The Y Featured in Winston-Salem Monthly!
The Way of the Y
Submitted February 1, 2012
Posted with permission from Winston-Salem Monthly.
Zumba classes and cardio equipment, soccer leagues and steam rooms, swim lessons and SilverSneakers. The YMCA is all these things … and so much more.
By Michael Breedlove
On the first floor of the William G. White Family YMCA, tucked between the free-weights area and a bustling kids zone, sits a small, dimly-lit room. An open Bible rests atop a wooden shelf while two candles fill in the corners. There’s a stained-glass panel on one wall and a large golden cross on the other.
It’s not much to see, really. And in the grand scheme of things, the space goes virtually unnoticed—immersed in the sounds of bouncing balls and clinking barbells. But it’s here in this dim 8×12-foot room that the wonder of the YMCA becomes crystal clear. After all, how many gyms have an on-site chapel?
“The mission of the YMCA is to help people reach their God-given potential in spirit, mind, and body,” says Curt Hazelbaker, president and CEO of the YMCA of Northwest North Carolina (NWNC). “We see people of all sizes, ages, races, and social backgrounds…they’re all one big family here.”
The YMCA, which started in London in 1844, was built on the pillars of honesty, caring, respect, and responsibility. The town of Winston would open its first YMCA in 1888 at the corner of Third and Main streets, welcoming 128 members in its first year.
These days, the YMCA of NWNC has approximately 70,000 members in its 15 branches. Some folks come for the fitness equipment, some for the youth sports, others for the aquatic amenities, but all will tell you there’s something extra special about the YMCA. In a world of chic fitness clubs and trendy workouts, it’s a place that never goes out of style. The following is a few reasons why.
The Social Capital
For Winston-Salem resident David Hinton, one of the best things about the YMCA is the kaleidoscope of members he encounters every day. A current board member, Hinton can be found in the fitness areas of the William G. White branch several times a week. “The Y truly opens doors for everyone in the community—rich or poor, black or white, everyone is welcome. The person next to you on the treadmill might be one of the most influential people in town, or they might be someone on financial assistance.”
Hazelbaker agrees, calling the Y a window to the entire community. “One of our members is a regional bank president,” he says, “and two of his best friends are a plumber and electrician. He never would have met them if it hadn’t been for the Y. They do very different things outside these walls, but in here, they’re just a group of friends working out together.”
Deciding what class to take at the Y is a little like trying to decide what to eat at the world’s biggest buffet. Without guidance, it’s hard to know where to start. Luckily, the staff is happy to match your interests and abilities with a course that fits.
You can bike to nowhere in spin class, dance to Latin beats in Zumba, or buff up with BODYPUMP. For something a little different, there’s the hyper-intense Metabolic Effect or the aerobic-infused Dance Trance. There’s even a hula-hoop fitness class called HOOPDIO.
For those interested in exercising their spiritual side, the Y offers a number of yoga-related classes, including the ever-popular Hot Yoga at a few local branches. You can also head to the pool for a slew of aqua-based courses and boot camps.
Classes are open to all exercise levels and ages above 14. For descriptions and locations of all offered classes, go to ymcanwnc.org.
Swimming pools and spin classes aside, what amenities are truly unique to the YMCA? Turns out, quite a lot.
For starters, there’s the Free Wellness Orientation. All new members can meet with a wellness coach for an in-depth look at equipment, classes, and other offerings at their local branch. After discussing interests and fitness goals, a tailored exercise plan is devised to help you meet them.
If you need help staying on track, turn to FitLinxx. This state-of-the-art technology records the number of sets and repetitions you complete, how much weight you’re lifting, and makes sure you’re using each machine correctly. In short, it’s like having your own personal trainer every step of the way.
And that’s just scratching the surface. Each member we talked with had their own favorite activities: running laps on the indoor track; playing pick-up volleyball games on Monday nights; taking a digital bike ride through the Rocky Mountains. As the Village People once observed, the YMCA has “everything that you need to enjoy.” The key is finding what works for you.
When asked about one of the biggest misconceptions at the YMCA, Curt Hazelbaker, the local president and CEO of the Y, quickly responds, “That it’s just a place for kids.”
“I think a lot of people who haven’t been to the Y in a long time are shocked to see the age range. You’ll see a 5-year-old getting swim lessons on one end of the pool, and a 75-year-old swimming laps at the other. It’s a pretty neat thing.”
Seniors now represent the fastest-growing membership category at the YMCA of NWNC (22 percent of the 70,000 members are older adults). To satisfy the growing population, the Y has introduced a number of programs specifically for older adults, highlighted by SilverSneakers. A national initiative, the program affords eligible seniors a free YMCA membership and access to customized classes.
Other events for active older adults range from group outings to health seminars to volunteer opportunities. Go to ymcanwnc.org for more on senior programs and rewards.
When Kevin and Amy Williams joined the YMCA 12 years ago, they did so for one primary reason. “We knew their childcare facilities were second to none,” Kevin says. “That was huge to us. We could drop the kids off when we were working out and know they’d be in good hands.”
Child Watch services are free to members and available throughout the week. While every Y offers different amenities, kids have a myriad of options in each. For instance, the William G. White branch has the “Adventure Room” for kids 7 and under with an indoor jungle gym, ball pit, basketball hoops, and coloring area. Down the hall is the Youth Wellness Center, which is stocked with interactive gaming systems and teen-focused equipment. There’s electronic dodgeball, virtual snowboarding, Expresso bikes, even a rock climbing wall.
In addition to Child Watch, each branch offers periodic “Parent’s Night Out” and “Parent’s Morning Out” sessions. The Y also partners with local elementary schools to offer afterschool care at reduced rates. Add it all up, and it’s no wonder the YMCA is the nation’s leading provider of childcare.
Youth in Action
Ask a handful of pro athletes where they got their start in sports, and you’re almost guaranteed to hear Y-M-C-A. For decades, the Y has been known for its huge variety of youth sports that emphasizes themes of teamwork, friendship, and respect.
Depending on the branch, kids can choose from flag football, soccer, basketball, swimming, tennis, cheerleading, and lacrosse (to name a few). Starting at age 3, kids can begin participating in things like Kiddy Kickers soccer or Little Dribblers basketball. Teams are coached by community volunteers, all of whom undergo extensive background checks.
One of those coaches is Kevin Williams, a basketball coach at the William G. White branch. He began coaching at the Y when he was in college, then returned to the sideline when his own kids started competing. “It’s been a blessing to be a part of these kids’ lives,” he says. “I’m sure other coaches would tell you the same thing.”
Signups for several spring sports are currently underway. For more info on participating or coaching, go to ymcanwnc.org.
Programs with Purpose
Fitness services aside, the YMCA prides itself on a diverse mix of programs, all of which aim to strengthen the local community. One of the newest and most uplifting programs is LIVESTRONG at the YMCA, a 12-week seminar for adult cancer survivors. This research-based program offers people affected by cancer a safe, supportive environment to participate in physical and social activities.
Judy Oakley was one of 10 participants enrolled in the initial LIVESTRONG class this past fall. A retired English teacher, Oakley had been diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer in 2007. She underwent a double mastectomy, chemotherapy, and radiation to treat the condition, and luckily, the cancer hasn’t spread. Still, she never thought she’d be exercising regularly with her condition, let alone enjoying it.
“I’m the girl who never wanted to sweat,” she laughs. “I hated exercising.”
That’s why when her physical therapist enrolled her in the LIVESTRONG program—largely against her will—she nearly didn’t show up. After the first session, however, she knew the program was something special. “The entire course was just such a blessing,” she says. “And the people I met have become some of my closest friends. I never thought I’d see the day when I actually enjoyed going and working out, but I do now. It’s like they’ve created a monster,” she laughs.
LIVESTRONG, which is offered at no cost to participants, is one of dozens of programs offered through local YMCAs. Here’s a quick look some other standouts.
Black Achievers: This multi-racial program at the Winston Lake Y helps teens set and pursue higher educational and career goals. Topics such as college prep, career development, and job readiness are discussed at bimonthly meetings.
PACES: PACES is a 12-week course aimed at combating childhood obesity. Intended for young people ages 10-15, the program is a crash-course on healthy eating and exercising habits.
Adventure Guides: This family-centered program aims to increase the bond between fathers and sons through camping trips, volunteer projects, and a host of fun activities. There’s also a counterpart, Princess Guides, for fathers and daughters.
While other gyms often make members sign lengthy contracts up front, the Y operates on a month-to-month payment system—you simply pay as you go. The costs are simplified too. For instance, an adult membership at the William G. White YMCA goes for $42 per month. Or you could choose the Metro rate, which gives you access to all the YMCAs in the NWNC region, for $53 per month. Discounts are available for teens, young adults, and seniors. Families can also save by getting a household membership for $82 per month ($90 for the metro). Each Y offers a free 3-day pass to any perspective member, which includes access to all workout areas and classes.
Add in things like extended hours, free equipment rentals, and a towel service—not to mention our favorite feature: fitness machines with personal LCD screens—and one thing becomes clear: The YMCA staff works hard to make sure their members have it easy.
The Overriding Mission
With its expansive spaces and cutting-edge equipment, it’s easy to forget the YMCA is a charitable nonprofit organization. It raises funds through an annual-giving campaign, which provides financial scholarships to individuals based on a sliding scale. Where someone might be paying $5 a month for a membership, another might be paying 80 percent of the regular fee (it’s circumstantial-based). During the most recent annual-giving campaign, nearly 6,400 donors raised $1.6 million for local scholarships. The money was then doled out to deserving families and individuals for things such as gym memberships, swim lessons, childcare, and day camps. In all, nearly 18,000 local citizens were helped with membership payments in 2010. “The scholarship programs are a central part of the YMCA’s mission,” Hazelbaker says. “No one is turned away due to an inability to pay.”
Finding Your Fit
Each of the seven YMCAs inside Forsyth County lines has a few things that set it apart. Here’s a quick breakdown.
Fulton Family YMCA (Hanes Mill Road). Recently celebrating its 10th anniversary, the Fulton Family YMCA in northern Forsyth County is home to a vibrant community of SilverSneakers who are part of the famous “Joy Club.” Swimming facilities, basketball courts, a sauna, steam room, and hot tub highlight the amenities.
Jerry Long Family YMCA (Clemmons). The largest local branch in terms of members, this facility offers a wide range of sports, aquatic, afterschool, and camp programs. It’s also host to LIVESTRONG, the Clemmons Farmer’s Market, and the SilverSneakers program. Last month, the branch wrapped up a rennovation and expansion that added new locker rooms, teen areas, and an additional 3,000 square feet of childcare space.
Kernersville Family YMCA. The Kernersville Y is home to a robust aquatic program including water fitness and rehabilitation programs, as well as an outdoor water park. The branch also strengthens the community through initiatives such as Bright Beginnings, which provides a special back-to-school shopping experience for local students.
Robinhood Road Family YMCA (pictured). The newest branch in the association, this facility opened in 2009 with state-of-the-art wellness amenities, a Hot Yoga Studio, turf sports training room, and a well-regarded personal-training program. It was here that the WXII morning crew (Austin Caviness, Kimberly Van Scoy, and others) trained during their on-air fitness challenge.
Wells Fargo Express YMCA (Downtown). This mini-branch offers the convenience of a downtown facility inside the Wells Fargo Center. It features modern fitness equipment, classes, and personal training.
Winston Lake Family YMCA (Waterworks Road). In 1985, the Patterson Avenue YMCA moved to the Winston Lake YMCA, which is the second oldest branch in the region. These days, the Y is dedicated to youth development with unique programs such as the Jazzy Jumpers, Boss Drummers, and Black Achievers. An aquatics area with a pool, Jacuzzi, and sauna underscore the offerings.
William G. White, Jr. Family YMCA (West End). Formerly known as the Central YMCA, this branch serves as the flagship of the entire NWNC Association. It provides a wide range of youth development programs in the form of camps and youth sports. In addition to a Women’s Wellness Center, there’s a Youth Wellness Center that houses a rock climbing wall, Expresso bikes, and interactive gaming options. This branch is also home to the nationally-ranked TYDE swim team.
For an in-depth look at all the local branches, as well as fees, classes, and programs, go to www.ymcanwnc.org.