BAXTER — Shane Riffle has seen Brainerd Family YMCA’s future — or at least a version of it he hopes comes true.

“We want to build a Y that the community wants and deserves — a place where we have program space that kids are able to learn and grow and thrive, and people are able to take care of their health and well-being,” said Riffle, the YMCA’s CEO.

He announced a fundraising capital campaign to rebuild the nonprofit’s facility at Oak and South Sixth streets at its sponsored “Back to the Future” family-friendly event Saturday, Oct. 2, at Camp Vanasek in Baxter.

“What we've been told is that the main facility, which includes the features that our consultants have recommended, will be about $16 (million) to $18 million,” Riffle said.


““We want to build a Y that the community wants and deserves — a place where we have program space that kids are able to learn and grow and thrive, and people are able to take care of their health and well-being.”

— Shane Riffle, Brainerd Family YMCA CEO


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‘Back to the Future’

Riffle performed a skit Saturday at Camp Vanasek for the crowd as Dr. Emmett Brown from the 1985 blockbuster movie “Back to the Future.” Mike Bjerkness, the board chairman, played the part of Marty McFly. The skit focused on future projects the nonprofit intends to pursue.

YMCA CEO Shane Riffle, left, as Doc Brown and YMCA board chairman Mike Bjerkness as Marty McFly perform a skit to help announce a fundraising capital campaign for future projects Saturday, Oct. 3, 2021, during the Brainerd Family YMCA’s “Back to the Future” event hosted at Camp Vanasek in Baxter.
Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch
YMCA CEO Shane Riffle, left, as Doc Brown and YMCA board chairman Mike Bjerkness as Marty McFly perform a skit to help announce a fundraising capital campaign for future projects Saturday, Oct. 3, 2021, during the Brainerd Family YMCA’s “Back to the Future” event hosted at Camp Vanasek in Baxter. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

“We have a purchase agreement for a property across the street from the Y — 703 Oak St. — and we're actually actively raising money right now for that,” Riffle said about a new child care center after the skit. “We anticipate about a year, a year-and-a-half before we open that.”

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The proposed construction and improvement projects include a new YMCA facility at its present downtown location, a new child care center, an indoor year-round sports complex and making Camp Vanasek a year-round attraction for all and not just children associated with the YMCA.

“The Camp Vanasek board has voted, and they're going to be transferring camp permanently to the YMCA, giving us the ability to invest in camp to make it more of a regional year-round attraction — not just for our kids but kids throughout the region,” Riffle told the audience.

Dream big

Kara Schaefer is chair of this year’s annual fundraising campaign for the YMCA and co-owner of Karma Race Management and Brainerd Games. Kathy Sell is a former YMCA board chair and works for Essentia Health.

“We’ve had our roof leak, we've had ongoing pool issues, we've had all the things that come with having an older building. It hasn't been an easy year,” Sell told the seated crowd under the pavilion at the free event.

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Schaefer added, “It has been a challenge, no doubt. I just feel like maybe we need to call on some experts to help us navigate our future and what to do next.”

“The Power of Love” by Huey Lewis and the News then blared before Riffle as Brown and Bjerkness as McFly made an entrance carrying a cutout of the iconic time-traveling DeLorean automobile in keeping with the plot of the hit movie.

“Great Scott!” Riffle exclaimed in character as the eccentric Brown during the capital campaign introduction. “Maybe we should build a new YMCA and aquatic center! … Maybe we should build a new indoor pool! … Maybe we should build a new child care center!”

Crow Wing County has a 1,128 child care-spot deficit, and 42% of businesses in a recent survey say child care shortages impact their ability to retain employees, according to the Y.

“We'll be going out into the community to raise money but also looking to state grants, federal grants, new market tax credits … so it's this mix of different funds that we'll be putting together to build all of these things,” Riffle said.

Capital campaign

The community-based nonprofit’s Oak Street facility was built in 1967 with an addition in 2000 but was constructed to meet the needs of the past, Y officials stated, and not for the needs of today or the future.

“It'll be a major rebuild — we're not gonna totally tear it down — but most of it will be rebuilt,” Riffle said after the skit. “While we are making light with these skits, these scenes, these are problems we’ve been hearing for years and years.”

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Riffle and Bjerkness unveiled to hoots and hollers official renderings for what the YMCA of the future might look like.

“We're going to be starting some engineering work and some design work so that we can take a look at four key areas that we want to address here in this community,” Riffle said.

Jackie Gruber was at the Camp Vanasek event with her 8-year-old son. The wife and mother from Baxter manages a tanning salon and takes swimming lessons at the YMCA.

“We are really interested in the camp that they run in the summer, so we wanted to come check it out and introduce ourselves,” Gruber said.

Sell told people, “I'm glad you're able to see in person what an amazing experience camp has been for the last two years. We're so proud of our YMCA and the experience we've been able to give to our kids. Like I say with my son, ‘Every day at camp is a bath night and that's a good thing.’”

Riffle said, “In about six months, we should be able to start raising money for the main facility and that'll be the second phase part of this. And then the third phase would likely be camp. And then the last phase would likely be the sports complex.”

Serving the community

The Brainerd Family YMCA provided free care last year for 87 school-age youths, and 56 toddlers and preschoolers with distance-learning programs; after-school programs for 56 students; and summer camp for 221 youth, according to officials.

“I have grown up here, so the Y has always been a staple in our family for swimming lessons,” Gruber said of the organization’s connection to the community and focus on youth development, healthy living and social responsibility.

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Gruber said she and her son participated in archery, rock painting, fishing and making s’mores at Saturday’s event, which was within walking distance of the Whipple Beach Recreation Area along Whipple Lake.

“That was probably the favorite part — s'mores,” Gruber said with a chuckle.

To make a donation

Donations to the Brainerd Family YMCA can be made by texting “PLEDGE” to 218-228-3632 or by visiting brainerdlakesymca.org/give.



FRANK LEE may be reached at 218-855-5863 or at frank.lee@brainerddispatch.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchFL.