ROCKPORT — The Penobscot Bay YMCA has joined many other area employers in feeling the worker shortage, and leaders say the trend endangers its long-cherished swim instruction program.

Aquatics Director Sam Grinnell said the Rockport YMCA is down to one swim instructor and if she is sick or unavailable, it puts the entire program out of commission. The organization has been feeling the shortage of workers in several areas since the COVID pandemic.

Grinnell said YMCAs around the country have been known for their robust swimming lesson programs going back to 1909, and he is concerned about seeing this endangered.

“The people who could answer this call are interested and involved in making this community better and safer,” Grinnell said. “It’s an opportunity to give back to the community.”

The Penobscot Bay YMCA has unique assets in this area — a competitive lap pool and a therapy pool.

During the summer months, it was able to utilize an additional student instructor who would go to college in the fall, and the program served about 120 kids with two instructors. Now, down to one, about 70 people are on a waiting list and classes fill up within two to three minutes of registration opening.

The classes tend to serve young people ages 3-12 and run every eight weeks.

 

The YMCA can provide training for instructors. The work is part-time, mostly after school and on Saturdays. It is a good fit for people who swam competitively in high school or college.

Chief Executive Officer Whitney Files said the YMCA has been in the process of rebuilding its membership since the pandemic, when it had to shutdown and membership was cut in half, from 6,000 to 3,000. About 1,000 have since returned, bringing it up to 4,000.

She said it becomes a “chicken or the egg” proposition. The organization needs membership to drive programs and programs to drive membership.

It has also been dealing with a shortage of lifeguards and Grinnell has been doing community outreach to help deal with that.

For those who are willing and able to step up to serve as swimming instructors, the need is there and the time is now.