YMCA ribbon cutting 1Many hands make light work of the YMCA's ribbon cutting.
The 07/07/07 date was merely coincidence. What led to the Effingham YMCA’s doors opening Saturday was the result of lots of hard work, Y officials said.
The 32,000 square foot YMCA opened to rave reviews and a great deal of joy and relief for Y staffers and directors.
“It feels good,” said Effingham Y Executive Director Kim Dennis. “I still can’t believe when I walk around this building that it’s here. But we’ll be here Monday morning, and that’s pretty exciting. It’s starting to sink in.”
Courtney Giannoni and Kim Shabi couldn’t wait to get onto the treadmills at the new Effingham YMCA.
“We had to work out the first day,” Shabi said.
Giannoni recently moved to the area from Atlanta, where she was used to such large places as Gold’s Gym.
“This is better than all of those gyms,” Giannoni said. “This is beautiful.”
It’s been a day that has been nearly a decade in the making for the local YMCA, since the Y first opened an office in Effingham. Work on the new building began in earnest two years ago, as Effingham Y backers pressed their case for a larger facility.
“This is the most anyone has been able to do in phase I of a new YMCA,” boasted Effingham Y steering committee chairwoman Ann Purcell.
Ron Van Den Heuvel donated 17 acres to the YMCA for the express purpose of a new building. Van Den Heuvel, from Wisconsin, came to Effingham to build the Fort Howard mill, which is now Georgia-Pacific.
He found the people in Effingham much like the folks in Green Bay — hard-working, community-committed and church-going.
“It really makes me happy,” Van Den Heuvel said of the opening. “This community has always been good to me.”
Van Den Heuvel is a strong proponent of the Y and wanted Effingham County to have that opportunity.
“We found Ys bring families together,” he said. “It makes people better friends. You make people be friendly because you all share the facility.”
Had the Effingham Y not put up a new building on the land, the 17 acres would have reverted back to Van Den Heuvel.
“But we took him up on it, and we’re here,” Effingham Y board chairman Pete Lancaster said.
The Y raised more than $600,000 in pledges, according to Purcell. It also got plenty of help from in-kind contributions, such as Tim Coleman, who cleared the land for the sports fields behind the building.
“We’ve been blessed,” she said.
Purcell kept pledge cards in her vehicle and she talked up the Y around the community, she’d leave the cards. From there, because they knew she was asking for help with the Y, they in turn asked their business friends to lend a hand, she said.
“This has been a community involvement,” she said.
The Y isn’t complete — there are still lockers to install and a slide to put in for the pool — but the Effingham Y made sure it had a pool to go with the initial phase.
“We were determined to get everything in phase I we could get,” Purcell said.
“We didn’t think we’d get a pool,” Lancaster said.
The pool and the spray ground were a hit immediately with the kids who came out Saturday and even some of the adults.
“This is really nice,” said military retiree James Burton, running through the spray ground with 4-year-old Brianna, of the new Y. “This is something Effingham has needed for a very long time. I think folks are going to appreciate this for a very long time.”
When the Effingham Y first opened its doors 10 years ago, it was housed in 4,000 square feet at the United Way Service Center. The local Y raised $30,000 and another $100,000 was spent on the building, YMCA of Coastal Georgia president Randy Bugos said.
The Y broke ground on the building a little over a year ago and with a project of such a scale, not all has always gone smoothly. But hearing the comments from the staff and the visitors on the new facility made it worthwhile to Bugos.
“When I heard the ‘wows’ and ‘can you believe this is in Effingham County,’ it really warms your heart,” he said.
Dennis held a team meeting — “kind of like a pep rally,” she said — Thursday night with the entire staff and volunteers. For some, it was their first time in the new building.
“They all walked through and it sunk into them what they were a part of,” she said. “They are part of history at this Y.”
It’s already becoming the envy of the Y system.
"It’s nice,” said Mikiala Mays. “It’s a little bit better than the West Chatham Y.”
The Effingham Y began the weekend with 500 membership units — there are family packages available — and those numbers were expected to increase as the Y held a half-off joiner’s fee special in conjunction with the grand opening.
“There is something for everyone here at the Effingham YMCA,” Lancaster said. “We will not turn anyone away because you cannot afford to pay.”
As it is, current and future Effingham Y members will have a state-of-the-art facility at their use.
“This thing is going to be here for generations to come,” Bugos said.