It is an old building, built to stay, as contractors are fond of saying, and its services provide many of the good things about life: education, recreation and a special camaraderie that has developed within. The Druid Hill YMCA was once considered a lost cause. The heating system was shut down, lights turned out and doors bolted.
For five years, it was abandoned. The black community was frustrated. For over a century it had a YMCA and now it had been closed. But in 1980 there was a sudden desire to see if the property couldn't be rehabilitated and again serve with some trace of its old glory.
The evidence of a successful comeback is at hand. The Druid Hill YMCA is fulfilling the needs of a diverse community. It has a predominantly black membership, but whites do belong and participate in the full schedule of programs.
The entire facility is bright, attractive, well-maintained and run by a highly competent staff of teachers and coaches. Quickly, the executive director, Kathleen Conley, changes the focus and puts it all in proper perspective. "We're chiefly concerned in building young people," she said. "The interests of youth are our main calling. Culture awareness and leadership are being developed every day. That's the bottom line."
It's important, too, that the roster of members continues to grow. An effort is being made to attract more participation from men and women in the business community, those age 35 and up, so they might give back to the "Y" what it afforded them as youngsters. The first thing they can do to show their appreciation for favors past is to join again.
Carl Smith, government relations manager for the Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Co., came through the YMCA courses and is enthusiastic about what it was able to do in shaping his life and career. Come March 20, an afternoon/evening reception will be held for what is being called a Druid Hill YMCA alumni reunion.
The basketball court and swimming pool are far from regulation size, but they never were. Both are attractive, well-maintained and well-used, but rarely crowded. A fitness center offering Nautilus, free weights, rowing machines and exercise cycles compares with any in the city.
Rick Edwards, one of the instructors, said, "I believe this is, without a doubt, the finest weight room in the entire area. You can't show me one that is any better."
Charley "Bull" Robinson, a former Morgan State and Baltimore Colts lineman, was highly enthused as he prepared to work out. "Everything is wonderful," he said. "I'd have to say the Druid Hill YMCA has made a remarkable comeback. We all have to do all we can to keep it going."
At present, Judge David Young, Marilyn Maultsby and William Marton, who head the management board, are leading a campaign to raise what would seem to be a modest $40,000 that will help fund future operational needs. Hopefully, individuals and corporate groups will be responsive.
"The need for this YMCA to operate is more important than ever," said Geraldine Young, who is a volunteer board member. "My children came here years ago and my husband, Buddy, felt it was an important part of their development as young men and women. The environment is ideal and the director, Kathleen Conley, works with a devotion that is infectious and merits respect.
"I realize the administrators become discouraged at times. It can be difficult wondering why others in the community can't recognize the great work that is being done and join in the effort. But none of us can afford to give up on the YMCA. The Druid Hill YMCA, specifically, is an important Baltimore institution."
The organization can't be accused of being top-heavy in administrators. Only four of the staff are paid, which means countless volunteers lend their talents to the daily operation and take pride in the accomplishments and implementation of the various programs, encompassing youngsters of pre-school age, in some instances, to senior citizens, male and female.
Children, unless they are from homes where dire circumstances exist, pay all or part of their membership fees. There's a pride from the tradition that prevails within the Druid Hill YMCA, located in an urban environment, and offering a contribution to society that can't be overemphasized.