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YMCA celebrates fifth anniversary

by Larry S. Chowning

The Middlesex Family YMCA continues to help more people of all ages move toward healthier lifestyles, both mentally and physically.

Middlesex YMCA executive director Buzz Lambert (left) and staff member Kristin Hogge work with children in the preschool program.  (Photo by Larry Chowning)
The Middlesex Y is celebrating its fifth anniversary next month and a birthday party is scheduled for March 13 to celebrate the organization’s growth and success.

The YMCA started as a dream for a few, and has turned into a reality for many. 

The facility is located at the old Wilton Elementary School on Route 33 at Hartfield. The school system stopped using Wilton School when Middlesex Elementary School opened at Locust Hill in 2002. The county allowed the YMCA to utilize the buildings and grounds. 

“It has been an amazing and humbling experience to be a part of all this,” said YMCA executive director Buzz Lambert. “One of the biggest accomplishments of the Y is when someone comes in and says, ‘I can’t imagine what it was like in this county before the Y.’

“The most important things in people’s lives are faith and family,” said Lambert. “The Y is a positive thing that families can gravitate to. The YMCA provides a foundation, a support system, for family and faith.

“I think the people who started this in late 2002 had a great deal of energy and vision, but I don’t think anyone envisioned the success of the Y in these five short years,” he said. “I think much of the success can be attributed to the fact there was a great need in this community for a YMCA.”

Lambert said the YMCA’s “biggest” success is that no one is turned down. “We’ve been able to reach people on different levels because we are open to all,” he said. “We raise enough money every year through our scholarship program to allow those who can’t afford to participate, to join.  We also have what we call a “membership-for-all program,” which supplements the cost for families whose “finances are stretched. 

“Our plan is to become that all-inclusive site to serve every need,” continued Lambert. “Sometimes, when I get frustrated with the pace, I just look back and see how far we’ve come, and I realize it’s just going to take time to achieve the next step.

Six brand new treadmills were purchased this year and are now in use in the exercise room.

“One of our biggest challenges is how we can extend the line to bring people into the Y from the upper end of the county,” he said.  “Demographically, we are in a good location as far as population is concerned, but we are aware that the distance from the upper end of the county is far, and we are working to find ways to bring people from that end of the county into the Y.”

One way has been to sponsor programs in Urbanna and elsewhere. The Y worked with Urbanna Parks and Recreation director Connie Bradshaw to co-sponsor a water aerobics class in the Urbanna pool. “We had as many as 30 people come out to that,” said Lambert.

Other co-partners with the Y have been the Middlesex County Public Schools, Middlesex Sports Complex, Fishing Bay Yacht Club, Deltaville Community Association, Mariner’s Museum in Newport News and Piankatank River Golf Club.

Over the past five years the Y has refurbished most of the space that was available at old Wilton School, and its long-term plan now includes an indoor swimming pool, expanded wellness center, and gymnasium. 

A building at the old Wilton School was recently refurbished for a teen center with televisions, computers, pool table and other games and activities for teens. 

Six brand new treadmills were purchased this year and are now in use in the exercise room. 

There are 1,100 members on the books, but that doesn’t include program participants and people who just walk in and pay to use the facilities, said Lambert.

Part of the success of the YMCA has been the numerous programs it has offered, said Lambert, such as karate classes, preschool and school-age childcare services, fitness orientations, personal training, cheerleading, Saturday Night Madness for teens, youth fall and spring soccer, and adult sports such as volleyball, dodgeball and soccer.

Group exercises include body sculpting, interval training, low-impact training, senior specialty sessions, step aerobics, yoga, and strength and toning exercise programs.

Lambert praises the work of the YMCA staff. “I see excitement and energy in our staff and I see it in our board members,” he said. “They all have a positive, can-do attitude. It’s inspiring to me and we end up attracting more and more of these type people.”

Lambert thanked the Middle­sex County Board of Supervisors for their support of the Y. The county is, for the most part, allowing the Y to use a county-owned facility at very little cost and has given it a long-term lease. Last year the county contributed $50,000 to the program. “It’s helped tremendously to make this all work,” he said.

The soccer program is the fastest growing youth sport in the county and the YMCA has 150 participants in the spring and 250 in the fall program.  “I love to see all the families that come out to watch soccer,” he said. “It’s a family dynamic that is a lost art in some areas. The program is structured. It’s wholesome. It’s good for the family.

“We owe a great deal of our success in our youth and adult programs to our program director, Clark Laster,” said Lambert. “He has a tremendous amount of energy and love of his job, and that has contributed greatly to the growth of our programs.”

Shelley Hodges, a member of the YMCA board, said they were acquainted with the YMCA when she and her husband moved back to Urbanna. Carolyn Schmalenberger and Bob Henkel came to Urbanna Baptist Church to present the idea of a YMCA coming to Middlesex County and the Hodges were there. 

“Keith and I have two small children and we were definitely onboard to offer our children some things that would not be available in a rural area unless we had a large organization, such as the YMCA, to afford us those opportunities,” said Mrs. Hodges.

“We’ve participated in just about every program and it has been wonderful,” she said. “My children have participated in the ballet program, cheerleading, soccer and exercise classes, and my husband has been in the adult dodgeball program. If we had enough time, we’d try karate and everything else.

“It’s my hope the YMCA will continue to be available to everyone in the county regardless of their financial status,” she said. “I hope it will continue to be a hub of community activity. The YMCA has been here for five years and we’re trying to expand to the upper end of the county. It’s hard, with our county being so long, to make things happen for everyone where they want it to happen, but we will continue to try.”

Schmalenberger, one of the YMCA founders, said, “It’s hard for me to imagine what it was like without a YMCA here in the county. Our mission was to be the community center for family activities, and I feel extremely blessed that our Y has gone well beyond what we had anticipated.

“It’s just been a wonderful addition to our county,” she said. “We have been blessed in that we have excellent servants. People have come together to work for the mission and to make sure we have had the leadership, facilities and equipment needed to make it all work.

“The county supervisors have been extraordinarily helpful,” said Schmalenberger. “They have allowed us to use the old school and we took a sow’s ear and turned it into a purse, but we couldn’t have done it without them.”

posted 02.26.2009

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