Y gains its own Harford home

Abingdon center offers members a wide range of classes and activities

October 21, 2007|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Sun reporter

For 20 years, the Y of Central Maryland ran fitness programs, camps and child care in rented or borrowed locations throughout Harford County.

But now the organization has a home of its own.

Last week, the Y formally dedicated the Walter and Betty Ward Center in Abingdon, a 30,000-square-foot brick building that opened in June and has more than 1,200 members.

"We have operated programs in everybody else's property and buildings for years," said Suzanne Green, director of membership and financing.

The new Y is attracting members from across the spectrum of the community who are participating in a variety of activities.

Allison Turiano, one of several young mothers working out in the fitness room last week, left with a worn-out toddler who had spent time in the center's child care room.

"He got to run around while I worked out," she said of her year-old son, Talen. "I feel refreshed, and he's ready for a nap - I hope."

Ed Stricker, 79, of Joppa trained on exercise equipment - which includes computerized workout monitors - and tried to climb the 40-foot rock wall. He might have made it to the top, he said, had he not lost a shoe midclimb.

"I love it here," he said.

The $7.4 million center is named after prominent real estate developers who sold 14 acres in the Box Hill Business Park to the organization at a greatly reduced price, said John K. Hoey, president of the YMCA of Central Maryland.

"Betty Ward and her late husband believed the Abingdon area of Harford County really needed a Y, a place for families and kids to go," Hoey said. "They came to us with a piece of land and sold it to us well below market value. The Wards are a truly philanthropic family committed to community."

The new Y, within a few miles of Interstate 95 and Route 24, is well suited to Harford residents who need the Y's services the most, he said.

"This building sits in a part of Harford County that is perfect for us and will serve a community that has traditionally been underserved," Hoey said.

The Harford branch will continue to offer before- and after-school programs at 17 elementary schools, run youth sports programs at 13 schools, and manage two preschools and several summer camps.

The spacious new building will allow the organization to expand its offerings to include programs such as aerobics, cheerleading, martial arts, rock climbing, youth cardiopulmonary activities and belly dancing.

"People want something to do," said Chuck Rose, the center's director. "If we don't have it here, we will find a way to make it happen."

The training room includes nearly 130 pieces of equipment, each linked to a computer that serves as a fitness coach of sorts, Rose said. When members want to party, the center affords the space and often does the organizing, as was the case for Friday night's Happy, Healthy Halloween party, featuring pumpkin bowling, mummy wraps and cookie decorating.

Rose wears a badge printed with the Y logo and the words "It's deeper here."

"People think we are about swimming pools, but it goes much deeper," he said. "We are the largest child-care provider in the state. We offer personal trainers, fitness and wellness programs. It's all about building healthy minds and bodies."

A indoor pool is part of the plan for the first expansion of the facility, organizers said.

A family membership is $74 a month, and financial assistance is available for those who cannot afford the fees.

"We reach out to the community to bring people into the building," Green said. "There is a great need up and down the Route 40 corridor."

The Abingdon Y, which has 40 employees, also includes an area for sports rehabilitation and physical therapy staffed by physicians and therapists from Upper Chesapeake Hospital in Bel Air.

mary.gail.hare@baltsun.com

The Walter and Betty Ward Center is at 101 Walter Ward Blvd. Information: 410-679-9622.

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