Support growing for bringing YMCA to county

First Byline: 
David Purtell - Staff Writer

The "Y-train" is coming and people better get on board.
That's the message County Councilman Jerry Creech had for over 100 people who attended a public meeting Jan. 9 about bringing a YMCA to the county.
Danny McConnell, CEO of the Augusta YMCA, spoke at length about the benefits of establishing a Y in the community. He also said the only way it will happen is if the community pulls together to make it a reality.
McConnell said a facility doesn't have to be built immediately, but that existing buildings, like high-school gymnasiums or the Gail Reyes Center where the meeting was held, can be used to hold programs.
McConnell said a YMCA is perfect for a family-oriented community like Barnwell County.
Creech has said the major reason for the recent push to bring a Y to Barnwell is to offer more options to young people. But McConnell said Y's offer memberships and programs for people of all ages.
Sheriff Ed Carroll, who is on the independent recreation committee working to make the YMCA a reality, said crime increases 11 percent in the county during the summer months, and it's mostly juvenile crime.
Carroll said young people don't have anything to do in the summertime.
"We have good people in Barnwell County," he said about those working to improve the lives of children.
A group of high school students was at the meeting to show their support for the idea. And several parents brought their young children to the meeting.
Five county-council members were at the meeting along with Blackville Mayor Mike Beasley. City of Barnwell Recreation Director Mike Shumaker was there too, and he said having a YMCA would be great for the county.
County Council Chairman Freddie Houston emphasized the need for the community to work together to make Barnwell a better place. For too long, he said, Barnwell has been sitting idle while neighboring counties, like Aiken - which has a YMCA - move forward.
"Some people just don't like change," he said.
But when it comes to change, Houston said, you can either make it happen or watch it happen.
"I think most of us want to be part of change," he said.
Several residents expressed their support for bringing a Y to the county.
Nick Toole, a 2006 Barnwell High School graduate, said a YMCA is the kind of organization Barnwell needs "to give people a sense of community."
Gibby Sanders Jr., who has spent most of his life in Barnwell, said projects like the YMCA are what the county needs if the area is going to survive.
"You're either growing on the vine, or you're dying," he said, "Let this (the Y) be the first step."
As far as funding for a YMCA, McConnell said the money will come from and have to be raised by the community. Normally, he said, the YMCA's national organization wants $300,000 to be raised to get a new Y going. That covers the cost of hiring a director, starting basic programs and paying rent and utilities for supplemental buildings, if used, in the first three years.
Asked after the meeting about where the project is at financially, Creech said there is money, both public and private, ready to go toward a Y. He said he couldn't specify how much or where the money is coming from until the process is further along.
Creech also said he doesn't want years to pass before a facility is built, but instead wants it to happen as fast as possible.
The next step is to form an 18-member volunteer board of directors to guide the YMCA. Creech said he'd like to see all the towns in the county represented on the board.
A local Y, which could partner with other organizations in the county, could either be part of the regional branch or independent. The benefit of being part of a branch is having a financial safety net, McConnell said. He added that independent Y's have the luxury of doing things their own way.
Anyone who wants to get involved can contact Creech at his home at (803) 259-1455, any other member of county council or Lisa Firmender, executive director of Generations Unlimited.