The ABC’s of the NYC YMCA and A Chat with Marcia Gay Harden

I was honored to be invited to a luncheon celebrating the history and future of the NYC YMCA.  It was held at the Westside Y on 63rd Street in Manhattan.  It was one of the loveliest, most meaningful events that I have ever attended and it was on behalf of a non-profit that I believe so strongly in.  Many moons ago, when I lived in Manhattan shortly after graduating from college, I lived just 7 blocks away and had a membership to that very Y.  I used to use the gorgeous pool and exercise facilities and  I took pottery classes so  the building holds a special memory in my heart.  It was a time when I was finding my place on this earth, branching out on my own in the world.  So, when I walked into the Y this week for the luncheon to learn the ABCs of the YMCA, I was filled with many wonderful memories and flashbacks.  I also grew up playing soccer and doing other activities at the local YMCA in Atlanta, so my tie to the Y goes back in time.  It didn’t hurt either that after our wonderful tour and presentation, we would be served lunch by Chef Marcus Samuelsson and get to hear a chat with Marcia Gay Harden, the official YMCA spokesperson.

The Y is so many things, for so many people, adults and youth.  They really give back to the community every day, and each branch reflects the needs of the community.   It’s the leading youth organization in the city, serving 2000 kids and the largest provider of after school activities and youth camps.   There are 24 locations throughout the metro area.  Jack Lund, the President and CEO of the YMCA of Greater New York spoke about the history of the institution, quite proudly, in fact. We heard from a member of the board at the Dodge YMCA in Brooklyn, Melissa Glass, and the VP of Operations in Brooklyn, Sean Andrews, as well as Eileen O’Connor, Executive Director of the Dodge YMCA.   We learned about the quality programming that each branch offers including programs for moms and dads before they become parents, aquatic programs, kid’s classes, day camp, after school programs and ChildWatch (daycare while you work out).  We learned about their Annual Strong Kids Campaign, where all contributions made give children and families a chance to grow stronger in spirit, mind and body at the YMCA.  Bascially, no child is turned down at the Y.  There are subsidies and grants so that every child, regardless of financial status or anything else, is given the same chance as everyone else to have opportunities to thrive.  That is why the Y resonates with me.  I wasn’t raised in a particularly wealthy home, but the Y granted me many opportunities to expand my horizons, and I know that the Y is giving children, not just all over NYC, but all over the country opportunities they wouldn’t have otherwise.

On our tour around the building on West 63rd Street, we learned about the International YMCA, which gives teenagers a chance to travel abroad every summer; the teen center which is a fun place for teens to engage in activities and enhance maturation skills ; the art studio; the theater that was used by Tennessee Williams who lived here and did readings in his time.  The photos on the left are of the fantastic pool I used to swim in and the ceramics studio where I took a pottery class in the 1990s.  All good memories and proof of what the Y has to offer.  The Y offers an individual or family membership so that everyone can take advantage of the Y’s offerings.  The family rate tends to be lower than individual.

The interview with Marcia Gay Harden by Roger Clark of NY1was so refreshing.  A die hard, dedicated New Yorker, she says the YMCA as one of the only places you see in Manhattan where 3, 9 or 100-year-olds enjoying the YMCA’s offerings.  She described it as a very community-based organization and called it a club that has the most diverse membership of any club in the world.   She talked a little about her career,how she felt when she received her Academy Award for “Pollack,” how it was to work with the Cohen Brothers and Clint Eastwood.  She talked about taking her kids on shoots around the world, homeschooling her kids and her bond with their nanny.  I loved the way she described her reaction to getting a nanny after she had kids – she decided from day one never to be jealous of her.  Why didn’t I take that approach?!  When I met her after the event, I told her that, as well as what a fantastic actress I consider her to be, as well as a role model for all women.  She was so down to earth, and really very real.  She certainly makes a good spokesperson for the organization.

It was an honor to be invited to celebrate what I consider to be a national treasure.  I hope that the NYC YMCA lasts forever.

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