The North Naples YMCA is back, and it’s bigger and better than ever.
In September 2013, the Naples community was devastated when the local North Naples YMCA was struck by lightning. The resulting three-alarm fire burned through most of Labor Day, and caused an estimated $2 million in damages. Nearly 70 percent of the main building was destroyed as fire consumed indoor recreation areas, locker rooms, the fitness facility, and on-site daycare rooms. What the fire didn’t take was heavily water-damaged from the firefighters’ efforts. This left almost 6,000 members adrift as the organization hurried to relocate most of its service programs and get reconstruction underway.
Happily, the community rallied to help; fitness members were graciously welcomed into the NCH Healthcare Wellness Centers, and the Marco Island and Bonita Springs YMCAs opened their doors as well. Childcare programs were relocated to churches and schools. All around Naples, businesses and organizations came together to support a community institution that had always supported them.
Thanks to this influx of funds and the vision of the board of directors, members, and volunteers, the community center began constructing a bigger, better, and brighter facility. This new campus will help to support the YMCA mission of putting community values into practice through programs that build healthy, caring, respectful individuals.
“It’s a blessing in disguise,” director Paul Thein said. “We’re 15 years into the future because of this fire.”
The new YMCA facility, which opened January 14, outstrips the earlier model in every way. The entire campus has been redesigned to make use of all available space, including its grounds — not only will members have access to state-of-the-art indoor fitness facilities, but they will also be able to use more of the campus’s 20 acres of outdoor space. These new outdoor facilities include a running trail and ropes course, as well as a nature preserve and children’s nature trails. Canoeing and fishing have been added to the program. The Y hopes that these new areas will inspire the community to take on challenges, learn about teamwork, and strengthen environmental awareness.
Inside, the gymnasium is brand-new, and the locker rooms have been completely renovated. The pool has been updated to a world-class, 25-yard saltwater lap pool. The Naples YMCA will continue to teach water safety, swimming mechanics, and competitive swimming. As the largest aquatics provider in the world, the greater YMCA organization has long known that these activities help children feel more confident and secure — both in the water and on dry land.
The new space goes so far above and beyond expectations. The facility, which is over 60,000 square feet, has expanded its single-story wellness center to two floors, and added a healthy café to boot. Powered by Wynns, this café will fuel members pre- and post-workout, and for those who cannot get to the gym during regular hours, the Y now includes a 24-hour fitness facility that includes standard equipment and exercise programs that can be followed independently.
The hope for this new space — beyond fitness — is that locals will find a like-minded group of community members, who will help support each other as they strive for health and wellness. Diverse fitness offerings, dance classes, yoga, organized group sports, wellness activities, self defense, and youth sports programs are all on the schedule, helping to develop a sense of camaraderie, sportsmanship, and the foundations of a healthy lifestyle.
“The Y is a place for the whole family,” says Dama Foege, YMCA yoga instructor and YMCA daycare mom. “I find the people that gravitate there are family-oriented and completely diverse. It really helps create a cohesive and healthy community. I am so grateful that we are fortunate enough to have this fabulous new center for the current residents and all the new families that keep coming to Southwest Florida.”
Beyond helping local adults maintain physical health and wellness, the YMCA serves the community’s children and youth. The full-time daycare center supports between 60 and 100 children. After-school programs provide many children with a safe environment to do homework, have a healthy snack, and forge friendships, and they also provide working parents with some peace of mind. Summer camps allow local children to explore new skills, engage in team athletics, and build healthy habits. Plus, new programs such as the childcare garden enable children in daycare to learn about good nutrition while being in nature, and experience the benefits of growing and eating vegetables firsthand.
The YMCA has long been a place for children of all economic, social, and ethnic backgrounds to come together and develop in an atmosphere of trust and support. While currently attending to all of these needs, the Naples YMCA is still in the process of building a cutting-edge childhood development center. The Gaynor Early Learning center is being built to provide learning services for the Youth Development program, focusing on a child-first mentality of teaching. The outside campus will include the Ripken Foundation Field, which will allow the Naples YMCA and the Special Olympics to have a facility for children of all abilities to play side by side. Speech therapy, occupational and physical therapy, social behavior, and pediatric neurology will all be available to members of the community.
Over its history in service, the YMCA Youth and Children’s programs have had a profound effect on thousands of young lives. The organization focuses on nurturing potential while ensuring the development of healthy relationships and social responsibility, which helps members build confidence and character — the Y’s focus on healthy childhood development has created a strong foundation for many of our current community leaders.