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YMCA

Huntington YMCA employees and town officials at a ceremonial groundbreaking Oct. 25 on a new facility. Photo from Facebook

The ground has been broken and construction is underway on a new building for the Huntington YMCA that will nearly triple the size of its existing facility, allowing it to expand the programs it offers to the community.

The YMCA of Long Island and Huntington Town officials held a ceremonial groundbreaking Oct. 25 to celebrate the start of construction of a 29,000-square-foot Health Living Center. The new facility will allow Huntington YMCA to expand its fitness and preventative health programs that focus on chronic disease prevention and recovery.

“Our Health Living Center is a tremendous step forward, allowing us the capacity to achieve this goal and provide our community with the programs it needs,” said Anne Brigis, president and CEO of the YMCA of Long Island in a statement. “We have listened intently to the needs of the Huntington community, and we’re excited to begin building our Health Living Center into a gathering place for individuals to grow, learn and lead healthy lives.”

The new state-of-the-art center will include a 7,500-square-foot gym with a suspended running track above it, cycling studios, several multi-purpose adult fitness rooms and a new child care center. There will also be room set aside for the YMCA to expand its programs that focus on chronic disease prevention and recovery, including Moving for Better Balance (a fall prevention program), a diabetes prevention program and senior wellness walks.

The conceptual rendering of the new Huntington YMCA. Photo from YMCA of Long Island

“The Y is more than a swimming pool or an athletic field,” said New York State Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport). “At its heart, the Huntington YMCA is a community center where people can engage with physical and mental health and get the care they need. The Healthy Living and education programs all work to help these local communities and provide very necessary programs to people from all walks of life.”

The Health Living Center is being built in accordance with New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) new health initiative, which calls for a stronger emphasis on preventive health measures and education.

The nearly $9 million price-tag of the new building is being paid for through a combination of public-private partnership, according to Beverly Lacy, vice president of philanthropy for YMCA LI. The organization has received both a $400,000 and $500,0000 Empire State Development award from the state office which aims to support local business development and job creation through efficient use of financial assistance, and several generous private individual donations.

The Town of Huntington received a municipality grant to improve the parking lots shared by the town’s facilities, the senior center, Huntington YMCA and the Cinema Arts Center.

Construction of the new facility is anticipated to to be complete in 12 to 18 months, according to a YMCA spokesperson.

Once construction is complete, Lacy said that the Huntington YMCA will be able to move its programs currently held in the town’s John J. Flanagan Center, where it rents space, into the new facility.

“We have had a great relationship and it’s good to work with the town, but the facility is a little tired,” Lacey said. It’s hard to keep the heating and cooling where it needs to be. It’s hard to use the space for our purposes, as for health and wellness classes you want to be able to control the temperature.”

Town spokesman A.J. Carter said there are no future plans for Flanagan center’s use.

The Huntington YMCA, where the Healthy Weight and Your Child program is conducted. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

Healthy eating habits and children don’t always mix in this day and age, but Christina Butcher is not letting that stop her.

Butcher, fitness center coordinator at the Huntington YMCA, is at the forefront of a new program — Healthy Weight and Your Child — that focuses on promoting good choices for young children who have struggled with maintaining a healthy weight.

“This gives kids the support they need and the opportunity to make healthy lifestyle choices,” Butcher said in a phone interview.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, obesity now affects 17 percent of all children and adolescents in the United States. One in six children are obese and one in three are overweight, which could lead to serious health problems including type 2 diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol and mental health issues.

Healthy Weight and Your Child is a 12-month program geared toward 7 to 13-year-old children who are in the 95th percentile or higher on the body mass index scale. All participants must be cleared for physical activity by a health care provider or school nurse, and be accompanied by a parent or caregiver at every meeting.

Christina Butcher is fitness center coordinator and a personal trainer. Photo from Butcher
Christina Butcher is fitness center coordinator and a personal trainer. Photo from Butcher

“Parents usually make most of the food decisions in the home, so we want them included in this learning process,” Butcher said.

The program is meant to focus on social issues in health and engage the whole family on understanding how the home environment influences the choices that lead to unhealthy food selections.

Aside from eating habits, the program also highlights the importance of regular physical activity and behavioral changes.

Butcher said kids participate in different activities like dodgeball, spud and relays, to stay active.

“My favorite part of the program is the family unity,” she said. “There are a lot of siblings in the program, and even just the single children with parents are participating in a great bonding opportunity.”

Currently, Healthy Weight and Your Child at the YMCA has about 35 children signed up. The program is offered on Wednesdays from 5:30-7:30 p.m., and is also available at the Silas Wood Sixth Grade Center in the South Huntington school district on Mondays from 5:30-7:30 p.m.

Aside from being in charge of all fitness programs the YMCA offers, Butcher is also a personal trainer at the fitness center in the YMCA.

“I have the opportunity to work with small groups to help achieve their fitness goals,” she said. “Whether it’s working on upper body strength to be able to pick up their grandchild, or getting over an injury or working toward a sport goal, I love the diversity training that the YMCA offers. It’s the best part of being a trainer.”

Dance students go through a routine together at the Huntington YMCA studio. Photo by Talia Amorosano

By Talia Amorosano

Walking into the dance studio at the Huntington YMCA feels like walking into a family gathering full of distant relatives you’ve never met before. But the vibe is one of comfort and inclusion, especially if you’ve got a penchant for impromptu group renditions of Taylor Swift songs.

Dance students go through a routine together at the Huntington YMCA studio. Photo by Talia Amorosano
Dance students go through a routine together at the Huntington YMCA studio. Photo by Talia Amorosano

The friendly atmosphere inside the studio is natural, according to dance instructor Pam Christy-Allen, after students, teachers and parents have worked together for as long as they have.

“I have the same kids every year, so I build relationships with them,” Christy-Allen said in a recent interview. “As their sweet sixteens have come we’ve been invited to them and they include you like their family. It’s very rewarding.”

Last month, the YMCA’s dance program turned two decades old, a milestone that staff there celebrated. But there’s no resting on laurels — program leaders say they plan to stay on their toes.

In a recent visit to the program, students showed appreciation for their instructors. Thirteen-year-old hip hop, acro and ballet student Samantha Sluka began taking YMCA dance classes at age 3 and said that Debbie Smith, her ballet teacher, has kept her interested in dancing through the years. Sluka said YMCA classes have improved her self-confidence in addition to technical dance skills, and that in the future she “would love to dance on Broadway”.

Mary Dejana, a 17-year-old tap and jazz student, said that she likes lyrical and contemporary dance styles best because they help her express her feelings. She said that the YMCA program has taught her teamwork.

“Under the tutelage of my ballet, modern and pointe teacher Jo-Ann Hertzman and with the many opportunities the YMCA provided, I have come to understand not only more about dance but more about myself and the world around me,” wrote former student Mariah Anton in a letter to the staff at the YMCA. With plans to continue dancing at University of North Carolina School of the Arts, Anton wrote that her “experiences at the YMCA have directed [her] to invest back into others through teaching, encouraging, and opening the world to the next generation in the same way that the YMCA invested in [her].”

Students practice using the bar at the YMCA studio. Photo by Talia Amorosano
Students practice using the bar at the YMCA studio. Photo by Talia Amorosano

Citing the Huntington YMCA as a “second home … during [her] childhood and early adulthood,” former student Melanie Carminati, now physical therapist and Pilates instructor in East Northport, called the dance program “a safe haven for artistic growth and creativity” in a written statement. She attributed the environment to the guidance of Edie Cafiero, cultural arts director.

Cafiero stressed the importance of allowing dancers to express their creativity from a young age. “We start with 3-year-olds,” he said. “We make it fun while still using terminology and introducing steps. We let them explore themselves at that age.” She said that classes become more serious as students age and advance, but that they have the option to either hone in on certain dance styles or further expand their horizons and learn new styles.

Among some of the less conventional dance classes offered at the YMCA are Irish step, hip hop, acro, lyrical, contemporary, modern and adult ballet.

When asked what factors have contributed most significantly to the success of the Huntington YMCA dance program, Cafiero pointed to the variety of classes offered and the welcome-all attitude of the staff.

She said she walked into a famous ballet school at age 15 “and they told me I was over the hill before seeing me dance. I never wanted a kid to feel like that. We don’t turn anyone away. If they have the passion to dance we want to nurture it.”

Anyone interested in the Huntington YMCA cultural and performing arts program is invited to contact Cafiero at 631-421-4242, ext. 132.

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