Chicago YMCA Serves Community


CHICAGO — The brightly colored New City YMCA building bridges the gap between the low-income Cabrini Greene neighborhood and the more affluent Lincoln Park section of downtown Chicago. Standing outside the 25-year-old YMCA, Kevin Heye, interim executive director, said the YMCA was built at the right time to serve everyone in the community.

“The YMCA reached out to this community at a time when no one else was doing it,” he said. “The Y is here for everyone, whether they belong to a gang or make $200,000 a year. Our members just leave everything at the door, and when they walk in, everyone is the same.”

The neighborhood experienced a lot of gang activity back in the 1980s, so the YMCA opted to design the facility without any windows to limit the children's exposure to gunfire and violence. The brick building is also coated with a graffiti resistant paint, which shimmers in the sunlight. Heye said the building is painted a rainbow of colors to send a welcoming message to the community.

“We wanted them to know that everyone is included, and they have a bright future ahead of them,” he said.

Like many other Ys in Chicago, the New City Y features a fitness center to keep the adults and children in the community healthy and fit. To compete with the more than 50 health clubs within a three-mile radius, the Y converted its multipurpose room to a Spirit, Mind and Body studio and offers a Commit to Be Fit 12-week exercise program.

The Y also provides an outlet for children to exercise. Children can play baseball at a miniature version of Wrigley Field called Cubs Care Park, which is adjacent to the Y. Children who participate in the New City Youth Baseball League, a three-year-old program that is free to all neighborhood children, use the field. The league started with just 30 children, but the number has since grown to 200. With the neighborhood constantly evolving, Heye said the Y continues to serve the community.

“We're more than just a gym,” he said. “We have a family feel, and some of our members have been with us for 25 years.”

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