By Stefanie Jackson – After the YMCA of South Hampton Roads had the quickest capital campaign in its history – with more than 40 donors raising $4.5 million in eight months to build a Northampton County YMCA – a groundbreaking was held at the future site of the new facility in Cape Charles Aug. 15.
Participants followed COVID-19 precautions, wearing masks and social distancing at the event that was “a sign of great hope in the midst of trying times,” said Bill Stulb, chairman of the board of YMCA of South Hampton Roads.
The new YMCA, found at the intersection of Route 13 and Parson Circle in Cape Charles, will be the YMCA of South Hampton Roads’ 23rd location and its second on the Shore, after the Eastern Shore Family YMCA in Onley. Other YMCA facilities on the Shore include YMCA Camp Silver Beach, in Jamesville, and the David Landsberger Family YMCA, in Chincoteague, which is a part of the YMCA of Chesapeake.
Only $150,000 more is needed for the 15,000-square-foot facility to be 100% donor-funded.
The Northampton County YMCA will feature a fitness center, aerobics room, locker rooms, multipurpose rooms, and two outdoor pools – a family-friendly play pool and a four-lane lap pool for swimming lessons or training.
John Coker, of the Northampton board of supervisors, emphasized the importance of learning to swim – a lesson he learned at age eight, when he nearly drowned in Long Island Sound in New York.
Learning to swim is essential on the Eastern Shore because it’s surrounded by water on three sides, he said.
“This has been a dream of mine, and basically I want to have every child … as early as we can … in Northampton County learn how to swim,” Coker said.
He thanked the Rev. Russell Goodrich, of Cape Charles Baptist Church, and Bruce Bradley, former chairman of the board of YMCA of South Hampton Roads, who originally “hatched this idea” and in February 2019 shared it with Billy George, then president and CEO of the YMCA of South Hampton Roads.
Coker also thanked community members who “gave very generous gifts” and local businesses and organizations that donated and committed to participate in employee wellness programs at the new YMCA.
He noted that the YMCA will benefit not only locals but visitors who are YMCA members.
“As chairman of the Northampton County Board of Supervisors, we applaud the YMCA’s vision for a healthier Northampton County. We extend our warmest welcome to them,” Oliver Bennett added.
But the YMCA is more than a health and fitness center.
“A lot has changed this year, but our mission as a Y has not,” said Anthony Walters, president and CEO of the YMCA of South Hampton Roads.
That mission is to assist the community by providing a variety of services at affordable rates based on income, with the help of the YMCA’s donors.
The YMCA’s mission has been fulfilled in new ways during the COVID-19 pandemic, Walters said.
When schools closed abruptly this spring, Linda Strain, of Virginia Beach, Va., didn’t know how she could do her job, because she couldn’t afford childcare for her 9-year-old daughter, Bella.
The YMCA stepped in and provided affordable, emergency childcare to essential workers. The YMCA also also provided internet access so children like Bella could complete their online schoolwork.
Their story helped inspire the YMCA’s e-Learning Academy that starts this fall, one example of many ways the YMCA can help the community, Walters said.
“It’s wonderful to see the possibilities that community can build together … where children grow and families thrive,” said Congresswoman Elaine Luria.
“I asked what’s the timeline from the groundbreaking to the ribbon-cutting, where we can open the doors and see so many children and families enjoy this community center, and it’s just over a year from now,” she said.
Walters thanked everyone for investing in the local community and the YMCA. “I promise you will cherish it, and we will make this dream a reality very soon.”