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YMCA aims to inspire Wichitans inside and outside new Downtown Y

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Thursday, Oct. 25, 2012, at 7:12 p.m.
  • Updated Monday, Nov. 5, 2012, at 9:25 p.m.

Making a difference

At their Making A Difference dinner Thursday, YMCA officials announced their volunteers and coaches of the year.

Volunteers: Rick Blick (South YMCA); Sharon Buck (Northwest); Bob Clinger (Andover); Sharon Hamric (Child Care & Camp); Jim Korroch (Metro); Karen Osborn (Downtown); Greg Perkins (East); Staci Rickard (El Dorado). Alvina Rohling (West); Amy Schmidt (Camp Hyde); Ed Walsh (North), and Brian Wilkinson (Community Development)

Coaches: Robert Bigley (South); Josh Bolan (Andover); Brian Carlson (North); Courtney Lawrence (West); Jason Peffley (El Dorado); David Ramirez (Northwest); J.J. Selmon (East), and Darren Vance (Farha Sports Center)

The new Robert D. Love Downtown YMCA, with its 40,000 square feet of glass, will light up downtown Wichita at night after it opens in December.

But Greater Wichita YMCA leaders now say there is more there than will meet the eye. They announced ambitious plans Thursday evening about what they hope to inspire inside and far outside that building.

The architects designed the $23 million building so people outside can be motivated to better health by seeing hundreds of fellow Wichitans swimming, working out, playing basketball, jogging around a six-lap-to-the-mile track.

“It will be finest downtown YMCA in the United States,” director Dennis Schoenebeck says. “It will be like a lighthouse downtown.”

But the question all along, Schoenebeck says, has been how the Downtown YMCA and the momentum from a nearly completed $40 million capital improvements building program metro-wide can be harnessed to do more good for the community. The answer is that YMCA officials hope to get their 155,000 members to volunteer – making the YMCA a more active social lighthouse to the community.

The YMCA and community leaders announced at their annual dinner plans to push for healthy diets, to reach out more to youth currently underserved and to inspire YMCA members to produce 1 million hours a year of volunteer time by the year 2020.

YMCA officials don’t have many specifics, in part because they want volunteers to define the methods. But they hope to inspire and help organize everything from blood drives – which will be their first project – to outreach programs to people in need, schools, and to the community’s many nonprofit organizations.

The YMCA, founded, as it says, to “put Christian principles into practice,” has pushed over the years to help the community. It offers facilities and services, including day care, to everyone, including many people who don’t have the money to pay.

Last year, YMCA officials said, they gave $5 million in subsidies to those needing help to get in the YMCA. About 67,000 children and adults will receive free YMCA services, program scholarships and income-based assistance in 2012, officials said.

The new effort will go beyond that, YMCA leaders say. Last year, for example, YMCA members donated 85,000 volunteer hours in Wichita. The new goal of 1 million volunteer hours by 2020 is nearly 13 times that, and is intended to serve the Wichita community outside the YMCA.

YMCA leaders said people in Wichita challenged them to set ambitious goals. One was Carol Nazar, the director of donor and grant-making services at the Wichita Community Foundation. Another was Robert Layton, Wichita’s city manager.

Nazar said parks are everything to many children who can’t get to the YMCA, and that many neighborhood parks “are in disarray.” She suggested YMCA volunteers could improve parks, refilling sandboxes, painting slides and making repairs.

Layton said this week that he knew the YMCA did much for the community and somewhat “kept it under wraps.” When they came to him to talk about their future plans, “I pointed out to them that they already touch so many folks – so what is the next step for the Y, and how far should their reach go?”

Layton said he was surprised when he heard how far they intended to go, with the million hours, for example. But he also said he heard about the YMCA’s reputation before he became city manager in 2009.

“When I took this job, and before I came here, the leader of the Y system in Des Moines told me that I’d really like the Wichita Y,” Layton said. “He said they were already a leader in the nation with facilities and programs. So now again, they are way ahead of the curve.”

Schoenebeck said the new YMCA on Market – between Third and Central – is integral to the volunteer effort and all the other plans. With 40,000 square feet of glass, the building will have more window space than the new Intrust Bank Arena. Even the interior paint scheme, with several bright colors, is part of the overall plan: glass, lighting and bright colors all blending to make the place inviting and attractive.

That’s part of the new strategy, Schoenebeck said. YMCA leaders want the community to be proud of what the community has built. But they also hope to get community residents to bond with each other in new ways.

So the new downtown YMCA will have a video wall in the lobby – 9 feet tall and 16 feet wide – which can either showcase one message or program, or display several messages, serving as a community activity billboard.

The screen will overlook the new coffee bar and cafeteria. And throughout the three stories of the new YMCA, there will be chairs grouped together; and there will be meeting rooms, which are already booked in advance by nonprofit organizations in Wichita.

Schoenebeck said the building was designed to connect people, as well as get them in shape.

Reach Roy Wenzl at 316-268-6219 or rwenzl@wichitaeagle.com.

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