Starting its sixth soccer season last week, with 400 eager players, ages 3-14, the Alex Patel YMCA Soccer Complex appears to run almost effortlessly.
Its soccer fields – a beautiful 13-acre canopy of green – opened in January 2017, with help from sponsors such as local hotelier Alex Patel, who donated $200,000, or 10%, to the project.
Donorship signs dot the complex, acknowledging corporate and individual donors who made construction possible.
Not seen, however, is the ongoing financial struggle to sustain the soccer fields. The decade-long saga to raise money for the complex continues.
Roughly $700,000 is still owed on the original $2-million note, requiring $10,000 a month to pay down the loan. The complex could not continue without diligent, ongoing fundraising efforts by YMCA leaders.
YMCA Director Cindy Piersol leads the Y’s board in organizing events year-round to make the monthly payments of $10,000, in addition to supporting the nonprofit’s other programs.
“We will be paying on the complex for at least 15 years – unless we get a big donor to step up,” Piersol said.
Ongoing fundraising efforts to pay down the original loan include $3,000 per month in donations from sponsors, three annual golf scrambles, including one Oct. 26, that each raise $3,000 to $4,000; and a spring gala, which raised about $26,000, in May.
The Palestine YMCA’s capable staff, including Facilities Director Mike Kelly and Program Director Jeremy Janz, continues to build and sustain the soccer program. Kelly performs maintenance and manages care of the grounds, mowed by Javon Blackshire.
Drawing water from a pond on the property, 500 sprinkler heads quench the fields' perpetual thirst. This week, Kelly repaired a water line, part of the irrigation system's routine maintenance.
“We’re struggling with the heat,” Kelly said.
The dream for a new soccer complex began 20 years ago, when youth soccer games were limited to six fields at the YMCA and AM Story Elementary. Most teams still practice at the former fields on weeknights.
The soccer program was the brainchild of Keith Jenkins, a dad, coach, and community youth advocate who died last year.
To make the complex self-sustaining, the YMCA puts on tournaments twice a year, and charges visitors for parking.
Parking is $5 per vehicle for visitors – up from $2 last spring. Season parking passes are available for $40.
When Piersol became director in 2014, a capital campaign for the soccer complex was already underway.
The former director of the Girl Scouts’ Camp Bette Perot in Montalba, Piersol understood youth programs and fundraising. Raising enough money for the complex, however, has been daunting.
Expansion plans are on hold, but the YMCA could partner with the City of Palestine to expand or temporarily host other youth athletic events to relieve some of the financial burden.
“We would have to cautiously approach this discussion and decision,” Piersol texted the Herald-Press. “Our executive and full board would ultimately make the decision after weighing all the possibilities.”