Putting community first

Mann speaks at joint Chamber lunch about future Y initiatives


Making the community better for everyone was a major talking point for YMCA of Florida’s First Coast President and CEO Eric Mann, who was the guest speaker for the St. Johns County Chamber of Commerce Ponte Vedra Beach Division Chamber at Noon event Oct. 13.

The event was a joint lunch between the PVB Division and the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce and was held at Casa Marina Restaurant in Jacksonville Beach.

According to Mann, the YMCA of Florida’s First Coast has been around for 112 years and throughout that period the goal of improving their local community has remained.

“We generate all the resources here (First Coast area), and 99.9% of those resources stay here,” Mann said. “That’s just the Y and what we do.”

St. Johns County is one of five counties the Y serves with Baker, Clay, Duval and Nassau being the others.

Mann stated that prior to the COVID-19 pandemic the Y was serving about 150,000 residents in the coverage area. That number has increased to about 120,000, as they continue to approach pre-pandemic numbers again.

However, there are about 100 children currently on a wait list to enter the after-school care programs the Y offers.

According to Mann, the wait list is in place due to not having the manpower available to support the amount of need that exists.

Despite encountering the current lack of workforce, that so many of the Chamber businesses have experienced themselves, the Y pushes on because they realize their community obligation does not stop.

“We’re about empowering people and making the community better,” Mann said. “We have a responsibility to work with everyone in accomplishing this.”

The Y has 14 branches, including one each in Ponte Vedra and Nocatee, as well as 50-plus before-and-after-school sites and 25 summer day camps.

In recent years the Y has expanded its footprint in St. Johns County with the creation of the YMCA at Flagler Health+ Village in St. Augustine in 2019 and the YMCA at Nocatee in Ponte Vedra that opened in 2020 thanks to a partnership with Baptist Health.

Mann used the YMCA at Nocatee as an example of how the Y has approached developing partnerships when looking at new projects in recent years.

In the case of the YMCA at Nocatee, Brooks Rehabilitation Center and the Y are tenants to Baptist, who built and owns the building.

“That’s how we’re thinking smarter,” Mann said. “It’s an efficient use of both space and capital.”

The next ventures in line include opening a YMCA at Durbin Park in St. Augustine in 2023 and future expansion plans for the Ponte Vedra facility that will add an additional 3,400 square feet.

Like many people and businesses in the world, the COVID-19 pandemic led to a re-evaluation of the way things were being done.

Part of that re-evaluation for the Y was the introduction of gaming and e-sports as part of its list of programs. The initiatives tend to focus on the STEM aspects involved in those areas.

“I love continuing to make the Y relevant to its communities,” Mann said.