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Fund-raising campaign gives cramped YMCAs the muscle to expand and upgrade

| Thursday, Oct. 17, 2002

A $25 million capital campaign is bolstering plans to expand and upgrade YMCA facilities throughout the Pittsburgh region.

The money could mean new buildings or long-anticipated upgrades for local centers, including those in the northern suburbs.

Plans are in the works to build a new YMCA in Franklin Park.

The proposal calls for leasing land inside Winterhaven Park for a new center complete with an indoor pool.

The facility is needed to keep pace with growing enrollment as programs expand and the population swells, said Bill Kunert, executive director of the North Hills YMCA.

"Part of it is growth in the area and part of it is the increase in services that we offer," Kunert said. "We know that we can do more with more facilities. For example, we only have an outdoor pool now."

Local centers are contending for a slice of the money raised during the Pittsburgh YMCA's three-year capital campaign.

About $22 million has been raised to date. Board members are expected to decide in December where the money will go, said Julius Jones, CEO of the Pittsburgh YMCA.

In the Pittsburgh region, the YMCA has seen membership climb in the past decade, Jones said.

"Over the last 10 years, the Y has gone from approximately 18,000 members to 45,000 members," Jones said.

During the same time period, the annual operating budget climbed from $10 million to $22.5 million.

The increases were due largely to expanded child care, fitness, and disabled programs, Jones said.

"Over the 10-year period, we have increased our services to the disabled dramatically," Jones said. "We have added things like a camp that is a year-round operation."

The Pittsburgh YMCA operates 14 centers and three camps. There also are three independent YMCAs in the region.

An annual family membership at the North Hills YMCA costs $152. Adults pay $116. Seniors pay $66. Membership for children 17 and under is $47.

Each local YMCA sets its own membership fees. The memberships apply to one center only.

Child care also has become a major part of the YMCA's mission in the past decade, Jones said.

"We have become the largest provider of child care services in western Pennsylvania," Jones said. "We also train child care workers from all over this part of the state, and we certify centers from as far north as Erie and as far south as Washington."

YMCA Pittsburgh provides child care for about 6,000 children in Allegheny County each day, Jones said.

Interest in fitness programs, including staples such as swimming and aerobics, as well as newer classes like yoga, keep people coming to the YMCA, Jones said.

"For many years, people have struggled with this idea that the Y is just about maintaining physical well-being. That's only part of it," Jones said. "Everything else we do is about developing the human being."

If approved, construction on the new North Hills center could begin next year with completion in 2004, Kunert said.

For nearly 50 years, the North Hills YMCA has operated out of a converted horse barn along Pine Creek Road in McCandless. The facility has a few multi-purpose rooms, a weight room and an outdoor pool.

Jay Lowery, 68, of McCandless, has been coming to the North Hills YMCA to play basketball since the building first opened.

Lowery is a regular at the center's lunch-hour basketball game. Each day, nearly 20 men turn out to challenge one another on the center's indoor basketball court.

"We've become friends as opposed to antagonists," Lowery said.

Lowery's four sons grew up at the YMCA. His three grandchildren attend preschool there.

"We're too small here. We're always bumping into people," Lowery said.

A new facility would mean a chance for expanded programs, Kunert said.

"Our mission doesn't change because we'll have a new building," he said. "It's just a tool to better serve the whole community, including teens and seniors."

The prospect of an indoor pool excites many members, including Dick Holm, 76, who has been active with the YMCA for years.

The new facility would double the size of the center and allow for more programs, Holm said.

In Penn Hills, plans are in the works to expand the East Communities center along Frankstown Road.

The project includes a gym, child care center, wellness center and teen room.

The East Suburban YMCA in Plum recently underwent a $500,000 expansion.

The project followed a $1.7 million expansion five years ago that included a new gymnasium. The project nearly quadrupled the facility's size from 5,200 square feet to 20,000 square feet.

Expansion plans also are in the works at the YMCA in Upper St. Clair.

For 15 years, the South Hills YMCA has been a constant part of life for the Pasquini family of Bethel Park.

Beginning with the YMCA nursery school, the family's three daughters made their way through swimming classes, soccer games, cheerleading camp, baby-sitting courses, first aide training and more.

"The Y has definitely been a big part of our lives and a big part of the development of our kids," said Buzz Pasquini.

Pasquini, 45, spent countless hours camping and making crafts with the center's Indian Princess program for fathers and daughters.

"I look back on a lot of those activities and events that we did through the years," Pasquini said. "It helped us through the turbulent adolescent years to have those memories of the things that you did one on one with your daughters."

History of the YMCA


The YMCA was founded in London, England, in 1844 by George Williams, a young drapery clerk who was appalled by the corrupt lifestyle that prevailed in 19th century London. He and his fellow clerks established a library and reading room for lectures, in addition to a Bible Study group aimed at offsetting the immorality on the city's streets. The Y has always been nonsectarian and today accepts those of all faiths at all levels of the organization despite its unchanging name, the Young Men's Christian Association.

Although 5,145 women worked in YMCA military canteens in World War I, it was not until after World War II that women and girls were admitted to full membership and participation in the U.S. YMCAs. Today, half of all YMCA constituents and staff are female, and half are 18 or under.

The modern YMCA


Together, the nation's more than 2,400 YMCAs compromise the largest not-for-profit community service organizations in America, working to meet the health and social service needs of 17.9 million men, women and children in 10,000 communities in the USA. Ys are for people of all faiths, races, abilities, ages and incomes. No one is turned away for inability to pay.

YMCAs are at work in more than 120 countries around the world, serving more than 30 million people.

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