The Community YMCA Begins Celebration of Milestone
By Judy O’Gorman Alvarez
RED BANK – The Y is not just a gym anymore.
Over the past 140 years The Community YMCA has adjusted and expanded to serve the ever-changing needs of the community.
“Many people think of the Y to work out and play basketball and learn to swim,” said Rhonda Anderson, president and CEO of The Community YMCA, “but the diversity of services and programs that we offer is most surprising to people.”
Among the services offered is day care. The Community YMCA is one of the largest nonprofit providers of day care in the country. In addition, “Our particular YMCA provides counseling services for people suffering from substance abuse problems” and other issues, Anderson said. “We serve so many needs.
“We run the spectrum from infants to seniors,” she said. “We cross all ages, all cultures, and so many aspects of our society with our services for 140 years. That’s a result of the wonderful volunteers who have helped to keep the Y a wonderful place to come.”
This week the Y is beginning its celebration of 140 years of serving Red Bank and Monmouth County. The Community Y is holding several events and activities throughout the year to mark the anniversary, starting with its Annual Campaign Kick Off, a family-friendly, carnival-themed event being held at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 19 at the Family Health & Wellness Center, 166 Maple Ave.
“This campaign is to raise funds for the community,” Anderson said. Additional events will commemorate the Y’s milestone, culminating in an annual gala in October.
Of course today’s YMCA is a far cry from 1874 when clergy and businessmen in the area founded the Red Bank YMCA to serve the needs of the community. At the time, the organization was considered a safe haven for young men with the mission to “put Judeo-Christian principles into practice through programs that build a healthy spirit, mind and body for all.”
Now The Community Y serves 20,000 people of all ages and backgrounds throughout Monmouth County and parts of Middlesex and Ocean counties.
Known for more than just “swim and gym,” as it’s commonly referred to, it is a community-focused organization touting a plethora of exercise opportunities, before and after-school programs, camps, as well as counseling and social services programs that provide mental health and drug addiction services, all focusing on teaching independence and teamwork and building self-esteem.
“The Community Y strives to address society’s needs, whatever they are,” Anderson said.
A main focus is on healthy living through the Healthy U program that creates ways to help attendees prevent diabetes and help families overcome childhood obesity. The program, held in partnership with the Horizon Foundation for New Jersey, is part of the Y’s preschool and after-school programs and is even expanding to be part of the curriculum in area schools, such as the Red Bank Charter School.
In addition to the expansive Red Bank Family Health & Wellness Center on Maple Avenue, the Y runs summer programs at Camp Arrowhead in Marlboro, year-round programs at Camp Zehnder in Wall and counseling and social services office in Matawan and Eatontown.
Last year the Bayshore Family Success Center was opened in Union Beach to provide families impacted by Super Storm Sandy with resources. “There are several throughout the state,” Anderson said. “The premise is that you want to have a resource for people in the community to gather information,” she said. The idea is “to catch people before they get into crisis … We serve as a resource.”
Through its various counseling services and working with the state’s division of youth and family services, the Y’s trained professionals also work to reunite families and children who were removed from their homes.
The Red Bank Y has been an integral part of life for generations of some families. Jennifer Lakefield, a volunteer board member, has been a card-carrying YMCA member since she was a child in the Y’s Indian Princess program with her father.
“That was my very special time to spend with my Dad,” said Lakefield of the father/daughter program that involved such activities as arts and crafts and camping trips. “It was a progressive program for the early ‘70s. It taught girls (how to have) more confidence.”
Throughout the years, Lakefield and her brother took swim lessons and participated in other programs. “It solidified a lot of family time and values,” she said. “It was always about spending time as a family and building your skills set as individual.”
Her father, Bruce Lakefield, served on the Y’s board and Lakefield followed his example of involvement. “He got involved and talked about another way for us to do things together and doing good for the Y,” she said.
Nowadays, Lakefield and her husband Bryan Briscoe and their children, Mackenzie, 14, and 13-year-old T.J., continue to be active members of the YMCA. “The Y helps families stay together, instills family values and helps individuals to grow,” said Lakefield, who is a managing director of an asset management firm. “You can give money to different organizations that can feed the poor or clothe them and it will fulfill some immediate need, but the Y does so much more than that. It helps an individual grow and become an important person in the community and contribute to it at a later date.
“We like to think of it as a self-fulfilling upward spiral: You help one and they help many,” said Lakefield, who is also head of the Y’s annual fundraising campaign for the second year in a row. “If you can help the youth (of the community) and give them strength of mind and body, they’re going to make smart choices and will continue that through life.