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A Times Editorial

Y's can be worthy community goals

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 1, 2001


Palm Harbor and the beach towns of mid Pinellas have a great opportunity to provide enriching activities for their residents and build a stronger sense of community -- if they will just step up to the plate and swing at the ball.

Palm Harbor and the beach towns of mid Pinellas have a great opportunity to provide enriching activities for their residents and build a stronger sense of community -- if they will just step up to the plate and swing at the ball.

The YMCA of the Suncoast is hoping to build new Y's in Palm Harbor and somewhere along the beaches, most likely in Indian Rocks Beach. That hope hinges on one factor: successful fundraising. And there is the rub.

Palm Harbor is an unincorporated area that has a history of struggling to organize and support community institutions. The Palm Harbor Senior Center is a prime example. And because Palm Harbor doesn't have a local government or elected officials, there is no one in an obvious position to get out in front of the parade and lead it.

The beach towns have local governments, but that could be a hindrance to a Y fundraising campaign there. The towns can be parochial, and sometimes they spar with each other. Getting cooperation on a capital campaign from all of the beach communities from Clearwater's Sand Key south to the Redingtons could be a herculean task.

It would be a shame if inability to cooperate and raise money killed the YMCA's plans. In Palm Harbor, a site on 16th Street beside the Senior Center has been selected and a purchase is in the works after three years of discussion and planning. The YMCA there would include two outdoor pools, a family wellness center, a fitness center, a gymnasium and a children's play area. The total cost of the project is pegged at $5.5-million, $2.5-million of which must be raised before the YMCA will break ground.

The "visioning" process is not so far along in the beach communities, though any facility built certainly would include wellness and youth programming to serve both retirees and the growing number of families moving to the beaches. The YMCA of the Suncoast plans to start offering some programs in existing public and church buildings this fall to gauge how popular a new facility might be to beach residents. If the programs go over well, fundraising for a new building will follow.

These days, many Americans sit back and wait for government or private industry to provide for them. That won't work when it comes to building a YMCA. The private organization must raise its construction money from the people who will be served by a Y facility.

It isn't just apathy and divisiveness that could kill these Pinellas projects. Despite the existence of modern, highly successful facilities such as the jam-packed East Lake Y in North Pinellas, YMCA officials still struggle to correct outdated views of the organization. Today's YMCA is no longer a place that provides a bed and a meal to footloose single men, or a few children's swimming lessons in a scruffy pool with mildew-stained locker rooms.

Today's YMCAs emphasize recreational and wellness activities for the entire family, from toddlers to senior citizens. They have fitness centers filled with equipment that rivals what is available at health clubs. They offer lap pools for serious swimmers, but also aquatic centers with water slides and fountains for children. They offer classes from aerobics to yoga to dancing in comfortable rooms designed for the purpose. Depending on what the community needs and wants, modern YMCAs may have cafes, reading rooms, tennis courts or child care centers.

Institutions like the YMCA can provide the glue that helps hold a disparate community together. Both Palm Harbor and the beaches would benefit from that. But people who live there must show their interest and open their wallets.

Here comes the ball. Swing?

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