A revitalized Y to serve Druid Hill

Volunteers and donations put a new shine on a 117-year-old building

May 02, 2010|By Chris Kaltenbach, The Baltimore Sun

When a building gets to be 117 years old, it's going to need some attention. But what happens when the money's not there?

That was the situation facing the Druid Hill Family Center Y, one of the oldest YMCAs in the nation, dating to 1885, and a cornerstone of its West Baltimore neighborhood. It was on the mind of board member Perry P. Savoy late last year when he was putting together plans for the organization's annual Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Breakfast. Instead of just having people sit down together for a meal, Perry said, he thought about doing something more lasting, more in tune with King's activist spirit and the Y's mission.

The results of that initiative were on display Friday, as the Druid Hill Y threw a block party to celebrate the grand opening of its updated building. Where once-peeling paint and shabby carpet had to be overlooked, now a refurbished gym, entrance lobby and computer room bespeaks an organization marching proudly into the 21st century.

"In past years, we had a breakfast," said Perry, founder and president of the Peristyle design firm and a Y volunteer for some 14 years, primarily at Druid Hill. "We would have a panel discussion, raise some money, then we would all go home and feel better about ourselves. But at the end of the day, it didn't really speak to the values of the Y."

The Y used this year's breakfast in January to launch the renovation campaign. More than a dozen companies donated parts and labor for the project, including such major contributors as BB&T Bank, the Johns Hopkins University and M&T Bank. About 100 volunteers helped out at one time or another, getting things done in record time. Although some work remains, including the installation of mats in the gym, the work is probably 90 percent done, Y officials say.

"A project like this can really be drawn-out," says Greg Phillips, executive director of the Druid Hill Y. "But guess what? This has been just the opposite. We started in January on the project, and we are almost done! In a very short period of time, the community as a whole has really come together, really stepped up to the plate."

Volunteers have installed new floors and laid new carpet throughout the building. They updated the computer lab and installed 25 new computers. They renovated a child-sitting area, where Y visitors can leave their children supervised while they use the athletic or other facilities, and built a new area for older children. They even moved outside, planting flowers and cleaning up the surrounding area.

"We not only wanted to revitalize the interior of the building," says Phillips, "but we are also working on cleaning up the neighborhood. We are just so pleased that everyone is willing to help this particular center out."

One of the biggest contributors to the overall effort was the Michael Group, a Baltimore-based builder and general contractor that does the majority of its work for nonprofit groups, mostly building affordable housing. Founder Michael Shacklette headed up the committee that organized the project and sought-out donations.

"That community needs icons," Shacklette says of the Y, a center of community activity in Druid Hill for more than a century. "They need to hold on to their history. And this is a great place for kids to realize what their history was.

"People see the transition, and they are just so excited," he says of the community's reaction to the Y's revitalized digs. "When you see somebody smile, or somebody thanks you, it just makes you feel great."


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