Paul Deveau – YMCA of Three Rivers
Like most in-person organizations in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, the YMCA of Three Rivers in Ontario, Canada, did the smart thing: closed its doors and figured out how to operate remotely.
Except for one area.
With local homeless shelters closing or at capacity due to new distancing requirements, and gymnasium space freed up, Paul Deveau says there was an opportunity to do what Three Rivers does best: provide community support and even keep people from freezing to death in single-digit winter temperatures.
Director of facility and quality management since January 2009, Deveau has rebooted the facility’s HVAC, kept the showers running and lockers clean, and maintained overall operations. By the following April, the YMCA was supporting more than 200 people experiencing homelessness and remained a temporary shelter until the end of June.
“The key is finding a place you enjoy and doing your best work there,” he says. “Not only has this position been good for me, but it has also been good for my family. Finding the right fit, enjoying what you do and having a good balance in between—that’s the golden ticket.”
While the shelter cannot operate indefinitely, Deveau says the motivation behind it harkens back to the very founding of Three Rivers.
A new beginning
Created in 2020, the YMCA of Three Rivers unifies the YMCAs of Cambridge and Kitchener-Waterloo, the YMCA-YWCA of Guelph, and the YMCA of Stratford-Perth.
For over 150 years, the nonprofit delivered outreach and services to people in need, from programs such as Safe Sisters (a weekly drop-in program that provides a safe space for seventh and eighth grade girls), and Safe Healthy Aquatic Recreation for Kids (swim programs for kids in third through fifth grades) to the Teenage Parents Program (a free teenage parent support group).
By combining, Deveau says the four locations will be able to share programming and funding—instead of generating each of those on their own—and better serve their respective communities where and how they need it most.
With so many lingering unknowns, he says he’s working on what’s best for members and staff—while keeping everyone as safe as possible. Most of the facility’s staff were able to work remotely, thanks to the combined efforts of the HR, communications and IT departments.
Today, online interaction is par for the course. These resources now include a new virtual weekly program schedule, a Youth Worker on Call program and virtual homework help on weekdays. Other offerings include mental health resources and hotlines like the Kids Help Phone, the Front Door Mobile Crisis Service and Here 24/7.
“YMCAs are very busy buildings and there has been a huge focus on how many people can come into the building,” explains Deveau. “It’s definitely a learning process. But our members have been very grateful that we’ve been able to continue delivering programs virtually. We’re still a place where people can come together.”
The role before COVID-19
When Deveau joined the YMCA in 2009, his role entailed regular facilities management, fixing leaking HVAC systems, and regular plumbing and electrical upkeep. He spent his mornings ordering supplies and doing building walkthroughs. In many ways, his days look the same now, though he’s also taken on greater responsibility with renovations of the Cambridge and Kitchener YMCAs, where he was the liaison between contractors and project managers.
While his work at the YMCA is fulfilling, it doesn’t come without its challenges, he says. With Three Rivers a registered charity, funding is often scarce, requiring him to prioritize needed maintenance and defer other upkeep. When COVID hit, Deveau furloughed his staff with the most essential skill sets and took on some roles himself.
He says he spent many hours reorganizing duties according to facility priorities, while transitioning from a department-specific approach to a more collaborative one.
“This is the part of the role that I love—working with my team to get the job done by any means necessary,” he notes. “Since COVID, members are not allowed to rearrange their own equipment. Many days, I went and set up equipment with the staff for different programs we were running.”
Deveau tells Blueprint that his life philosophy is to find what makes sense and what makes him happy. For him, that means working for a company that is not only a good fit for his career but a good fit for his family.
Prior to the pandemic, he loved watching his kids progress in their weekly swimming lessons and enjoy the facility that he maintains. He says he also enjoys the facilities himself, getting in a few workouts during the week in the YMCA weight training room.
“Something we started saying throughout this pandemic is that the YMCA of Three Rivers is ‘here for good,’” Deveau says. “Which has a nice double meaning. I’m proud of the way our Y has continued to show up for the various communities we serve, because now, more than ever, our communities need the connections that the Y brings together.”
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