Q & A

CoreSRQ Is Now Part of the YMCA of Southwest Florida. Here's What That Means for Its Members.

We spoke with Michelle Mitchell, who is transitioning from her role as CEO of CoreSRQ to district executive director of the Y's new Sarasota City Branch and Palmer Ranch Branch.

By Stephanie Churn Lubow December 5, 2023

Image: David Tejada

In September 2019, the Sarasota Family YMCA abruptly announced the closure of its two fitness centers: the Frank G. Berlin branch on Euclid Avenue and the Evalyn Sadlier Jones branch on Potter Park Drive. 

Members and staff, stunned and dismayed at the news, came together with a determination to keep the two centers open, and were able to form a new nonprofit organization, initially called “Save Our Y” and, later, CoreSRQ. Through grassroots fundraising and donations from community foundations, they raised enough money to purchase both locations and seamlessly continue all operations, including the community outreach that has long been a hallmark of the Y’s mission. CoreSRQ celebrated its fourth anniversary on September 17, 2023. 

Then, on October 26, 2023, the boards of directors of both CoreSRQ and the YMCA of Southwest Florida voted in favor of a merger between the two organizations—heralding a return to the vision that Frank G. Berlin originally brought to Sarasota when he founded the Sarasota YMCA in 1945.

With the merger, CoreSRQ CEO Michelle Mitchell is transitioning to a new role as district executive director of the two Sarasota branches of the YMCA of Southwest Florida, which will now be known as the Sarasota City Branch (Euclid Avenue) and the Palmer Ranch Branch (Potter Park Drive). With a background in media—she's worked as an advertising executive for the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Tampa Bay Times and St. Petersburg Times—Mitchell has spent most of her adult life in the Sarasota area. 

We spoke with Mitchell about the merger, what members can expect at the new Y branches, and her new role in the organization. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Michelle Mitchell, CEO of CoreSRQ, will transition to a new role as district executive director of the two Sarasota branches of the YMCA of Southwest Florida, which will now be known as the Sarasota City Branch and the Palmer Ranch Branch.

Image: David Tejada

What was it like to find out the Sarasota Family YCMA had closed?

"[The Sarasota Family YMCA] closed the doors one night and then opened up the next morning without any membership information or computer data. People were walking in and lining up to start their memberships. I have a photograph from a meeting at what is now called the Palmer Ranch Branch when more than 1,200 people came out in the pouring rain to try to understand what was going on. What’s beautiful about this community is that when people are part of an organization, they have such a strong sense of ownership and connection with it. Not only did they just save the organization, but they actually made significant improvements to it during those four years."

As it gained its footing, what challenges did CoreSRQ face in its efforts to sustain itself as a community nonprofit without the financial support of a national organization like the YMCA?

"I think the biggest challenge was when Covid was shutting down gyms all over the state. The nonprofit formed in January 2020, and the shutdown happened in March. A lot of the members kept their memberships active during the closure, and this allowed the organization to continue to do the nonprofit side of its work.

"Community donations have also been key. Libby and Jon Soderberg were named as large donors, and we also had another significant donor who was anonymous. But the thing that impressed me the most were all of the hundreds of smaller donations that came together to make the larger impact."

What is the difference between the Sarasota Family YMCA and the YMCA of Southwest Florida?

"Good question! The Sarasota Family YMCA essentially ceased to exist after the two branches were sold in 2019 to the organization that became CoreSRQ. The Safe Children Coalition, which owned the charter for the Sarasota Family YMCA, has continued to carry out its mission of privatizing foster care in the community.

"The YMCA of Southwest Florida started out of the Venice YMCA, and last year it acquired Manatee County locations, including branches in Lakewood Ranch and Bradenton, where closures were imminent. The Englewood and Bonita Springs YMCA locations were also acquired, and there's a couple of new partnerships that will extend its reach all the way into DeSoto County. It will be quite a large regional organization."

How did the merger between CoreSRQ and the YMCA of Sarasota come about?

"When I came to CoreSRQ, my goals were to do a lot of community outreach and increase our brand awareness. Part of that involved talking to other nonprofits. The YMCA of Southwest Florida is obviously a large nonprofit whose mission was very closely aligned with our own. Gene Jones, its CEO, and I had developed a relationship, and we started by having lunch and talking about a potential partnership alignment—unifying our organizations as a service to the community and what that could look like for everyone. Those conversations evolved into a very small group of people setting up task forces and communication plans. We wanted to make certain that we were all on the same page. We worked with a facilitator from the Gulf Coast Community Foundation, and I felt that the process of the merger was done very professionally, with lots of thought behind it."

How is the transition going?

"It’s going very well! I’m so happy with the great work and the leadership on the YMCA of Southwest Florida's side, and we’ve done some town hall meetings with our employees and opened up forums for questions and answers. A lot of my employees were also YMCA employees, so they have longevity with the organization. The core values of the YMCA are caring, honesty, respect, and responsibility, and I think that those values are exactly how they would sum up their approach to the unification itself."

The Palmer Ranch Branch of the YMCA of Southwest Florida on Potter Park Drive.

The Palmer Ranch Branch of the YMCA of Southwest Florida on Potter Park Drive.

Image: David Tejada

What will be different? What will stay the same?

"We’re  focused on the continuity of these two branches. We want to make sure that it is a seamless transition, so all our staff will remain. CoreSRQ has had many partnerships throughout the community, and I know that those will be expanded. We will continue to work with Big Brothers/Big Sisters, the Sarasota Medical Pregnancy Center, the Parkinson Place Center, the Sarasota Police Department, and Sarasota County Schools for our second-grade swimming instruction program, as well as branching out to other community partnerships that align with our mission."

So for CoreSRQ members, it would almost be like they wouldn’t know that anything had changed.

"Right, until we start changing all our logos and brands. [Laughs.] But that’s our intention—with enhancements, of course. There’s going to be some investments made in the organization and refreshing of the physical spaces, which will be great for employees and members."

Will members be able to use their YMCA memberships to access facilities in other areas?

"There’s definitely reciprocity within the YMCA of Southwest Florida, so it gives CoreSRQ members the opportunity to utilize other branches."

So the future is looking pretty good?

"I think so! I’m happy that Sarasota has a YMCA again, and I am genuinely excited about all of the great things that we’re going to be able to accomplish as we amplify our impact for the community. The YMCA does a lot of amazing work and it’s a good time to be involved with an organization like that. I look forward to being able to see how the longevity of the work that we’ve accomplished over the past four years as CoreSRQ can take this community into generations to come."

The Sarasota City Branch of the YMCA of Southwest Florida is located at 1075 S. Euclid Ave., Sarasota. The Palmer Ranch Branch is located at 8301 Potter Park Drive, Sarasota. For more information, click here

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