Let’s lure Ocean Com­mu­nity YMCA’s magic to the Nor­wich-New Lon­don cor­ri­dor

The Day - - REGION - This is the opin­ion of David Collins.

It’s hard to think of a more suc­cess­ful com­mu­nity-build­ing non­profit around here than the Ocean Com­mu­nity YMCA, which is about to chris­ten its mag­nif­i­cent new $7.3 mil­lion fa­cil­ity in Mys­tic, its sec­ond ma­jor project since it be­gan im­ple­ment­ing a 2006 strate­gic plan­ning study.

Its first project, a $8.5 mil­lion re­build of its flag­ship fa­cil­ity in down­town Westerly, al­most dou­bled mem­ber­ship for that branch, from 5,100 to 9,500. That’s al­most half the pop­u­la­tion of the town.

Mem­ber­ship in Mys­tic is bud­geted to grow from 5,000 to 7,500 in two years.

To visit the Westerly Y on a busy week­end af­ter­noon is to wit­ness com­mu­nity in­volve­ment at its best, a hive of ac­tiv­ity bring­ing to­gether all kinds of peo­ple of all ages, com­ing for swim­ming, bas­ket­ball, yoga, fit­ness les­sons and fit­ness fa­cil­i­ties, classes and in­struc­tion. It is enor­mously fam­ily friendly, with pro­grams for adults and chil­dren and on-site child care.

It’s open to every­one. The Ocean Com­mu­nity Y gave $600,000 in schol­ar­ships this year, a re­flec­tion of the gen­er­ous com­mu­nity sup­port for such out­reach.

The fundrais­ing for Mys­tic got a $1.2 mil­lion con­tri­bu­tion from Sekhar and Ar­chana Naik of Mys­tic, for whom the fa­cil­ity is named. There were sim­i­lar large con­tri­bu­tions from donors who lean to­ward anonymity, said Mau­reen Fitzger­ald, Ocean Com­mu­nity Y pres­i­dent and chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer. What won­der­ful gen­eros­ity.

Two busi­nesses that have been sub­stan­tial donors in­clude Wash­ing­ton Trust Ban­corp and the Valenti fam­ily of deal­er­ships.

The new pro­jects in Westerly and Mys­tic are a for­mula for suc­cess that Fitzger­ald says can be repli­cated in other com­mu­ni­ties, in­clud­ing Nor­wich, Gro­ton, Montville, New Lon­don and Water­ford, all part of Ocean Com­mu­nity’s ser­vice area, as des­ig­nated by the na­tional Y.

The next ma­jor project, which al­ready is be­ing scoped out, is a re­make of Ocean Com­mu­nity’s third ex­ist­ing branch, in Rich­mond, R.I., cur­rently in a store­front with­out a pool. A search for land for a new fa­cil­ity to re­place that one is un­der­way.

But a new branch in New Lon­don or Nor­wich or other com­mu­ni­ties in this part of the re­gion could fol­low or even be de­vel­oped si­mul­ta­ne­ously with the one around Rich­mond, Fitzger­ald said.

“We are al­ways look­ing to ex­pand our mis­sion, us­ing our strate­gic plan to do that,” she said.

That should be a whis­tle for com­mu­nity lead­ers here, es­pe­cially in New Lon­don and Nor­wich, the two cities. Fitzger­ald said she al­ready has

been in­volved in some con­ver­sa­tions with com­mu­nity lead­ers and de­vel­op­ers in this part of the re­gion.

She said the Y would es­pe­cially wel­come a part­ner­ship with de­vel­op­ers, mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties, schools or hospi­tals and would then run any fa­cil­ity that comes of such a col­lab­o­ra­tion. Un­der its cur­rent model for new fa­cil­i­ties, the Y raises more money than it bor­rows against fu­ture mem­ber­ship fees. In Mys­tic, that was a suc­cess­ful $4.5 mil­lion cap­i­tal cam­paign.

Cer­tainly, New Lon­don has some cor­po­rate donors that could help bring the Y magic to the city. I think of Elec­tric Boat, which ap­par­ently still is look­ing for a place to show some com­mu­nity gen­eros­ity. Then there’s Deep­wa­ter Wind, which could ex­pect an even warmer wel­come with some com­mu­nity build­ing. And what bet­ter way for Yale New Haven Hospi­tal to sup­port its new host com­mu­nity than help­ing es­tab­lish a fa­cil­ity ded­i­cated to health­ier liv­ing?

I be­lieve Con­necti­cut Col­lege has land near its own won­der­ful fit­ness cen­ter, which would make a very gen­er­ous con­tri­bu­tion to­ward a com­mu­nity Y, close to New Lon­don, Water­ford and Montville res­i­dents.

New Lon­don Mayor Michael Passero used to be a big prom­i­nent ad­vo­cate for a city com­mu­nity cen­ter, be­fore he wasn’t. Maybe it’s time for him to re­visit that en­thu­si­asm.

Cer­tainly there are a lot of promis­ing lo­ca­tions in New Lon­don, from any one of the big empty down­town build­ings that might even come by way of do­na­tion, or city prop­erty, like the water­front River­side Park.

Fitzger­ald clearly sig­naled to me the Ocean Com­mu­nity YMCA is ready and will­ing to bring its win­ning for­mula to New Lon­don. All it would take to push the idea quickly into plan­ning would be some com­mu­nity and in­sti­tu­tional lead­er­ship here.

They will be cut­ting the rib­bon on the new Mys­tic Y on Jan. 17. Look no fur­ther than this re­mark­able fa­cil­ity, with its fit­ness class­rooms, pool, ten­nis, row­ing, beach­front and vast ex­er­cise room with walls of glass fram­ing wide wa­ter vis­tas, and think of how well such a fa­cil­ity could serve the peo­ple of New Lon­don, or Nor­wich, Montville, Gro­ton or Water­ford.

There’s an ex­tremely qual­i­fied part­ner ready and will­ing to get in­volved.

DAVID COLLINS [email protected]­day.com

TIM MAR­TIN/THE DAY, FILE

The ex­te­rior of the Mys­tic YMCA on Sept. 12.

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