A committee to push for a YMCA in St. Mary’s discussed possible locations for a new center and heard what it could look like.
A dozen members of the YMCA Local Exploratory Committee filled each seat at the Chesapeake building in Leonardtown on Thursday and other surrounding seats for their first meeting. The group will meet over the next five months to talk about the center’s future and provide recommendations for next steps to the county commissioners.
After brief introductions when some members spoke about their experiences with YMCAs in other towns, the committee heard from Commissioner Mike Hewitt (R).
“I believed for a long time we needed a community center in Lexington Park,” he said, adding that he also believes in equity across the county. “We have to look at the best way to do this.”
The first step is picking land, and the committee was shown a map of available private and county-owned property in Charlotte Hall, Lexington Park and Leonardtown.
Hewitt recommended the committee keeps in mind town population, transportation and mentioned a spot by Great Mills High School.
“The closer to a school you can be, the better,” Robbie Gill, the CEO of YMCA of the Chesapeake, said.
Mike Brown, committee member and president of Unified Committee for Afro-American Contributions, said he’s heard people are scared to be in the Great Mills area. Gill suggested talking to the community and trying to fix racial and perception issues within the next six months.
Gill, who’s worked with the YMCA for 25 years, said the committee needs to find out what the community needs are and implement them into the center.
“The Y can be anything you want it to be,” Gill told the committee.
The CEO explained that although the organization was founded by Christians, it is not a Christian organization. In fact, YMCA Chesapeake is governed by a diverse 20-member board and each center has its own advisory board, she said.
YMCA Chesapeake, which St. Mary’s would fall under, has 10 branches, 40,000 members and provides $1,785,000 in financial assistance.
In Gill’s presentation, he outlined over a dozen steps to take to open the YMCA. The third step is forming a local exploratory committee and its sub-steps are to investigate the community needs, learn about YMCA programs, identify potential locations for a facility and gauge fundraising capacity. Breaking ground on the new YMCA isn’t until step No. 11. Gill said a YMCA in St. Michael’s took 12 years to build.
“I’m not sure if all those aspects fit our charge,” John Parlett, a business leader on the committee, said. “There’s no way we can get through all that in five meetings.”
Gill said the group should think about if they want a YMCA or a community center. He added the study would take about 60 days.
“I don’t think the community has the patience,” Parlett said. “I believe there’s a desire to see it this year or the next year after.” An applause from the audience followed. “I don’t know if we have the ability, but we have the desire,” he said.
The Campaign for a Community/Youth Center created a report last year called “Dreaming Big for Youth: An Expert Working Group Analysis of Data Collected by Community Youth Mappers” where students surveyed 400 people to find out what young people are missing from the community and an expert working group analyzed the data.
They concluded the county lacks indoor space, a space is needed for everyone to come together and the space cannot just be about sports.
Marcia Greenberg, an organizer with the Steering Committee for a Community Youth Center who helped organize the report, said the community center should have a “strong youth focus but it is not only for young people.”
She also said Lexington Park should be the primary location for the center but acknowledged there is a need in the northern part of the county, too. However, the greatest need is in Lexington Park, Greenberg said, and the traffic from Naval Air Station Patuxent River after work and school can make it difficult for southern county residents to travel north.
The committee has two more meetings to figure out a location and share information about the YMCA with the community.