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New YMCA branch growing

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Jennifer Rackley

Jennifer Rackley

Todd Cohen

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Since opening in January in a former grocery store that had been occupied by Peak Fitness, the new Robinhood Road YMCA has signed up just over 2,100 individual and family members for a total of over 3,400 people.

In May alone, the 47,000-square-foot branch added over 100 new members.

“We’re definitely still growing,” says Jennifer Rackley, a 15-year YMCA veteran who is executive director at the new branch.

YMCA of Northwest North Carolina, which operates 12 branches in Forsyth, Davie, Wilkes, Stokes and Yadkin counties, had planned to open a new branch in the affluent Robinhood Road area west of downtown, most likely through new construction, she says.

But after the parent company of some Peak Fitness health clubs in North Carolina filed for bankruptcy protection in April 2009, the YMCA began talking to the building’s owner about leasing the building.

Mark Bachman, senior vice president and chief operating officer for the regional YMCA association, says that by leasing the building instead of buying land and building a new facility, the YMCA was able to save money and get the new branch open more quickly.

The capital campaign the YMCA association is wrapping up, which has a $4.5 million goal, so far has raised $4.2 million and focuses on funds to make improvements at several branches.

The campaign includes funds for the new branch.

The new branch has quickly converted a large vacant building into a “real viable location that meets the needs of folks and created a good opportunity for other businesses to have traffic and connections to it,” Bachman says. “We filled a big-box location that no one wants to see stand idle.”

The YMCA has invested $1.5 million in renovations at the facility, which includes a cardio-wellness center, free-weights center, women’s workout area, walking track, rooms for group exercise and cycle classes, youth and teen space, personal-training area, mind/body studio, locker rooms and an area in which children are supervised while parents exercise.

Operating with an annual budget of roughly $1.5 million, the branch employs over 60 people, including seven working full-time, 20 working 20 hours to 30 hours a week, and 30 to 40 who are group-exercise instructors who work a few hours a week each.

The branch has teamed with local businesses, which have helped distribute marketing materials for the Y and offered discounts for new members.

“So we’re hopefully providing traffic back through their door as well,” Rackley says.

The Robinhood Road branch is beginning to create a board of managers that this year likely will be 15 members and eventually 25 members.

While a key role of the board will be to help raise money, the branch initially is getting fundraising support from the development staff at YMCA of Northwest North Carolina.

The branch aims this year to raise $10,000, mainly for financial assistance for individuals and families who otherwise could not afford the cost of membership.

That annual goal will grow as the branch builds its board, Rackley says.

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