Recently renovated local YMCA works to help neighborhood

The YMCA at Broad and Master streets tries to be accessible to everyone.

The Columbia North YMCA at 1400 N. Broad St. has been serving the local community since it opened in 1981, and for the more than 1,500 members of the center, changes will soon be underway.

Michael C. Mannix, the branch’s director of marketing and advanced membership, said the building will undergo a total of $8 million in renovations next year. The renovations will provide the local YMCA with a more spacious fitness center, which will be equipped with up-to-date exercise machines.

“Our only problem is space,” said Mannix, but he added it is “a good problem to have.”

During the summer, membership registration for individuals and family groups increased by approximately 100 memberships per month.

Members of the Columbia North YMCA have the opportunity to participate in free adult group exercise classes. Many receive free appointments with a wellness coach, and up to two hours of free baby-sitting service are available each day. Not only do they have access to the branch’s facilities, but members may visit any of the 10 YMCA branches of Philadelphia and the vicinity. There are six YMCAs located throughout the city.

The YMCA offers after-school care for students in kindergarten and first through eighth grades at more than 15 local schools. The program operates Monday through Friday, between the hours of 2 p.m. and 6 p.m.

Noelle Allen, a junior BTMM major, has been a member of the YMCA’s after-school staff for nearly a year. She also participated in a summer day camp, which ran five days a week.

Allen said there is a strong emphasis on the students’ education, as participants must finish their homework before spending time in the gymnasium or on the playground.

“I try to stress [the importance of homework],” said Allen, who often encourages children by telling them, “If you get your homework done here, you can go home and play.”

The group of about 20 kids appeared to be very fond of Allen, as they greeted her with hugs of adoration, exclaiming “Miss Noelle. Miss Noelle.”

“I’m not from here,” said Allen, who is originally from Rochester, N.Y. “It’s good because I don’t feel like a stranger.”

Allen is not the only Temple student employed by the Columbia North YMCA who is popular with its members.

Melvin Daniels is a graduate student at Temple and a wellness coach and personal trainer. He leads group exercise each week. Daniels was also featured on the center’s bulletin board this month as “Employee of the Month.”

The YMCA has unique financial assistance programs, which are designed to allow its facilities to be “accessible to everyone in [the] community regardless of age, background, ability and income,” according to the YMCA of Philadelphia & Vicinity’s Web site.

The “Open Doors” program, based on one’s annual income, offers prospective members a 25 percent price reduction on the cost of a YMCA membership. In order for an individual to qualify, he or she must meet specific criteria. Those who meet the criteria include families who generate less than $70,000 in annual household income or individuals whose annual income is below $40,000.

“It’s a very helpful program,” Mannix said. He said he sees at least five applications for the program per week.

For some individuals and families in North Philadelphia, 25 percent off the monthly membership fee may not be enough. That is why, Mannix said, there are countless options for prospective YMCA members. Accommodations can be made for those who are unable to afford the reduced membership offered through “Open Doors.”

“It’s a very rare occasion that we turn people down,” he said.

Executive Director Johnathon Davis said the main goal of the YMCA is to “teach people to be pro-active [about their health] rather than reactive.”

He added that he hopes to see the organization “partner [with Temple] in a way that makes our neighborhood a safer, healthier community.”

Chelsea Calhoun can be reached at

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