The Wave – The Y as a Cornerstone of Community Change

Commentary By Jack Lund, Arverne By The Sea Y

I began this column last month with the goal of starting a dialogue with the Rockaway community, because we want to hear first-hand from you about your families’ needs, what you’d like to see from your new Y, and what we can do to make our facility feel like your home away from home.

We have been making noticeable progress in the construction of the new Rockaway YMCA at Arverne by the Sea. Piles are 100 percent complete, we’ve poured concrete for pile caps and for grade beams at pools and for the front of the building, and we’ve completely dewatered the site. We look forward to sharing future progress with you.

Being the new kid on the boardwalk, we’ve got a lot to learn. Fortunately, learning is part of what we do best.

Here at the Y, strengthening communities is our business – and we’ve been succeeding at it for nearly 160 years. It’s in everything we do – from helping a sixth-grader with her homework after school, to providing diabetes prevention programs, to helping our New American neighbors gain job skills or learn English. Our approach is simple: we believe the best way to serve a community is to work hand-in-hand with those who know it best and listen closely to the needs of each of the neighborhoods we serve.

This month, I wanted to share with you some examples of how we’ve been able to bring about positive change in two New York City communities – Bedford Stuyvesant, Brooklyn and Ridgewood, Queens – through the construction and renovation of two new YMCAs.

In January 2007 at the Bed-Stuy Y — after more than a century of serving the heart of this historic neighborhood — we unveiled a major branch expansion that has enabled us to meet more of the community’s diverse needs and rekindle a strong sense of hope for the area’s future. Membership has grown exponentially since the reopening, from 1,500 members in 2006 to 6,300 current members. We are also a leading neighborhood employer, with branch staff numbering nearly 200 workers.

Life in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn has its share of daily challenges – from high poverty and crime rates to a shortage of places to buy fresh, healthy food. The new Y has become a beacon of hope to thousands in the community. From providing teens with a safe place to learn and play after school, to giving seniors a home away from home to exercise and socialize, to partnering with countless community organizations to offer free programming in everything from selfdefense to diabetes prevention – the new branch is always alive with activity. The community has benefited financially from the Y as well. Bed-Stuy residents have coined the term the “Y Effect” – which refers to the increase in real estate values of properties directly surrounding the branch.

Looking to Ridgewood, Queens, we recently finished an extensive renovation and reconstruction effort to restore this diverse and thriving community’s historic branch Y. We undertook this project to meet the rapidly-growing needs of the community, including providing hundreds more kids and families across Ridgewood and Glendale with a safe, fun and affordable place to learn, grow and thrive.

Originally built in 1930 as a county courthouse, the Ridgewood facility was a beloved – yet aging – community landmark in desperate need of repair. Our three-year, $8 million restoration project reimagined the facility’s capacity, creating 21,000 square feet of completely modernized, state-of-the-art program space, featuring a new gym, spacious rooms for health, fitness and other classes, top-of-the-line exercise equipment and pristine new locker rooms. We also added 3,000 square feet to our enclosed courtyard, so that members could enjoy more than 22,000 square feet of usable outdoor space.

Throughout this massive makeover, our commitment to serving the community remained strong: we never once stopped providing the Y afterschool and day camp programs on which our families depend.

With this new, restored space, we’re steadily adding programs in direct response to the community’s needs, such as a robust early childhood curriculum. Since the branch reopening, we’ve grown from 100 members to 1,300 members – including more than 500 youth memberships. And, we provide critical financial support to nearly 300 families in the area, because no one will ever be turned away from the Y due to an inability to pay.

These are just a few pages in our history of helping New York City’s communities grow stronger in the ways that are most useful and valuable to the people who live there. We’re looking to you and the Rockaways to help write the next chapter.