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A Century of Serving Washington County
The Hagerstown YMCA continues to expand on its long list of educational and athletic programs for residents of all ages.
by Jane Schmidt and photos by Turner Photography Studio
In 1917, the pioneering force of the YMCA came to Hagerstown to improve the surrounding community through many successfully established nurturing and shared programs designed to help people of all ages. Fast-forward 100 years to today’s Hagerstown “Y” on Eastern Boulevard North and you’ll discover its community outreach and educational efforts extend well beyond the scope of its initial offerings a century ago. “The Hagerstown YMCA is not defined by the walls of our building,” shares Hagerstown YMCA CEO Maria Rubeling. “We are so much more than ‘gym and swim.’ We are a huge community center focused on teaching our kids and helping them to learn the beauty of what a community looks like.”
Hagerstown YMCA Board of Directors President and longtime Y member Archie van Norden shares, “Our focus is on addressing community issues as they relate to youth development, healthy living, and social responsibility; and to develop comm-unity partnerships that help us actively focus and address as many needs as possible.”
A Different School Of Thought
The Hagerstown YMCA’s focus on education includes its year-round, on-site childcare center, and off-site Before and After School Enrichment (BASE) programs during the school year, which provide hundreds of families with quality, licensed childcare.
The Y offers the BASE Program at 12 of Washington County Public Schools’ elementary schools, with more than half of them being Title I. The BASE program partnership with WCPS will expand during the 2017–2018 school year to include Ruth Anne Munroe Primary and Eastern Elementary schools. The BASE program incorporates science, technology, engineering, arts, and math (STEAM) activities and reading programs that serve roughly 500 children, according to Senior Program Director for Youth Development DJ Stouffer. Both programs participate in Maryland State Dept. of Education EXCELS rigorous certification.
To become Maryland EXCELS-certified, the Hagerstown YMCA continually monitors adherence to stringent guide-lines, accreditations, and licensing requirements. “The Hagerstown YMCA partnered with the Maryland State Dept. of Education EXCELS program to bring top quality childcare to lower income areas. The program is designed to serve any family with or without Purchase of Care (POC) vouchers,” Maria explains. “It’s a huge impact on the community. We provide parents with quality, affordable childcare that assures their peace of mind while they’re working. It’s a win-win situation.”
The Y’s on-site child care center offers infant, two-, three- , and four-year-olds classrooms with 70 kids attending daily. Preschool activities include ongoing kindergarten-readiness assessments. “Our goal is to have every child who goes through our child care center kindergarten-ready,” explains Child Care and Specialty Camps Director Rhoni Mills.
There is also the School’s Out Program, which is open to all WCPS elementary-age students during designated dates and times. “We operate during snow days, teacher workshops, when schools aren’t open — like holiday breaks — plus bridge the time when school ends and camps begin so there’s no gap in available childcare,” relates DJ.
The Y also augments the lives of secondary-education students. Community input has helped BASE program expansion at Williamsport Elementary to include stu-dents through eighth grade, states Paula Jackson, director of its BASE after-school program. “Now kids get their home-work done before sports. They aren’t latchkey kids. Plus we have high school kids earning required student service hours by helping out.”
The True Grits Awards banquet — celebrating its 36th year — honors senior athletes from each Washington County high school who have overcome hardship and obstacles to become or remain a member of an athletic team. North Hagerstown High School’s Leader’s Club — now in its second year — helps students develop leadership skills. “This year we hosted a presentation by Meritus, our group toured Volvo, a college student discussed college life, and we spotlighted financial planning and saving. We’re giving kids tools they can use to help them beyond high school to make concrete decisions about their fut-ures,” explains Deborah Phillips, director of teen outreach and the adventure and counselor-in-training camps.
Growing Without The Pains
In addition to education, the Hagerstown YMCA helps young people develop valuable life skills via its many sports and specialty camps. “We have seen camp attendance grow through the years,” relates Archie. “Our themed camps provide kids with life-lasting experiences while giving them great opportunities to learn something new and different.”
This past summer, the Y offered 24 camps for kids ages 5 through 17. “There’s a wide range of camps for all interests and income levels, from free weekly camps at local parks in partnership with the City of Hagerstown, low-cost camps at designated WCPS schools, and specialty and adventure camps,” explains DJ.
Specialty camps included “Animal Adventures” in partnership with the Washington County Humane Society; “Lego Robotics,” which allowed kids to be design engineers using maker space environments; and “Medieval Camp” featuring a trip to Medieval Times, among others. “We strive to make sure our kids have their best summer ever,” relates Grant Kane, lead camp counselor and BASE program director. “We offer meals, fun, and learning, plus the chance to build lasting friendships,” adds Rhoni.
The counselor-in-training program for 14- and 15-year-olds teaches leadership, teamwork, and job skills. The leadership-in-training program for kids age 15–17 prepares teens for employment through teamwork-oriented leadership, with the goal being placement with-in positions of their area of interest and expertise within the Y. “Many of these kids come back to work for us. They learn how to be on time, follow directions, and proper interaction with members of their community. We’re teaching them responsibility,” explains Deborah.
The Picture Of Health
Health and fitness education for all ages is vital to the Hagerstown YMCA’s mission, as evidenced through its many kids’ and adult sports leagues and activities, fitness classes, aquatics, and health programs.
The Hagerstown YMCA offers seasonal leagues featuring soccer, volleyball, basketball, T-ball, wrestling, and lacrosse for kids age 6–14. “Many local athletes get their start at the Y,” shares Theresa Searcy, youth/adult sports and sports camp director. “Numerous high school and collegiate athletes who played here help us with summer sports camp programs and league sports.”
Basic skills including sportsmanship, problem solving, teamwork, and individual instruction are key elements. “We direct coaching and teaching each game according to the child’s age development. Kids are taught to enjoy the game before learning skills necessary to accomplish it. We focus on the individual first and move on to team and sport-specific skills,” states Theresa.
The Y features the HAGY Gators swim team, swim lessons for all ages, and includes swimming lessons for kids enrolled in onsite childcare and Y summer camps. The Y pool also partners with Special Olympics and area kayaking, canoeing, and scuba teaching organizations. “YMCA Aquatics helps both the young and old with confidence, coordination and lifesaving skills,” relates Aquatics Director Wendy Chapin. “Water confidence helps with self-esteem, body awareness, and coordination.” Head Swim Coach Roxy Thurmond shares that Y swim team members gain countless life skills, including a strong work ethic, mental toughness, and commitment to push beyond limitations to succeed both in and out of the pool.
For adults and older kids, the Y offers a comprehensive fitness center. Once kids reach middle school age, they may complete fitness center orientation through a Y-certified personal trainer. “This gives kids and families great opportunity to become healthier at a younger age and maintain healthy habits throughout their lives,” shares Fitness Director Sonia Reyes.
In addition to the fitness center and basketball court, there are also designated areas for racquetball and pickle ball, along with 64 onsite fitness classes weekly, included with membership, taught by 32 instructors. “We offer 40-plus land classes and 20-plus water-based classes for all fitness levels and differing needs. Our classes include all levels, from low- to high-intensity. We offer therapeutic classes like arthritis water class and specialty classes like Body Pump, land and water Zumba, kickboxing, indoor cycling, interval aerobics, and more,” elaborates Sonia. The Y also offers many adult group sports, including drop-in basketball and volleyball, racquetball and pickle ball games, and co-ed adult soccer league. To encourage personal growth, there is also a modeling club, chess club, portrait painting group, and senior citizen band ensemble.
Health programs support the Y’s mission toward a healthy lifestyle for the entire family. HEAL of Washington County became an umbrella department of the Hagerstown YMCA this year. “Bringing HEAL under the Y’s direction will help us better utilize grant monies and make our combined efforts stronger,” shares Shelby DeHaven, HEAL program director.
HEAL’s Healthy Business Challenge and Healthy School Initiative, in partnership with Meritus Health, the Washington County Health Dept., and the University of Maryland Extension, take healthy habits and lifestyles into area businesses and schools. “This year 42 businesses and 80 percent of WCPS schools participated, with 27 schools earning healthy designations,” shares Shelby.
HEAL’s Color Splash, in its fifth year, is the area’s second largest 5K. “We’re excited for this year’s event. We have a lot of fun planned for kids, families, and folks of all ages,” Shelby states. The Y plans on adding onsite health screening events through partnerships with Hagerstown Community College and the University of Maryland Extension and health fairs onsite and at locations throughout Washington County.
Leaving A Lasting Impression
Malik Hughes and Bill Hunsberger are among thousands of Hagerstown YMCA members whose lives have had a positive impact from the organization since its arrival to Washington County a century ago.
Malik, 18, began attending Y camp at age 5, and continued on to become a certified camp counselor with the Y’s new Camp Sabre Tooth held at Salem Avenue Elementary School this past summer. “I grew up in the streets and was in fights a lot,” he recalls. “When I started working here, DJ (Stouffer) looked out for me. He was a great role model who I continue to look up to. I realized two summers ago when I was working with a boy with Down syndrome that helping kids made me feel good. I’m proud to work at the Y. It’s more than a community. It’s more like a family to me,” shares Malik.
The Y offered Bill Hunsberger an opportunity to continue learning while maintaining his health. Four years ago at age 76, Bill discovered pickle ball and has been an enthusiastic participant in round robins at the Hagerstown Y and throughout the area since. A lifelong athlete and retired psychotherapist, Bill won the gold medal in both the Super Senior International Pickle Ball Association Tournament men’s doubles 75-plus age bracket in May, and the National Senior Games mixed doubles 80–84 age bracket in June. “My pickle ball playing went from being a diversion to the players becoming another family,” Bill shares. “Plus, it also taught me patience — that carries over into life. By the time I’m 95 I’ll be a fairly patient guy. I also mentor the younger guys in their 40s. I always tell them I’ll be out there watching them play senior games,” he laughs.
“Our continued goal is to respond to our community’s critical needs,” shares Maria. “We keep striving to make the Y an inviting, friendly place, to provide growth and add new programs. A huge part of what we do is for our kids, and they’re the next generation in our community. It’s important the Y continues as an important community partner.”