There are 2,700 YMCA locations in 10,000 communities across the country.
Executive Director Chris Ghione with the Mt. Madonna YMCA in Morgan Hill says Gilroy should be no exception.
Ghione recently spearheaded the acquisition of a brand new YMCA office at 1057 First St. next to Straw Hat Pizza. The space will open to the public Oct. 1 and serve as the local headquarters for YMCA administrative support, as well as a convenient locale for parents who want to register their children – or themselves – for activities – versus making the 15-minute drive to Morgan Hill.
“It’s exciting to get started,” said Vice President of Operations John Remy with YMCA Silicon Valley.
He calls the new office in Gilroy a “foothold” and positive move in the right direction.
“This is how a lot of YMCA’s start in communities – out of an office and using community-based facilities and then, lo and behold, a few years down the road, they have their own facilities that they’re operating,” he continued. “We’re hoping that’s what will happen.”
Founded in 1884 as the Young Men Christian’s Association, the nonprofit YMCA focuses on youth development, healthy living and social responsibility. The organization now serves more than 45 million people in roughly 120 countries.
While the YMCA does charge fees to cover help operating costs, branches fundraise at the local level to assist low-income residents.
“If you can’t pay, it won’t stop you from being able to participate,” Ghione noted.
The Mt. Madonna YMCA has been facilitating for some time a variety of community classes in Gilroy, such as Projecto Movimiento, Zumba, Martial Arts, Abuelos Sanos (a nutrition and fitness class for senior citizens) and the Youth Health Advocates.
Setting up shop, however, is a significant step towards the long-term goal of establishing a full-fledged YMCA in the Garlic Capital.
In the interim, having a local office will create a sense of permanent presence, strengthen community relationships and segue to additional program offerings as YMCA partners with other local organizations to use different facilities within the community, Ghione explained.
“We have always been based out of Morgan Hill, and it’s kind of hard to serve a community when you’re not there,” he noted. “We’re really trying to become part of the (Gilroy) community.”
Opening an office, he continued, “is the first instrumental step we need in order to do something bigger, because obviously we’d love to have a full YMCA facility.”
That, naturally, requires time and money.
But it’s well worth it, according to those who have witnessed the benefits of a well-oiled YMCA.
As one of the first and former employees hired by the Mt. Madonna YMCA in 1989, Morgan Hill Councilwoman Marilyn Librers easily lists the myriad benefits.
“It brings numerous recreational opportunities and services that we as a city couldn’t give, because we’re not experts in fitness or swimming,” she said. “It opened up for our residents a whole new gamut of different recreational opportunities.”
Providing additional pastimes and positive outlets, additionally, helps veer teens away from trouble, Librers noted.
“The YMCA is all about families and values,” she said. “I think it’s excellent that we’re reaching out to the Gilroy community to expand programs and offer more services.”
The end result, for that matter, will be entirely unique to the needs and wants of Gilroyans.
A YMCA’s blueprint is relative to the fabric of its respective city; molded around factors such as location, population size, community needs, available facilities and potential building sites.
In Morgan Hill, for example, the Mt. Madonna YMCA occupies the $28 million, city-owned Centennial Recreation Center on West Edmundson Avenue.
The city and YMCA have jointly operated the facility since it opened Oct. 14, 2006 through a partnership agreement that holds the two groups responsible for overseeing different functions.
“We set goals for membership and revenues to cover the costs for operating, and if we exceed, we share the additional revenue, and if we don’t meet it, then we contribute to the loss,” Ghione explained.
The Mt. Madonna YMCA itself has been around since 1986.
For now, the Gilroy YMCA office will be staffed with three full-time and several part-time employees.
Rafael Arce, a former site director employee for a YMCA-operated afterschool program at Rucker Elementary School, has been hired on as the YMCA director for Healthy Living Programs in Gilroy. He’s excited to beef up program offerings, eventually tacking on new classes such as Yoga and personal training.
Ghione also mentioned possible classes including hip-hop style dance, military-style workout, corporate wellness and a summer camp.
It’s a little early to earmark potential locations for future facilities, although a centralized spot with accessibility to folks “who don’t have the best vehicular transportation” will be ideal, Ghione said.
City Recreation Department Director Maria De Leon called the YMCA a “great organization” that will help city recreation staff cater to Gilroy’s growing population.
“I’m a big fan,” she said. “They’re a great partner. They always have been, always will be.”
Councilman Perry Woodward highlights the YMCA’s expansion as “cause for celebration” that will allow the City of Gilroy to provide “better and more cost-effective recreation options.”
Woodward’s enthusiasm was echoed by Councilman Peter Leroe-Muñoz. Gilroy is a “prime location” for a future YMCA facility because of the large youth population and available space, he said.
“A new YMCA facility would be a win for our community’s health and development,” he wrote.
Remy says there is no standard on how long it takes for a city to develop its own YMCA facility or buildings, as each case is unique.
“But the important thing is there’s a presence there in Gilroy,” he said. “There will be awareness of the YMCA and we will start being able to do more in the community than we’ve done in the past.”
• Will open to the public Oct. 1 and serve as the administrative/
programming headquarters for local activities and classes in Gilroy.
• Located at 1057 First St. in Gilroy
• Want to help? The Gilroy office needs the following items. Contact Chris Ghione at (408) 762-6013.
• Partitions and cubicles • Safe with drop door • Quality file cabinets
• Plastic/metal wall mount or stacking boxes • Portable tables or chairs
• Office Chairs, staff desks, conference tables • Sound system • White boards • Microwave • Small refrigerator