MICHIGAN CITY – It was a time to discover all that the La Porte County Family YMCA's Michigan City Elston Branch is offering the community – and celebrate its new entrance.
At a Michigan City Chamber of Commerce ribbon-cutting ceremony Thursday, program director Kathy Workman spoke passionately about the YMCA, located in the transformed Elston High School from which she graduated.
Afterward, she led a group of community leaders and residents on a tour of the transformed 110-year-old building, and then kicked off a dodgeball tournament in the gym.
“We take just a piece of it, but, in my opinion, the best piece – especially with the two gyms and the pool,” she said, explaining that the building is also occupied by other organizations, including the Boys & Girls Club of Michigan City and the AK Smith Area Career Center.
She said the new entrance is not only significantly larger and more convenient, but backdropped by the former Red Devil Gym, which Workman dubbed, “our hot spot – the highlight of our building.”
“Everybody loves this gym, so we try to use it more,” she continued. “We have people coming asking if they can just look at the gym.”
Recently, the YMCA held a successful Valentine’s Dance there, and is looking forward to a Costume Dance for Halloween ($5 per family) after a free Trunk-or-Treat event in the parking lot.
Workman said the staff was surprised by the huge turnout for Trunk-or-Treat last year, and it was heartwarming to see so many YMCA members donate candy for the event.
Katie Eaton, president of the Chamber of Commerce, praised the YMCA's work.
“It definitely is an untapped gym in our community,” she said. “This event is a way to get the word out, especially to businesses where the health and welfare of their employees is a priority. The Chamber is focused on a healthy community workforce and this event lines up with that goal.”
“It’s a wonderful opportunity to bring attention to the upgrading and sprucing up of the YMCA’s entrance,” said Daniel Granquist, a member of the Michigan City Planning Commission.
On the tour, Workman visited the Strength and Circuit Center, created out of four combined former classrooms. Top-of-the-line Hammer Strength and Life Fitness fill free weight and weight machine areas, she said.
Workman also showed off the lower gym, converted into seven pickleball courts as of July 1. She said the YMCA has hired a pickleball expert and is offering lessons. A Pickleball Scramble is planned for Sept. 21, and the courts are often in high demand, with teams waiting for one to open up.
“We have a lot of great things going on,” she said.
Some of those activities include soccer, swimming and tumbling for preschoolers; and basketball, cheerleading and taekwondo for youth. Focusing on middle school conditioning, the facility is offering a Sports Conditioning program for grades 6-8 during their Fall 1 session beginning Sept. 2, and during the Fall II session beginning Oct. 14. An Indoor Triathlon for adults on Oct. 6 is also planned.
In addition, the YMCA recently held a free basketball skills clinic and all spaces were filled.
“We’ve been trying to reach out to the community with free things,” she said.
Those on the tour saw the Teen Center, where Michigan City High School students have painted a wall-size mural focused on the subject of diversity.
They visited the Cardio Room, where activities such as Zumba or Hip Hop dance aerobics take place, and a meeting room used for meetings and events that can be rented out for parties or other activities. Workman noted the pool and two gyms are also available for rent during specific hours. The extra large Cross-Training room is reserved for adults only.
Perks of YMCA membership include free lockers and free 90-minute day care sessions for children under 12 from 4-8 p.m. Monday through Thursday, she said. And a partnership with the AK Smith Career Center has students in the Career Skills (formerly facilities maintenance) program clean the building daily in exchange for one free day of membership weekly.
“Our building is their classroom,” she said.
She talked about the many activities centering around the pool, including swim lessons, many of which are taught by volunteers who are passionate about the importance of knowing how to swim. There are also Zumba and water aerobics lessons available, and the pool is utilized by other groups including the diving team at MCHS.
“When we open our pool doors, people are waiting,” she said.
Workman excitedly talked about the YMCA’s first Teen Advisory Council, with eight area teens on board.
“It’s helped us find out just what the teens want – and don’t want – offered for them here,” she said. “My passion is to get the kids in here.”
Workman said she and YMCA Board Member Marty Corley worked closely with MCHS to develop the program. Interested teens filled out applications and were interviewed by both.
“I eventually want to get them into leadership roles,” she said.
After the tour, the staff from General Insurance headed to the gym for a dodgeball tournament. Although they were the only team signed up, it didn’t dampen their enthusiasm as they split into two groups to compete. Workman said she was hoping for a better turnout, but remained positive about similar events in the future.