Local Y's Expansion, Programming Fuel Participation Surge

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Sarasota Herald Tribune (Florida)
September 13, 2013 Friday
833 words
East Manatee's YMCA boost
STEVE HEISLER Correspondent

Tailoring their offerings to meet the needs of a growing community

As building resumes and more people move to Lakewood Ranch and Parrish, YMCA branches are tailoring programs to fit their communities and the efforts are paying off.

Each day, Lisa Strutt, the director of marketing and information services, watches the procession of early-morning workout addicts, seniors and teenagers in Lakewood Ranch. Daily scans of membership cards have increased from 600 to 1,000 in the past 15 months.

"We have to have extra staff to scan their cards," she said. "There's really not a slow point in the day."

The 10-year-old YMCA recently completed an expansion from 27,000 to 47,000 square feet in 2012.

Since then, classes have increased 60 percent to 102, according to Jim Purdy, director of operations for all of the Manatee County branches.

"You need to be really aware of what's going on around you," said Purdy, who is based at Lakewood Ranch. "We keep getting out and talking to our members and we have an outstanding staff that keeps its ears close to the ground and listening for what people are looking for."

New programs include the Les Mills Body Pump and Insanity, a group exercise portfolio that appeals to active young adults. Specialized equipment complements the programs. Physical therapists lead classes for pregnant mothers.

Seniors fill the YMCA during mornings, Purdy said, and youths congregate every afternoon in the teen center, which features a climbing wall. After a recent $60,000 renovation of soccer and football fields, new leagues are forming.

Growth of the children's swim team, the Wave Runners, from 50 to 120 this year, is mirrored by overall growth with the facility now serving more than 10,000 people.

Membership is up around 25 percent since the year began, Purdy said, and statistics show 92 percent of memberships originate within a three-mile radius.

"It's usually within a mile and a half people are willing to drive for designated facilities," he said. "Just the sheer growth of Lakewood Ranch and the number of rooftops going up out here - we have a lot of seniors and young families. They're having a great experience they're going to share with their friends."

Along with newer members, the branch has support from longtime participants who have played a role in changes.

A shared vision

Mike and Patti Conway began coaching basketball and soccer in the 1990s at the original Bradenton Branch on 59th Street West.

The Parrish residents have used the Lakewood Ranch facility since it opened and volunteer at Healthy Kids' Day and Halloween events. Conway built football benches and the slotted board on which keys and cards could be kept. He recently donated a blueprint to help with other expansion.

Since the Parrish YMCA opened in October 2010, Conway has split time between the branches.

"If I'm in town, I go to Lakewood Ranch, but closer to home I go to the Parrish Y," he said. "We know everybody at all the Y's."

Parrish Branch advisory board member Ben Jordan said that as the unincorporated area grew, and with 10,000 more lots approved for development, a YMCA was a necessity. It came about after a Parrish Civic Association survey six years ago showed Parrish lacked a place for community meetings and after-school activities.

"We were sitting around going over the results - here's the restaurants and shops people want to see - and somebody said, 'They're talking about a Y,'" he said. "That's how the whole ides started. It flowed from the community."

Once a 1920s schoolhouse was renovated into a 16,000-square-foot YMCA branch with exercise equipment, residents quickly joined, resulting in about 2,500 members.

Children visit the Kids Zone daily. New cycles and rowing machines fill the old schoolhouse space while the Buffalo Creek Middle School gymnasium and Cross Creek pool are employed for swimming and other activities.

"A lot of times, both parents are working and it fits in. It's a place for them to get together," Jordan said. "Some people want to work out or have a cup of coffee. It's just everything."

The Parrish YMCA's vision of use as a community center is shared in Lakewood Ranch, where Associate Executive Director Stacey McKee is coordinating the beginning of a book club and a bridge club.

During her three years at the Lakewood Ranch facility, McKee has watched its Kids Zone grow with the addition of age-appropriate toys, video games and rocking chairs.


What: Manatee County YMCA.

Branches: 3805 59th St. W., Bradenton; 5100 Lakewood Ranch Blvd., Bradenton; and 12214 U.S. 301 N., Parrish.

Hours: 5:30 a.m. to 9: p.m. Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday; the Parrish site is closed Sundays.

Other programs: The South Manatee County Branch office is at Harllee Middle School, 6423 Ninth St. E., Bradenton, and the Manatee Y Technological High School is at 922 24th St. E., Bradenton.

Information: Visit www.manateeymca.org or call 792-7484 in Bradenton, 782-0220 in Lakewood Ranch or 981-5323 in Parrish.

Sandy Bellino leads the Aqua Zumba class Tuesday at the Lakewood Ranch YMCA. The branches in East Manatee County have been tailoring their offerings to fit the growing communities that they serve. STAFF PHOTOS / RACHEL S. O'HARA Michelle Schanz leads a class on Tuesday at the Lakewood Ranch YMCA.
September 14, 2013

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