‘It’s an amazing place’

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, February 8, 2005

On Tuesday night, a sea of vehicles overflowing the parking area told the story. Something big was happening in the Camellia City. A true celebratory atmosphere was in the air.

In spite of cold, wet weather, people of all ages turned out by the carload to celebrate the opening of Greenville’s &uot;new&uot; YMCA facility, now located at the former Greenville Academy campus.

The YMCA board, staff members and volunteers were on hand to welcome guests and direct them to the gymnasium. In the gym, many visitors stopped to enjoy a lavish array of refreshments provided by L.V. Stabler Memorial Hospital and served by the Camellia Girls and Chamber Pages. A number of local dignitaries and YMCA executives were also on hand for the program.

Allen Stephenson served as the master of ceremonies for the evening’s program, giving a warm welcome to all present.

Miss Greater Greenville Board member Jill Stallworth introduced the new Miss Greater Greenville, Christen Clarke, who gave a brief speech before being whisked away to a dinner with Miss America in Andalusia.

‘A wonderful opportunity’

Clarke, a student at USA in Mobile, shared briefly about her own teenage struggles to regain her fitness following a knee injury and subsequent 40-pound weight gain.

&uot;I know what it is like to have health problems, and to struggle to learn how to keep fit and make the right choices…this facility provides a wonderful opportunity for the young people of this community to overcome similar problems,&uot; Clarke said.

&uot;We are seeing an epidemic of obesity among our children today. A healthy child is a productive child – being fit helps build confidence, character, poise and self-esteem. 60 percent of our nation’s children are not involved in regular physical activity. We can help turn around statistics like these through our YMCA,&uot; said Clarke.

Clarke, who visited the YMCA after-school daycare on Tuesday afternoon, will be returning to the city on Feb. 7 and 8 to discuss ideas for fundraising for the facility and to visit area P.E. and Health classes.

‘A great thing for Greenville’

During Tuesday night’s program, Stephenson recognized the Greenville Academy Board for their significant contribution to a dream being realized, saying,

&uot;These are the folks who made this all possible by giving us this property at a third of what is probably is worth.&uot;

GA board member Phillip Graham shared his excitement over the renovated 30,000-square-foot facility.

&uot;Two years ago, there was a basketball game being played in here – a year ago, this place was silent. What were we going to do with property? We knew we did not want profiteering to come about from its sale…the YMCA was the ideal fit. This is absolutely amazing – it is going to be a great thing for Greenville for years to come,&uot; said Graham.

Having a vision

&uot;Amazing&uot; seemed to be the watchword of the evening.

Stephenson spoke to the audience of &uot;the amazing things you can do with God at your side.&uot;

YMCA Executive Director Amanda Phillips gleefully referred to the Y’s &uot;amazing battle of the rooms.&uot;

&uot;We had all these civic groups, businesses, churches, adopting these rooms in this facility, and it all started out pretty simple, some new paint and carpet. Then this friendly competition really got going – and isn’t it great what they did!&uot; Phillips enthused.

Members of the community, who had worked at the Y as part of their community service sentence, also shared how the entire experience had benefited them, giving them the satisfaction of truly &uot;being able to give back to the community.&uot;

Top Y officials were equally impressed by what had been accomplished.

&uot;The Bible says, ‘Without a vision, the people will perish.’ Judging by what I see here tonight, this town will be around for a long, long time,&uot; said Bob McGaughey, CEO of the Metro YMCA, to thunderous applause.

A community coming together

Following the program, visitors were encouraged to take a tour of the building and see all the rooms that had been &uot;adopted&uot; and transformed by local citizens. A simple plaque outside of each door indicates which organization or business sponsored the room.

&uot;That’s what has been so wonderful about this entire experience; all of these churches, civic groups, businesses, students, individuals – profit and non-profit organizations – coming together to make this happen for the community. There has been such a cooperative spirit throughout this process,&uot; said Peytie Cureton of Whitney Bank, which sponsored the older children’s room.

While art students from Greenville High were responsible for creating the familiar Whitney clock logo on the wall, Cureton said she and fellow Whitney employees put in their time painting the room in basic primary colors.

&uot;The older kids told us they didn’t want anything ‘baby-ish’, so we kept it simple. I think the tables and chairs we chose are great. We found out we can wield a paintbrush just fine…it’s been a great experience,&uot; she said with a broad smile.

Pastel-hued fairy tale castles, big red barns with John Deere tractors, animals flying airplanes and driving trains, Greenville’s own downtown – all this and more appears on the walls of the Y rooms for infants and younger children.

Baby beds, high chairs, pint-sized chairs and tables and other equipment and furniture complete the rooms. The hallway walls have colorful Disney characters on display, along with scripture verses and other quotes, providing good &uot;food for thought&uot; to all who pass through the building.

&uot;We don’t try to hide what we are doing here, the prayers we hold and the message of the Gospel we share. We have a chance to touch all these children’s lives for the Lord,&uot; Stephenson said.

Business as usual

During the YMCA open house, its daily business – keeping local citizens healthy and active – continued.

Tae-kwon-do classes met during the evening, while fitness and aerobic rooms were filled with Y members aspiring to trim down and shape up.

Members’ children and grandchildren enjoyed craft activities in a nearby classroom.

Nine-year-old Jaquez Brown was one of those busy youngsters. &uot;Just having fun while I’m waiting on my mom,&uot; he explained.