couple of them are Father's Day. Every year when we talk about Father's day, that was something that started at a YMCA. Also a gentleman by the name of James Naismith, who was at the University of Kansas, actually part of the YMCA first started the very first basketball types of programs. Also, some things like volleyball originally got its start in the YMCA and then if we go throughout history, there are even things like the YMC establishing the first English as a secondary language program in 1856 as job training. And then continued on with things like the very first night school in 1893, and did a lot of work to be able to support the military and then their families, and even did work during the Civil War and the founding of the USO much later on. So Y has certainly been part of history over the last 160 years, and a lot of great work that's been done.

Kelly Scanlon:

The Y does have such a rich history. One of the things that organizations struggle with though is staying relevant. After 162 years, how does the Y stay relevant today?

John Mikos:

The YMCA over the years, as a non-for-profit its purpose and its existence should be to change based on what the relevant needs are of its community. And it's certainly no question that the Y today looks different than it did 100 years ago, and certainly looks completely different than what it even looked 10 or even 20 years ago. And so being able to adapt to what some of those changes are, is why we do what we do.

John Mikos:

At one time, the YMCA had more hotel rooms than the Marriott. And that's just not a business that the Y does anymore because there were other providers and services that ended up meeting that demand. So the Y has to continue to evaluate what are the needs of its communities, and I'll tell you, and that may mean giving up some things that we did previously just simply because it's not something that either the Y does well or services that might not be needed. So the way that we do stay relevant is that we do stay connected in our communities. And that's one of the foundational components of the Y is how is it that we strengthen our community. We do it by ourselves. We do it with partners. We do it with civic leaders. We do it with our neighborhoods. And in fact, we're extremely more open today in working together with other organizations to ensure that we are delivering relevant services into our community. So it's changing all the time.

Kelly Scanlon:

So you don't have to be a member of the Y. You can become a member of the Y.

John Mikos:

Yeah. We certainly want people to be members of the Y and most people see, like you said, at the beginning, most people see the Y as our buildings and they see our swimming pools and our gymnasiums and those type of things. And let me tell you, very proud of those. And as being a member of the Y, you certainly are able to take advantage of those assets, but you can also be an advocate for the Y or a member who contributes to the organization and believe in the mission of what it is that we do. Because we do enormous amount of services that aren't even in our buildings at all. And so we're here to lift up the community and make connections and provide services, whether in a facility or not in a facility, or regardless if you're a member of the Y or not a member of the Y.

Kelly Scanlon:

How has the pandemic impacted your work?

John Mikos:

The Y is an organization that's all about social engagement. Well, the one thing that we've been told for almost two years is to not be socially engaged and that's difficult. That's extremely difficult. We want people to be able to come together and gather, and we simply have not been able to do that. So it has impacted us like most folks, financially. Our organization has been hit significantly by the pandemic, having lost about 45% of its resources than what it did, the pre-pandemic time period. So we did have to reinvent ourselves and think about different ways that we can connect with individuals that we couldn't do before. And let me just give you just one small example.

John Mikos:

The Y does do a lot of work in helping our active older adult population and our senior citizens. And one of the biggest concerns that have happened over the pandemic is something called social isolation with our seniors. And in fact, it's one of the number one chronic conditions of seniors, of being left alone. And so rather than working with them one-on-one, as we've done previously, we started making phone calls to our seniors, and we did over 80,000 phone calls to seniors checking in just in a one-year period. So we changed that. And as you can imagine, those phone calls just don't last one minute, you get on the phone and you start talking and you learn a lot, and it's wonderful, our staff to be able to connect or seniors and ensure that someone's reaching out and making sure that they're okay. So that's just one example.

Kelly Scanlon:

You faced some of the same problems that many nonprofits faced during this time. You were charged with delivering more services. I mean, your kind of organization was needed more than ever, the childcare needs, and like you say, this senior need. But when you're financially strapped, that's really difficult to do.

John Mikos:

Absolutely, no question about it. And as a not-for-profit organization, we're really not that much more unique than anyone else that was facing closures and not being able to deliver upon your promise and the services that you provide. And in turn that impacted the Y's organization as well. As a part of that, the organization had about 45% less revenues than it did before and that impacts your ability to hire staff, pay the bills, the utilities, and keep the infrastructure going. And I'm so proud of our local Bank Country Club, who kind of stepped in and worked with us over this last year to ensure that we were going to be around for the next 100 years. In fact, I've got to do a shout-out to Mr. Craig Gaffney over at Country Club Bank. And having a local bank partner and going through what we did over the last year, I think was extremely important and pivotal to our success that we experienced during the last year and a half. And what I believe will be our continued future growth for the YMCA for years to come.

Kelly Scanlon:

Some of the alarming evidence that we're hearing about that's being reported as a consequence of the pandemic is its impact on children. You mentioned the social isolation of adults, but there are two ways in particular that we're hearing about it occurring with children. And one is that it has really magnified the learning gaps in learning loss, especially in underserved areas where it was more pronounced anyway. And then the other impact is on children's mental health. How has the YMCA stepped in to address those issues?

John Mikos:

It all kind of started back at the start of the pandemic when schools began to close, then started going to this remote learning concept, which led to what it is that you were talking about. But at the very beginning, we, as a community, had to figure out how is it that we can ensure those that maybe did not have access to the internet, those that did or didn't have the ability to be able to do learning remotely, what could the Y do? And we actually ended up partnering with multiple organizations, to find places to be able to support the school's remote learning program and to provide backend support to children to help them get through a lot of these remote type of homework things that they needed to do. But the consequences of a lot of that, we didn't really start to see until the end of the school year, where there were individuals that had lost complete grade levels in preparation of going into the next school year.

John Mikos:

So what the Y did is we partnered with several of the school districts that were most impacted, like Center School District and the Kansas City, Kansas School District. And those that were at some of our urban core areas, and asked our teachers and educators to identify children that were at risk of learning loss and having been at risk of not being at grade level for the next year. So we identified 150 children this last summer and were able to work with them to help with some of this learning loss, and got them back up to grade level by the start of the next year. And it was through partnership of us being able to kind of offer those types of services.

John Mikos:

The second part that you mentioned in terms mental health, and I will tell you parents certainly were extremely concerned about their children's mental health. And we saw one of the largest increases in our summer day camp this last year, because parents needed to get their children back to some level of [inaudible 00:11:54] that they hadn't experienced for the past year. And I think our staff and ensuring that kids can be kids and have an opportunity to express themselves and be able to do some of the things that they hadn't been doing the previous year. So it was wonderful to be able to see us lift up summer day camp programs in all parts of our community and give children a chance to kind of do some things they hadn't been doing the previous year.

Kelly Scanlon:

On another level, the YMCA is committed to social responsibility as well. I mean, we talked about what you stepped in and did for the kids, for the seniors, but you also have diversity, equity and inclusion effort. Talk to us about what you're doing in that arena and what impact you have had there.

John Mikos:

Well, we have for quite some time as an organization, been committed to diversity, equity and inclusion. And in fact, part of our mission statement is that we are for all. Although we are a Christian organization, we're not a church and we're inclusive of everyone. We, every day, do all we can to ensure that we foster social connectedness, strengthen support networks and encourage investments into our communities. And we do this every day. And that is part of what our strategy is. And part of that is to bring our communities together and create social cohesion. And part of the work that we do at our YMCA's is we every day welcome new Americans to our community and help them get through their citizenship to become United States citizens. And so we want to be that place where people do feel welcomed and where their concerns are heard, and we get opportunities to be able to ensure that we're a safe place for everyone.

Kelly Scanlon:

You've talked about how the Y of today, isn't the Y of 162 years ago, that it has evolved. It's not even what it was 10 years ago, even. So if you had to sum up the Y's presence in Kansas City for the last 162 years, and how it shaped the city, how would you describe that?

John Mikos:

I think at the top of the list is the Y organization has done a lot in order to strengthen the foundation of our communities. What's fantastic about the Y is we're local. We're also connected to a national organization and our Ys are representative of each of the individual communities they serve. We're in 5 different counties and 11 municipalities serving both Kansas and Missouri. And the uniqueness of the organization is that the things that are happening, let's say in Platte City may be completely different than things that are happening in Spring Hill. So what we've been able to do as an organization is to adapt to whatever the needs are for that day, for that individual community, without necessarily having a cookie-cutter approach to solving all the issues or providing whatever the opportunities are. I guess part of what is fantastic about the Y and why we've been around for such a long time is the diversity of our communities and our volunteer network. And being able to step up for whatever that individual community need is.

Kelly Scanlon:

As society and as specific communities continue to evolve and change as they have over the last many decades that you've been in existence, do you see any new issues on the horizon that the Y will be creating programs to address?

John Mikos:

Well, I think one of the things that certainly a lot of people are very much aware of today and they have been for quite some time is the importance of your individual health. The one thing that COVID has taught us is being healthy is very important. And so things regarding health and those items that can be prevented, things like high blood pressure and being able to do things to keep your blood pressure low, or diabetes management or pre-diabetes. Diabetes is impacting the enormous number of people throughout our country. And the Y has developed programs and services in order to help those individuals that are pre-diabetic from becoming diabetic. And then there are even things regarding Alzheimer's and brain disease. I'm very excited about our partnership that the Y has with the University of Kansas Alzheimer's Center, where we're testing out how physical activity can help slow down brain disease, not cure it, but slow it down.

John Mikos:

And then we've got to think about our youth and what they're getting exposed to and changing programs and meeting them where they are. Things like eSports as a way to be able to have a safe place for children to access technology and help break down the digital divide. So we have to continue to be nimble as an organization and respond to things that we may not even know about what might be needed in the future.

Kelly Scanlon:

Tell us about how people can get involved with the Y, other than participating in your programs. Do you use volunteers? Is there ways that people can help support the Y?

John Mikos:

Yeah. I think number one is to be an advocate for our YMCA. We would love to have individuals that are supportive of the work that we're wanting to do, just to be involved as a volunteer. Just one example is over the last year we have been setting up mobile food distribution in all of our parking lots, and we rely on volunteers and our partners with Harvester that helps with the food to ensure that this food gets out to all the families that need it. And it can be also serving as coaches for our sporting programs or even a little bit further in volunteering to be on one of our committees and our boards to help connect community stakeholders with other things that are happening in the community. And of course, you can also get involved by contributing to the Y. This work that we do is to ensure that no one doesn't have the ability to participate in our programs and services. And we want to ensure are that financial barriers is not the thing that are going to prevent them. So we would certainly welcome individuals to contribute to the Y as well.

Kelly Scanlon:

So you have a really important event coming up here within just a week or so. Tell us about that.

John Mikos:

Yeah, every year the YMCA has a Challenger program and our Challenger program is specifically for individuals that have physical disabilities. And we actually have a sports complex with a baseball field and soccer field that was designed specifically to be able to accommodate individuals with physical disabilities. And this program has been around in our community for or 10 years. We serve 1,500 families in the Greater Kansas City area. And we do this at no cost whatsoever. And our ability to be able to provide funding for that program is done through this annual event that's called the Cheers Challenger Fashion Show, which we will have coming on Saturday, March the 5th at the Lowe's Hotel. And this and information can be found on our website. And if it's something that the listeners are interested in joining, we'd love to see them at our event coming up on March 5th. The website is kansascityymca.org.

Kelly Scanlon:

John, thank you so much for the work that you do, that your staff does, and all the volunteers associated with the Y do to help strengthen our communities and to bring needed services and programs to everyone. We appreciate it.

John Mikos:

Well, thank you.

Joe Close:

This is Joe Close, President of Country Club Bank. Thank you to John Mikos for being our guest on this episode of Banking on KC. The YMCA of Greater Kansas City has been strengthening our local community for more than 160 years. The key to the Y's longevity has been its ability to pivot programs and resources to serve the changing needs of Kansas City residents and neighborhoods. That has been especially true during the COVID pandemic. Strengthening our hometown community is at the heart of Country Club Bank's culture too. We're grateful for the opportunity to support the community-building efforts of the YMCA of Greater Kansas City. Thanks for tuning in this week. We're banking on you Kansas City. Country Club Bank, member FDIC.

 

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