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New Clarion County YMCA Opens; ‘This Building Is Going to Change Lives’
CLARION, Pa. (EYT) – “We did it,” said Al Lander on Thursday morning to the audience at the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new three-story Clarion County YMCA located at 499 Mayfield Road, just off Route 68 in Clarion.
(Photos by Dave Cyphert of ProPoint Media Photography)
The crowd erupted in spontaneous applause for finishing a YMCA in Clarion that had been only a dream for decades. Lander, along with Milissa Bauer, were co-chairs of the fundraising campaign that raised the local funds necessary to build the facility.
The new facility centrally located near Clarion Hospital, Walmart, Pizza Hut, and the Intermediate Unit 6 replaces the old YMCA which could no longer meet the needs of the community due to its size. The new YMCA includes a fitness center, childcare center, gym, pool, and outdoor athletic field, and provides the community with a place for family and friends to gather, have fun, and enrich their lives.
“This is the best day of my life” and “It’s beautiful,” were some of the comments heard throughout the building as people toured the new facility after the ceremony.
“To build we needed money – and lots of it,” Lander said. “To construct this complex, we needed $12 million dollars. A group of us, including Milissa and myself, met often for many months and asked who, where, how. Then one day someone said, ‘If we do not build it now Clarion County will never have a full-service YMCA.’”
“After a pause, Jim, Gary, and Greg Kriebel, men of foresight and generosity, looked up and said, ‘Let’s do it; are you in?’ – What could I say? When they agreed to be the lead donors, Milissa and I had no choice. We had to dig deep and join them. With their lead, we, too, were motivated to dig deep and contribute. The Kriebel Family made it possible. When we saw that it was possible, we all wanted to be a part of it.”
Location was also a priority, and the current site offers some of the best views in Clarion County because of the adjoining Clarion Oak Golf Club.
“We knew people would support a facility located within 15 to 20 minutes travel time,” Lander continued. “This location is the center of the county and within 15 to 20 minutes of everywhere in the county. I owned a piece of the land on which we stand, as did the Kriebel family, but we did not own enough to construct this complex. We needed to impose on the golf course.”
Owners Dana and Karen Davis quickly told the Y they wanted to help and gave more than land; they gave the view.
Bauer emphasized that projects are successful because of people working together for a common cause. There are so many individuals who worked together on this project through various committees.
In remarks at a Wednesday night meeting, Bauer asked donors to think about what their donation when combined with all the others, to make investments in this small rural community really means:
- A place for children to learn the life skill of swimming, to have an afterschool program that includes hanging out in the gym, a place for a much-needed daycare center.
- A place for our seniors to not only gather socially but to have a walking track and program specially designed for them. Including the ability to swim in a warm water pool.
- A place for families to take their children to the YMCA for fun activities.
- A place for young adults to work out and remain strong.
- A place to for rehabilitation from injuries or surgery for all in Clarion County.
Neil Weaver, Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) Executive Deputy Secretary, also a Clarion University graduate and member of the Clarion University, Council of Trustees also brought video remarks from Governor Tom Wolf.
The project was supported by a total of $4 million in grants from the Wolf Administration through the Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program (RACP) with bipartisan support.
State Representative Donna Oberlander was also active in encouraging legislative support for RACP. She was not able to attend the ceremony but did offer the following comments through a video.
“I am so excited that we have this brand new, beautiful facility located right here in the heart of our area. I know that this project has taken literately decades to complete,” Oberlander said. “The countless hours of hard work and dedication by board directors, staff members, financial donors, and the community is not lost on me.”
“I am overjoyed by the opportunities this Y will provide to the people of all ages – from swimming and water aerobics, to the pickleball courts and the weight lifting room, to basketball courts, and walking and running track, as well as the many other freestanding machines and organized classes, just to name a few. I am also really delighted that the inter-generational room will foster interaction between our youngest, our oldest and all of those in between.”
“Congratulations to all of you and to all of us that call Clarion our home. We are truly blessed, and this Y is a well-deserved asset for all of us. May it be well used and well-loved for years to come.”
Clarion County YMCA Branch Director Jesse Kelley presented one of the most emotional testimonies about the strength and importance of the Y.
“Shortly after I started, I was working with some kids in our flag football program. I brought some of them back to our equipment room to look into a closet because it looked like some of them needed some help. It was a really cold day, and they had mud kicked all over their shoes – their shoes were all tied in knots—holes in the shoes—and all of a sudden I realized… God was talking to me, and it was just one of those moments. I was on my knees and trying to fit them with some extra spare cleats we had and realized, wow, these are the only shoes these children have. This is all they have. I’m looking at their sweatpants with holes in them. At that point, I said here just take them.”
“That’s when I realized the power of the YMCA. That’s when I understood what a not-for-profit is. This facility, immaculate as it is, is just a vehicle for us to drive miracles like that. This place is going to change people’s lives. People are going to learn how to swim in that swimming pool. They’re going to learn about our four core values. It’s a miracle. There are so many stories that I can’t go into, but God smiled on us today through these new sunny windows.”
Clarion County YMCA needed a person who would be a workhorse to get us through the mud and uphill battles.
“That was my part of this whole deal, but I couldn’t have done it without my wife Bre. She’s the head swimming and diving coach for men and women at Clarion University. She puts her team on the bus at 5 a.m. to drive them to Oil City High School because the university’s pool is being renovated. She doesn’t complain because she doesn’t have a pool. Because of her hard work, she enabled me to work for the Y and give the Y what it needed to get through this.”
Kelley also thanked the staff who have been with him all of the last eight years and all of the new staff.
“You’re also getting this YMCA because of the commitment they have made to our community. I couldn’t be more privileged and prouder to serve with you.”
Tom Spence, CEO of the YMCA Scenic Rivers Association, started his work with Clarion 22 years ago when he was assigned to help Clarion start its own YMCA in association with the Oil City YMCA.
“Thank you all of you being here and being part of this,” Spence said. “There are so many pieces to the puzzle to take credit over my 22 years with this project. Ribbon-cutting with two young people who are the future of the Y.”
Spence then led a ribbon-cutting ceremony that featured Declan Kelley, son of Bre and Jesse Kelley, and Kinley Luton, daughter of Ashley and Brian Luton, doing the cutting honors. Spence said they are the future of the YMCA.
Other speakers included a prayer by Pastor John Monger of the Rimersburg Reformed Presbyterian Church, Kurtis Bell (Clarion YMCA Board President), Gerritt Rex (Scenic Rivers Association Chair), and Ron Wilshire (MC).
“Look around,” asked Lander earlier in the event. “Everyone in this room contributed to the success of this project. You contributed because you can see over the horizon to a better tomorrow. The people in this room are the leaders of Clarion County. Today, we walk onto the stage of life and we stand shoulder to shoulder and eye to eye with our ancestors. I see our ancestors standing among us. I see them smiling. I hear them say – ‘You did good. You did good.’”
The new facility includes the following:
- Full-service wellness center outfitted with cardiovascular and resistance training equipment, free weights, and group exercise studios.
- Full gymnasium with a separate running/walking track.
- A family pool that will provide lap lanes, recreation and exercise, swimming lessons, aqua aerobics, and other activities.
- Full-day childcare for infants, toddlers, preschoolers and children before and after school through age twelve.
- Office space for outpatient rehabilitation.
- Outdoor athletic field.
- Administrative space with offices, conference rooms, workstations and kitchen.
- Multi-purpose rooms to support seniors in the mornings and children and teens after school.
- Support spaces, including a lobby, reception, café, men’s and women’s locker rooms, family locker rooms, bathrooms, and storage.
- Family locker rooms with a private changing area that will include a toilet, sink, and shower.
- Expanded Child Watch and Kids Adventure Center
- Outdoor Deck for picnics and receptions.
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