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LAKEWOOD RANCH — Charlie Morse grew up at YMCAs as a child in Indiana.
When he came in 1986 to Lakewood Ranch, however, there was no YMCA here.
When he traveled to other places in Florida, he looked for YMCA branches. The few he found lacked a sense of community.
He’d return home to Lakewood Ranch and see his community growing, becoming a place to do business, retire and raise a family.
But, he thought, it needed a tie.
“A lot of areas in the state have lost the community,” Morse said. “In Lakewood Ranch now, we have the business. We have the families. We have the schools, and we have the Y.”
As the Lakewood Ranch YMCA celebrated its 10-year anniversary with an open house Aug. 10, Morse, a fifth-year board member, noted the organization has become that hub for community activities he envisioned more than a decade ago.
Jim Purdy, director of operations for the Manatee County’s four YMCA branches, including Lakewood Ranch, agrees.
“A lot of YMCAs are struggling now,” Purdy said. “But, in Lakewood Ranch, I see an overall friendliness from the community and an intense commitment people have to families and each other.”
Purdy, a former extreme marathoner who has spent 35 years working at YMCAs across the state, including his most recent stint as senior vice president of the Sarasota Family YMCA, became director of operations here only eight months ago.
You wouldn’t know it when he walked around his new home on its 10-year anniversary and engaged in conversation with everyone he passed.
Purdy greeted men with a “How you doing, brother?” before patting their shoulders and calling them by name. One boy staying in the a new child-care space, part of large-scale renovations to the YMCA that happened last year, asked Purdy, “Are you my daddy’s boss?”
Purdy smiled easily and let out a high-pitched laugh, without directly answering.
Lakewood Ranch’s new teen center, also part of the renovation, has become an early-morning hub for senior citizens, and, inside, Purdy can be found losing Wii battles to people older than him.
Ten years ago, it would have been hard to see any of this commotion happening.
“I wasn’t here then, but I know a half-hour after this place opened, it was almost undersized,” Purdy said.
He also wasn’t here last year, when the Lakewood Ranch YMCA underwent a $2.1 million, 13,000-square-foot expansion that included a new fitness center with 80 pieces of cardio equipment, an expanded free-weight area and two new circuit training lines, as well as a group exercise room, a yoga/dance classroom, a group cycling space and several small offices.
About two months later, in June 2013, the YMCA unveiled a remodeling of the branch’s existing fitness center, which became a large aerobics area and the teen center.
Child-care space was added at that time.
All told, the YMCA has expanded its programs by more than 60% since the beginning of the year, a time during which membership has grown more than 25%, Purdy said.
Purdy, who saw the growth from afar and became more intimate with it when he came here, wanted even more growth because of community demand.
“You have to keep expanding the product offerings, and you have to keep it exciting because that’s what people want,” Purdy said.
Ten years from now, he sees the Lakewood Ranch YMCA having an “airnasium,” a regulation-size outdoor gymnasium that has everything other gyms have, except walls. He sees the possibility for a small outdoor water park.
And, he also talks about bringing a charter school, with a focus on health and wellness, to the YMCA.
Sooner than that, the YMCA will renovate its main gym, which is home to a 550-member youth basketball league and has not been updated in 10 years.
In the next few weeks, the YMCA will unveil two all-purpose fields, which cost $60,000. Previously, the area was covered in overgrown grass, and the YMCA’s tackle-football league would have to play its games at Premier Sports Campus.
Now, players won’t have to leave the YMCA’s campus.
“Because the YMCA is a community, we want to share a clear strategic plan to the people who come here,” Purdy said. “We truly operate cradle to the grave, and we want to attain that critical mass, where we draw people to campus with expanded offerings. The people become engaged, become locked in and become members.”
Contact Josh Siegel at email@example.com.
March 2003 — Lakewood Ranch YMCA opens with 500 members
2009 — Branch reaches capacity with 2,200 members
2012 — Branch undergoes expansion to accommodate more members. Facility grows from 27,000 to 47,000 square feet.
2013 — Branch has more than 2,900 members
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