By Michael Romain
Jan Pate is the President/CEO of the West Cook YMCA. I talked to her about the organization’s partnership with the Village of Maywood in operating the Fred Hampton Aquatic Center, the YMCA’s origins, its mission and more.
Can you tell me a bit about how the YMCA evolved from just focusing on Oak Park to including the entire West Cook County region?
About 15 years ago, we intentionally changed our name from the Oak Park YMCA to the West Cook YMCA. We haven’t always done a good job of servicing those areas, but that’s changed. In our service area, we have Franklin Park, River Grove, Elmwood Park, River Forest, Melrose Park, Stone Park, Bellwood, Maywood and Oak Park.
How did West Cook initially become involved with the Fred Hampton Pool in Maywood?
The Village of Maywood approached David Parsons, our chief operating officer, and said we have this pool that’s difficult to operate and would the ‘Y’ be interested in doing it. We were interested for several reasons. 1) Maywood is in our service area (you don’t need to have a building for a YMCA, you just need to have the YMCA’s mission of serving, 2) We know how to do aquatics. We’re the single largest provider of pools in the country, and 3) We really felt that it was important for the community to have a recreation space that Maywood would be proud of and that they’d want to bring their friends to….If we teach one child how to swim, we’re giving them a skill that can save their life one day.
So, in 2011, we went in and opened around the third week in July and stayed open until Labor day. It wasn’t exactly what everybody wanted, but it gave us an understanding of how to do it. By 2012, we were ready, but we ran into complications with the pool’s drainage system. So we provided swim lessons for children in Maywood through collaboration with PLCCA, Triton and Rotary. This summer is really exciting, because everything is lined up and we now have the whole summer.
How has your relationship with the Village been throughout the process?
It’s been a really positive relationship, because Mr. Barlow and the Village staff could not have been more helpful. I’ve spoken with Mr. Barlow and David. Everybody is really excited to see this happen. The pool is rich in history, we stay in touch with Bill Hampton [Fred Hampton’s brother] and his mom. They’re going to participate in the grand opening on June 12th.
We’ve tried to keep costs very, very affordable, but we’re not making money on this and we may even lose some money, but that’s fine. We knew that going in, but we’re working with businesses in the area to see if we can close that gap.
What about the Maywood Park District? Have they been beneficial?
Mr. Parsons keeps Mr. McKinnor in the loop all the time and that’s been an avenue of communication we’ve kept open and welcomed any input they might have.
What kind of updates and improvements have been made to the pool since last year?
We’ve gotten a fantastic donation of really nice pool furniture from a condominium complex out in the Western Suburbs. We continue to do upgrades in the shower area. The pool itself is very beautiful and Maywood is lucky to have such a large outdoor facility. We’re going to try to offer lap swimming for adults in the morning and open swim for families. There will also be opportunities to rent the pool for events such as birthday parties and graduation parties. We’re hoping that the people playing baseball and softball and other sports on the fields surrounding the complex will want to come and take a dip in the pool. Mostly, we hope it will be a place where the community can come together to celebrate the summer.
The biggest piece will be the sale of passes. The YMCA has put in money. Maywood has put in money. Some private organizations have also put in money.
How has your experience as President/CEO been?
It’s a fascinating job. I’ve been doing it for four years. The previous four years, I was the YMCA’s director of development. The job is different everyday. I think most people realized it would be a challenge once we knew we weren’t going to construct the big building in Forest Park that we were focused on putting up. When that didn’t happen, we had to re-focus our efforts on outreach in our service area, instead of focusing on a brick-and-mortar building.
Does the West Cook YMCA have plans on extending its presence in Maywood? For instance, there are facilities, such as the gymnasium in the back of the 200 Building, out of which the YMCA may be able to operate for the benefit of Maywood residents.
We want to make sure everything we do is successful and in partnership with the communities we serve. We never want to go into a community and tell them what we think they should do. So, that’s up to the [citizens of Maywood]. There have been some conversations between Rev. Regi [Ratliffe, founder of Eternal Light Community Services] and Mr. Parsons about possible expansion. Each year, we do a small collaborative program with the Boys and Girls Club in Bellwood called Healthy Kids Day in April. So, these are the kinds of things we’re looking to do over time.
What is the YMCA’s general mission?
Our cause is to strengthen the foundations of local communities. We believe you can do it through youth development, healthy living and social responsibility. And every YMCA in every community can look at those things and determine what they need. But the bottom line is that the community is stronger as a result.
Can you give a brief overview of the YMCA’s history?
The Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) was founded in 1844 in London, England. There are YMCAs all over the world. They can look very different from those in the United States, depending on the needs of the people in that country — whether it be Ghana or Thailand or Kosovo or Venezuela. But all of them rest of those same three principles of youth development, healthy living and social responsibility. There are over 124 YMCA movements all over the world. The United States is the largest movement, with close to 2,000 branches.
The YMCA was a presence in the Civil War and both World Wars. The YMCA invented Father’s Day. Basketball was invented at a YMCA. The forward crawl swimming stroke was invented in a YMCA pool. Toastmasters. The concept of night school. All of this was created by the YMCA in some way, so we have a very rich history far beyond what most people think — and that usually tends to be the song created by the Village People (laughter).
Did the Y commission them to do that song?
No! (laughing, in jest).There was actually quite a bit of controversy back then over that. But most people think about us as a gym and swimming pools. That’s the exciting challenge, though. We want to help people realize what the rest is that we do. Pretty much everyone you talk to will have some YMCA connection. We’ve touched a lot of people and we continue to touch a lot of people.
Where is the YMCA headquartered?
Our world headquarters is in Geneva, Switzerland, but the national headquarters is on Wacker Drive in Chicago.
Can you talk a bit about what, if any friction, you’ve had in Maywood since coming here in 2011?
Anytime communities see something new and changing, people will have questions. We wanted to make people understand that we’re not coming in and taking over. [This is] Maywood’s pool. It’s also important for people to know that we’re not making money on this. We’re doing this in collaboration with the Village. It’s very costly to maintain a pool. The lifeguards, the maintenance, etc. It’s very costly, but we’re glad we have the expertise to do it and I hope, over time, people will see that.VFP
For more information about pool hours, swim lessons, how to donate, how to volunteer and other matters, visit the pool’s page on the West Cook YMCA’s website, or call the Aquatic Director, Kim Polk, at 708-434-0220.