Apr 12 2007

YMCA to get much needed face-lift

Montgomery Advertiser

By Crystal Bonvillian

Christmas has come early for the Cleveland Avenue YMCA.

The 47-year-old community facility will get a long overdue face-lift, thanks to a federal appropriation worth nearly a quarter of a million dollars.

U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Tuscaloosa, announced Tuesday that the Department of Housing and Urban Development's Economic Development Initiative has awarded a $247,500 grant toward improvements at the Cleveland Avenue YMCA. Shelby, who has long been an advocate for the facility, helped secure the funds during the fiscal year 2006 appropriations process.

Willie Jones, executive director of the branch on Rosa L. Parks Avenue, said he was not anticipating such a large sum.

"I've always said, any time we can receive funds that are not budgeted, it's Christmas on Rosa Parks," Jones said.

The money will go toward refurbishing the facility, which was built in 1960. According to the facility's Web site, the branch was built with assistance from the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Montgomery Improvement Association, which donated $20,000 left over from the Rosa L. Parks Defense Fund.

The federal money will allow the YMCA to make a lot of improvements to the Cleveland Avenue branch, including painting, replacing the air-conditioning system and making some pool repairs, Jones said.

Bob McGaughey, president of the Montgomery Area YMCA, said other improvements will include the resealing of bricks and replacement of doors to "shore up" the building.

"They're not the fun, glamorous type of things, but they are the things that will keep the building in service for years to come," McGaughey said.

The branch's fitness center also will get an upgrade, McGaughey said.

"And within this next year, we will be adding a youth fitness center," McGaughey said. "That money will come from capital improvement funds, but this grant will help clear the way."

Both McGaughey and Jones call Shelby a "dear friend" to the Cleveland Avenue YMCA. Since 1998, Shelby has helped Jones bring in more than $3 million in federal funds for the branch and its programs.

Shelby praised the facility in a statement released Tuesday by his office.

"For many years, Montgomery's YMCA has been an educational center for at-risk youth in our state's capital," Shelby said in a news release. "I hope these improvements will allow the Cleveland Avenue YMCA to serve the community for generations to come."

The Cleveland Avenue branch has more than 1,000 members, primarily children, McGaughey said. It offers them a number of the "typical" activities, such as swimming and youth sports, plus programs such as dance and computer through the adjoining Cultural Arts and Education Center, which was built with funds Shelby secured in 1998.

The center opened in 2000.

"It provides a safe place for children to go after school," McGaughey said of the Cleveland Avenue facility. "We have a huge after-school care program, and a lot of tutorial work goes on there as well."

The offerings do not end with the school year. The summer programs see 400 to 500 children each year, he said.

"We give them everything from the arts to athletics, from tutoring to child care and all in between," McGaughey said.

Jones said federal funding is vital to keeping alive the programs that help the children he said are underserved in the community.

"When you work with at-risk youth, you know that by doing that, you're dealing with a segment of the community that maybe cannot pay the cost of the program," Jones said. "You've got to figure out a way to help fund it."