NORWICH — The Norwich Family YMCA is ringing in 160 years of serving the Norwich and surrounding communities.
First established in 1862, the Y has seen many changes over the years and has always stood as a pillar of the community.
“The Y opened during the Civil War, and then you think about World War I, World War II, the Depression, the first flu pandemic in the early 1900s, all the different conflicts and other wars throughout the years, up to the COVID-19 pandemic 100 years after the flu pandemic in the early 1900s,” said Norwich Family YMCA Executive Director Jamey Mullen. “The Y’s been here a long time.”
The facility has had many homes across Norwich in its 160 years, and now stands at 68 North Broad Street. The location originally held a home, which was purchased in 1895 thanks to Harriet Gibson, who had put in her will that $10,000 be donated to the YMCA — an amount that would be equivalent to $354,776.19 today.
In 2002, the property was razed for parking, and the YMCA facility residents know and love today was built.
The facility’s history can be seen in its halls, with plaques commemorating services and donations of dedicated members, historical posters advertising a call for action by the YMCA during World War I and World War II, and banners highlighting vintage photographs from the YMCA’s early years.
The Y’s history can also be seen in its impact on the community and its members.
“The Y’s just been a big part of the community, really. Look at all the Y does for the community. Really a lot,” said Mickey James, a member of the YMCA since 1956, former YMCA board member, and volunteer. “That’s what more people should do is come to the Y and stay at it. I mean, where else in a town this size could you have a facility like this? They don’t have anything like this.”
James said his favorite memories of the Y are those that showcase its involvement in the community, and its members coming together to support each other.
“We had some weights, but we wanted to get a universal gym to go with it. So we had a Liftathon, and we came up about $1,000 short to get it. But Dr. and Mrs. Flanagan chipped in the rest, because they always did great things for the Y. They were awesome people,” said James. “It’s someplace where you can come, you can stay in shape, you make friendships, and you can socialize and stuff. I think that’s my favorite thing, because the Y is always there for you.”
Former Chenango County Judge Howie Sullivan, who has been a member of the Norwich Family YMCA for 73 years, has served as president of the board, and now serves on the board of trustees, said the Y has had a huge impact on his life.
“The Y pretty much raised me,” he said. “You didn't have to worry about going through legal trouble because if you got in trouble and you threw snowballs out front, Stan Georgia, [the executive director] back then, gave you two weeks out of the Y, and that was the worst thing that could ever happen to you.”
He added that the emphasis on children and families is his favorite thing about the YMCA, as well as how they support other local organizations.
“The other day there was no school, and the kids were there and it just lifted my heart to see the kids having a good time enjoying themselves and being rambunctious but in a controlled atmosphere and having fun,” said Sullivan. “It supports other organizations, food drives and other things. When the pool’s down at the high school the Y jumps in. They’re just supportive of all good organizations.”
Offering a litany of fitness-related activities and facilities such as swimming programs, a three-court gym, racquetball courts, fitness classes, exercise equipment, the Kids’ Gym, child care programs, and more, the Norwich YMCA truly has something for everyone.
The facility also supports other organizations and allows them to use the space when available, such as the Norwich Helping Hands group, which gives out nonperishable food, cleaning, and hygiene items on the third Thursday of every month.
“The important thing that we always need to remember about the Norwich Y, especially in a small community of Norwich and the surrounding areas, it is the focal point, it’s the central gathering place,” said Mullen. “Even though we may not be providing every program that is needed in the community, we work with other agencies and other partners, and we can allow folks to utilize our facilities when we’re not using it for our programs and services.”
For those that need it, the YMCA also offers the Open Doors Scholarship program, which sponsors membership fees for low-income residents and families. Mullen said the program is just one of the many ways the Norwich Family YMCA supports its community.
“Our scholarship program breaks down any financial barrier or stigma that, ‘I can’t afford to come to the Y,’ that breaks that barrier down and allows folks the opportunity to do any of those other programs,” he said.
“I’m very proud of that program, very proud of our donors that support the Y, very proud of our volunteers, because the organization, yes, we have staff, but it’s very volunteer driven, volunteer focused. It allows people to give back and take ownership in the building and the work of the Y, and I think that’s how and why the Y has survived 160 years in Norwich.”
More information on the Norwich Family YMCA and its history can be found on the Norwich Family YMCA Facebook page, and at NorwichYMCA.com.