Ranae L’Italien, the new executive director of the Kennebec Valley YMCA, at the organization’s Augusta campus Thursday. As part of reopening plans, half of the basketball court is being used for six workout stations that members can reserve.

The coronavirus pandemic gave Kennebec Valley YMCA board members, faced with trying to find a new executive director after Tom Warren retired at the end of March, a good idea how his replacement will handle challenges.

Seeing how Ranae L’Italien, who served as interim executive director after Warren left, took to the role and led the regional YMCA amid the ongoing pandemic prompted board members to name her Warren’s successor.

And the KVYMCA, whose facilities — other than its child care services — have been mostly closed to the public due to concerns about COVID-19, plans to reopen its facilities on a limited basis Friday in Augusta and Monday in Manchester.

“Part of being a Y is the Y adapts to whatever the needs of the community are at the moment,” L’Italien said of becoming executive director as the YMCA copes with the pandemic. “The Y is usually a place that brings groups of people together — physically together — and creates those social opportunities.

“Then, all of a sudden, we’re told we can’t bring people together that way, so we have to look at how else we can bring people together.”

Some of the exercise machines, which have had to be taped off to maintain appropriate social distancing, are shown Thursday at the Augusta campus of the Kennebec Valley YMCA.

During the pandemic, efforts to bring people “together” have included online exercise classes, personal trainers reaching out to members directly and, more recently as restrictions have been lifted, outdoor classes.


The local Y never stopped offering child care services, although the number of children taking part in those services dropped significantly, prompting staff layoffs.

The Y also added child care services, specifically for the children of essential MaineGeneral Medical Center workers, at a separate area of the Augusta facility.

While about 25% of the local Y’s members dropped their memberships during the pandemic because the gym, pools and other workout facilities were closed, many continued to pay dues or made donations equal to the amount of money they would have paid for dues during the facility’s closure.

“We’ve had a lot of our members that decided to keep their memberships going, to help us provide services and keep staff on,” L’Italien said. “And some of our members, around 40, decided to donate their dues to the Y as part of our annual fundraising campaign, Strong Kids, which was great.”

Bill Bridgeo, president of the KVYMCA’s board of directors, said the drop in membership has not been nearly as bad as it could have been, noting the community has always been supportive of the Y.

Bridgeo said when Warren left, Y board members began a nationwide search for his replacement, a search that was interrupted by the arrival of COVID-19.


He said the qualifications of L’Italien, who served successfully as associate director under Warren, stacked up well against other applicants. Then, L’Italien took on the challenge of keeping the Y strong during the pandemic.

“Ranae was appointed the first of April as the interim, and found herself right in the middle of one of the most-challenging circumstances you could imagine for a YMCA,” Bridgeo said.

“She just excelled from that day forward in everything she needed to do to meet that challenge. By the time the final board decision was made a couple of weeks ago, it was clear she was the natural successor to Tom.”

He said L’Italien worked to ensure the KVYMCA was one of the earliest recipients of federal paycheck protection program funding, securing $300,000 in forgivable loan funds to cover the Y’s payroll during a significant period of the pandemic.

Warren, 62, who plans to continue living in Augusta and serve the Y as a volunteer, worked for the YMCA for 40 years, the past six in Augusta.

Warren said the time was right for him to retire, in part so he can spend time with his aging parents, who live in Massachusetts. He said L’Italien was an excellent choice to succeed him.


“Five or six years ago, I realized Ranae’s potential, her work ethic, her abilities,” Warren said. “I thought she had all the tools and abilities. She’s a great person, very capable.”

He said he is confident the Y, with its strong staff and volunteers and the continued support from the community, will survive the pandemic and emerge ready serve the community and its youth.

L’Italien, a Jay native who lives in Sidney with her husband, Matt, and children Isabelle and Silas, began her 15-year-career with the KVYMCA as child care director, after serving as the Bangor YMCA’s assistant child care director.

Spray bottles of disinfectant that will be given to members to use on equipment are seen Thursday at the Augusta campus of the Kennebec Valley YMCA.

The Y’s Augusta facilities will open to members on a limited basis Friday. Members must call ahead — 24 hours in advance — to make reservations for the activities they seek to do. Those include the fitness center and eight-lane competition pool, which L’Italien said will allow up to eight people to use at one time.

Members will have their temperatures checked before they may enter the building, and each member will get a bottle of sanitizing spray to carry with him or her to use on use on equipment.

On Monday, the Y’s Manchester facility will open to members age 60 or older or who have compromised immune systems. It will be open Monday, Wednesday and Friday for those members.

L’Italien said locker rooms and showers will not yet be available for use. She said the Y’s staff will wear masks and spend much time sanitizing the facilities and equipment.

The organization’s Camp KV, a day camp for local youths, will happen this summer. It will be at two locations: The usual Camp KV in Readfield and the State YMCA Camp in Winthrop, which will not open this summer.

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