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Seaport, aquarium and YMCA lay off staff but pledge comeback

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Stonington — The town’s two largest tourist attractions and its largest nonprofit organization have now laid off great numbers of employees but pledge to resume operations as soon as it is safe to do so.

Mystic Seaport Museum laid of many of its workers this week, effective April 1, while Mystic Aquarium already has laid off employees except for staff needed to care for its animals. The Ocean Community YMCA, which serves thousands of members with branches in Mystic and Westerly, has laid off all of its 200 part-time employees. All three organizations are closed to the public.

Mystic Seaport Museum

Spokesman Dan McFadden said Thursday that a large portion of the museum’s full- and part-time staff have been laid off, effective April 1, with those remaining working reduced hours and for reduced pay. He said the museum will maintain health insurance coverage for all employees through the end of April.

“We’ve cut back to the level of staffing we need to keep the museum going in its dormant mode,” he said.

McFadden said layoffs have occurred in all departments.

“We don’t know what the future holds but we are prepared to reopen as soon as it is safe for us to do so,” he said. “We’ll be ready to go as soon as we get the green light.”

He added that the closure and layoffs are disappointing because they come just after the blockbuster J.M.W. Turner paintings in the Thompson Exhibition Building attracted 95,000 visitors this winter, an 89% increase over the same time period last winter.

The status of  “SALT: Tracing Memories,” the next scheduled next exhibit in the Thompson building, is unclear. It had been slated to open April 30.

“But we’ll keep the momentum going,” McFadden added.

Mystic Aquarium

Spokesman Dale Wolbrink said Thursday that there have been no additional layoffs since the beginning of the month, when it laid off “a portion of its workforce,” retaining only staff necessary for the care of the animals and security of the facility.

The aquarium said at the time it would provide full benefits, including health care, to the laid-off employees and pay the full cost of all benefits.

Wolbrink said alternating teams of staff have been caring for the fish, invertebrates and mammals and not physically interacting with one another to decrease the chance of spreading the virus.

She pointed out that the aquarium has no revenue coming in while closed to the public but there are still a lot of expenses to care for the animals. People can make donations for the animals' care at bit.ly/MA0320appeal.

Wolbrink said the aquarium is placing content on Facebook Live and providing more enrichment activities for the animals. People can be pen pals via mail or email with staff caring for the animals. On Thursday, the aquarium announced the public can help name its new penguin chick at bit.ly/MAChick.

Ocean Community YMCA

President and CEO Maureen Fitzgerald said the YMCA needs the continued support of its members while its three branches — the third is in Wyoming, R.I. — are shut down.

“We need their support. We have fixed expenses with our facilities,” she said.

Fitzgerald said the YMCA is trying to keep its 31 full-time staff members employed but had to lay off the more than 200 part-time employees who work anywhere from a few to 25 hours a week. She said the YMCA paid their salaries the first week the facilities were closed.

“The Y will not close its doors. We will get through this and we’ll continue to be a community resource. But we need the community to stay with us and help us navigate this crisis,” she said.

She said the YMCA understands if a member needs to stop their membership or needs financial assistance, and she said the YMCA will “absolutely be able to help with that.”

As for the laid-off employees, Fitzgerald said, “as soon as we can, we’ll bring them back. They have a huge connection with our members.”

Fitzgerald said that while the YMCA is closed, staff is deep cleaning all three locations and the pools have been drained and washed. The pool work means they will not have to shut down for a week in the summer, as they traditionally do for maintenance.

She said the YMCA is offering virtual classes for its members and staff are calling seniors who participate in the popular Silver Sneakers classes to connect with them and give them exercises.

Fitzgerald said the YMCA is offering its assistance to other nonprofit organizations, with information on issues such as cash flow and human resources regulations. She said anyone who needs such assistance can contact her at mfitzgerald@oceancommunityymca.org.

“We have templates to share. We have resources to give them. We’ll continue to be a community resource,” she said.

She said that those who want to help fund scholarships for individuals and families who are finding it difficult to pay for their memberships can do so at bit.ly/OC-YMCA.

j.wojtas@theday.com

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