Life’s Better When You’re Fit- New president/CEO applies business sense, work ethic to local charity

Written by Chronicle Staff. Posted in Featured, Health & Wellness

Published on February 28, 2018 with No Comments

by Steve Euvino

Shannon Burhans, president and chief executive officer of the Portage Township YMCA, researches current membership figures, which are on the rise. Burhans became the YMCA’s president and CEO in November 2017.

Ask Shannon Burhans about the value of the Portage Township YMCA to the community, she needs only point to Alex Hutchins. Actually, Hutchins will do the pointing and the hugging, connecting with Burhans outside the YMCA gym.

In 2014, Hutchins, then 24, and his twin brother Ben were involved in a horrific auto accident that claimed Ben’s life and left Alex with brain trauma. The prognosis was not good, growing worse after insurance coverage ran out. Through YMCA Scholarship Assistance, Alex continued going to the Portage Y. Through exercises classes, basketball, racquetball, and socializing with staff, the young man grew stronger and gained a new family – the Y family.

Shannon Burhans, president and chief executive officer of the Portage Township YMCA, receives a hug from member Alex Hutchins. Seriously injured in an auto accident that claimed the life of his twin brother, Hutchins has found a new home at the Portage Y, thanks to its scholarship program for members.

As president and chief executive officer of the Portage YMCA, Burhans can cite other examples along different age groups. She noted a senior member who spends nearly eight hours a day at the Y.

“He doesn’t have a family, and if he did not have this place, he’d be at home, looking at the four walls,” said Burhans. “Here, he can interact with staff and members.”

President/CEO of the Portage Y since November 2017, Burhans also noted families going through rough times who benefit from member scholarships.

“When they finally make it [financially], the loyalty that occurs is inspiring,” said Burhans. “We’re able to do this through the generosity and support of the community.”

Burhans succeeded Amber Alexander, who left the Portage Y for a YMCA post in Arizona. Burhans was vice chair of the Portage YMCA board of directors when Alexander resigned. Since then, Burhans had volunteered to help manage the Y’s day-to-day operations.

A product of the YMCA, Burhans and her husband Dave became involved with the Y through their two children, Taylor and C.J., who attended the Y’s preschool program for ages 3-5. The young mother then became involved in such YMCA activities as the Turkey Trot run and the bowlathon.

“Initially, we worked out here, because it was a place to work out,” Burhans said of the Portage facility. “When we had kids, the Y was a safe place for them to go when I couldn’t be with them.”

Over time, Burhans said, “We just grew with the Y. No matter when we needed it, the Y was always here for us.”

Burhans’ children, both now teen-agers, volunteer at the Portage Y. Their mother, who holds a degree in communications from Purdue University, brings a business background to the nonprofit agency. A former branch manager at Horizon Bank, Burhans and her husband opened eState, a jewelry, coin, and collectibles store in Portage.

Now full-time at the Portage Y, Burhans said, “It’s nice having a financial background, especially with a sizable building deficit.”

The YMCA started a capital building campaign in 2006. Then the recession hit a few years into the campaign, and that $5 million drive did not go as smoothly as originally anticipated, Burhans said.

“I can look at that debt and, working with our board, we can come up with a plan to tackle it,” she said.

The president/CEO added, “When you own a business, you have to know a little about a lot of stuff, whether it’s plumbing or changing a light bulb.”

On the positive side, the Portage YMCA’s numbers are growing, from 4,414 last year to 4,780 currently. Burhans cites several factors for that growth, including a restructured board, remodeled facilities, and upgraded equipment.

The Portage Y has formed a partnership with United Auto Workers Ford Community Service Team. UAW volunteers provide free service to the YMCA and have donated and installed 240 ceiling tiles.

Responding to its senior membership, the Portage YMCA offers the Silver Sneakers fitness program, which has grown from 45 members in 2016 to 699 senior participants this year. In all, the Y has 953 senior members.

The Portage YMCA is also known for its preschool and before- and after-school programs.

When thinking about working out, Burhans wants local residents to realize “we are a charity. When you work out and join the Y, you’re not just helping yourself, you’re helping the rest of the community as well.”

Portage Township YMCA is located at 3100 Willowcreek Rd., Portage. Hours of operation are weekdays, 4:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m., and Saturdays and Sundays, 6:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. To learn more about programs and membership, call 219-762-9622 or visit www.ymcaofportage.org.

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