Still working toward the Y: Local group achieves nonprofit status as they look to bring a YMCA facility to Bemidji

BEMIDJI--The possibility of a YMCA in Bemidji is real enough that a local 6-year-old recently asked his mother if they would be able to swim for free.

BEMIDJI-The possibility of a YMCA in Bemidji is real enough that a local 6-year-old recently asked his mother if they would be able to swim for free.

"No," answered Tina Johnson, who has spent the past few years leading the effort to build a family recreation center here. "We'll have to pay like everyone else."

After a year of waiting, Johnson said she just received papers from the Internal Revenue Service declaring the project's board of directors a nonprofit organization. The group is also nearing its fundraising goal for a YMCA feasibility study that will sketch out more details about the project.

"There hasn't been a whole lot of stuff happening lately, since we didn't have our nonprofit status," Johnson said. "We want people to know we're still going. We're still working on this."

Opening a YMCA can take years. "You can't just snap your fingers," Johnson said.


The feasibility study will show the type of building this area can support-how many pools, playgrounds and other facilities-and the degree of interest from local donors.

"Everyone I talk to says, 'Yes, we need that.' We need a YMCA," Johnson said.

A mother of three who couldn't find an affordable place for her kids to swim in the winter, Johnson started making phone calls and leaving Facebook messages in 2013.

A relative stranger to development, she watched this summer as the city of Bemidji faced backlash for renovations to Paul Bunyan Park. She continues to watch this fall as the Bemidji school district looks for a place for its new elementary school, tangled in a months-long budget crunch.

"I've been keeping my eye on that stuff," she said. "We want to make sure we're smart about this. If it takes us a little longer to get there, that's all right."

It's meant working without a clear timeline and without a clear plan.

Johnson can't say for sure when the feasibility study will happen, because she's still several thousand dollars short of her fundraising goal.

"We're hoping one or two more businesses step up," she said.


And she can't say for sure where the YMCA might one day stand, because the feasibility study will help determine the blueprints.

"We want to purchase land big enough so we can expand," she said, "because we will."

Even without a building, Johnson said, local schools can host YMCA programs like soccer.

She knows, by the time this YMCA is built, her kids could be a good ways grown.

"My kids, they're along for the ride," Johnson said. It might be a long ride, "but they're being good citizens with me."

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