Man About Town / Evolution of Fairfield's family fitness center
Published 12:01 pm, Tuesday, May 24, 2011
Among Fairfield's primary community anchors is the YMCA, which has stood at 841 Old Post Road for nearly 50 years.
Executive Director Nick Willett met with me on a recent weekday afternoon to share some history, provide an inventory of spaces and programming and talk about its mission.
"Initially, we were an extension of the Greater Bridgeport YMCA," Willett said. "There was a private, Victorian-style home on the current site that the Y took over, where it conducted meetings in the years 1953 to 1963 to plan the establishment of a new facility. The chairman at that time was Frederick Pope Jr."
In 1963, the house was razed and the new brick structure went up under the guidance of Fairfield architect William Henry Jackson and Bridgeport general contractor J. Zandonella. Completed and furnished at a cost of $615,400, the Fairfield Branch YMCA "Family Center" officially opened May 1, 1964, with a membership of 225 families.
In promotional literature, the new Y was billed as a center to "meet the leisure time needs of the whole family. Mom and Dad, Sister and Brother will find programs devised to help them develop new skills, better health and keener minds ... molded by Christian influences."
Membership fees were $74 a year for an individual -- equal to about $1.40 a week. Family's were $84 a year.
The initial footprint included a weight room, 25-yard four-lane pool, locker rooms and classrooms. In the 1980s, the building was expanded to include a gym with full-size basketball court. Today, the 22,000-square-foot complex also incorporates two fitness studios, a childcare program, meeting room and outdoor playground area.
"I joined this location in February 2008, essentially coming from the Westport Y and a senior director at Westport's Camp Mahackeno," said Willett. "I've always been with the Y, and really grew up with the Y as a member in a rural Illinois town. It was the only formal form of recreation in the area.
"I went through pretty much every program they had, and my dad was a huge Y guy," he added. "I learned how to swim there, participated in Indian Guides, went to summer sleep-away camp. It formed my being, instilling in me Y principals like honesty, caring, respect and responsibility."
Today, the Fairfield Y has more than 3,000 full-facility members and 7,000 community members who take advantage of specific programs. "Our goal is to listen to the community's needs," said Willett. "What we've heard is that parents want their children to learn how to swim, be healthy and to have a positive social outlet. We adapt to the changing needs of the community."
Willett said obesity is a huge current issue, which the Y is addressing with programs like Activate America to get people fit and working out. The Y also offers youth and teen fitness classes, and a swim program that attracts more than 900 children to each quarterly session. To help families in need access programs, it gives out more than $65,000 in financial aid.
"As well as being a health and wellness destination, the Y is a social hub, offering such activities as the very popular Neon Nights, which attracts kids ages 9-12 for a fun dance mixer; and free Family Fun Nights wherein families can swim and play games," said Willett. "Our Adventure Guides program draws over 150 families for everything from pine car derbies to campouts."
Willett said the Y serves local citizenry on so many levels. "Our new tagline is `For Youth Development, For Healthy Living, For Social Responsibility,' which sums up what the Y has always been about," said Willett.
Another Man About Town excursion completed, I tumbled from the Y and sprang back into the local area, looking for community institutions.