A Day in the Life of the YMCA

Jessica Desquenne lifts weights during a Boot Camp led by Asil Cash. The Y also offers classes in yoga, pilates, BodyPump, Zumba, cycling, and fusion. — Photo by Ralph Stewart

Four early birds mill in front of the Y’s counter, waiting for Joyce Dodge to give them the signal that they can proceed into the club. It’s 5:20 am and the brightness of the lights at the swimming pool contrast sharply with the rainy darkness through the windows beyond. The water in the pool is calm, glassy, unbroken by a human dive. Music filters down from the workout area above and loses its sharpness in the translation. Joyce smiles and chats with her “regulars.” At 5:30, she gives the nod and they climb the stairs to their workouts.

One of these enthusiasts is Deedee Ponte, a tall, thin childcare provider who fits her machine work and weight training in before her own children — aged four to seventeen — need her for school lunches and help out the door. She’s been a regular since the YMCA of Martha’s Vineyard opened in June, 2010. “It gives me the energy to get through the day,” she says. “If I miss a day, I can tell. I’m just tired.”

Between 5:30 and 6, members dribble in at a rate of about one every three minutes. Joyce greets them and scans their ID tags and answers questions if needed. Leslie Smith arrives at 5:50 to teach the 6 am Body Pump class. It’s a small group this morning – only two. Her usual number? “No,” she says. “We’re a little shy.” The rain? “No. The flu.”

At 6:15 a group of six girls from the high school pop in to use the locker room and shower. They come from early morning hockey practice at the ice arena next door. They explain while swing-drying long, wet, curly hair that there are so many of them, they wouldn’t all be able to shower and dress at the arena and still be on time for school.

David Caron, Director of Pharmacy at the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, descends the stairs flushed with energy. At 7 am, he’s completed his workout on the free-weights and treadmill. “It just kicks my day off the right way,” he says. He’s also doing it for his kids, ages 11, 13, and 14. “I think it’s important for them to see their parents living a healthy lifestyle,” he says.

Debbie Brewer, Child Watch coordinator, takes a few minutes to describe her program. “It’s 90 minutes per day that you can place your child in Child Watch while you swim or work out or attend a class. It’s included in your membership fee. There’s no extra charge for that.

“We do a variety of things. Play-Doh, musical instruments, Legos, reading. We try to offer a lot of things for them to do.”

She’s opened the door to the Child Watch room at 8 am. Allyson Metell and her 2-1/2 year old daughter, Mackenna, and 4-year-old son, Maximus, have been waiting patiently outside. She brings her children one or two days a week. “They love it,” she says. “They get to play with other kids, they have different things to play with that they don’t get to do at home, they get to watch the happenings all around. They really enjoy it.”

The café is open now, too. Three kinds of coffee wait in dispensers and muffins and fresh fruit tempt members to replace those worked off calories.

People are arriving in surges now and Joyce is joined by Katie behind the desk.

A half hour later, water aerobics begins. Twenty-two participants, mostly women, bob in the pool to a pounding beat while Leslie Craven directs from dry land. Two swimmers ply the lap lanes. The water is rippling now, churned by the exuberant action in the pool.

It takes two people to run the aquatics program at the Y, Kelly McBride, Aquatics Director, and David Espindle, Aquatics Coordinator. Kelly is in charge of the private and group swimming lessons — not including water aerobics. Group lessons run year-round in 6- to 7-week sessions and start with parent/child swim for babies 6 months old and up, through preschool and youth (grades 1 to 8). Private lessons are also year-round, by appointment. Although lessons are not included in the membership fees, there is a discount for members and they receive priority in registration. “Swimming lessons attract a lot of members and non-members,” Kelly says.

The high school also uses the pool for its swim team. With that, the third-grade water safety program, Special Olympics practice, lap swimmers, and family swim, there is so much going on that the facility is almost in constant use. “The pool schedule is a puzzle,” says Kelly. “Most people want to use the pool at the exact same time.”

David, fit and handsome in a hirsute sort of way, is in charge of the competitive swim program. He oversees programs for children and adults, from training to practice to swim meets, starting at six years old. The different levels of program vary in their forms of competition — or lack of. There’s a non-competitive program for adults. “It’s more of an organized workout for lap swimmers,” David says.

The MV Masters is an adult team that competes throughout New England, as do the Makos — swimmers between the age of six and eighteen who are divided into three groups. The Novice, Bronze/Silver, and Gold teams are populated based on experience, fitness level, and commitment to the program. The Bonitos — a free-swim team — bridges the gap between lessons and competition. According to David, many of the Bonitos become Makos.

By 9 am, the lights are on in the administrative offices where the Human Resources, Development, Events, Campaign, Finance, Marketing, and Public Relations professionals are hard at work, keeping the Y financially fit. Jill Robie, Executive Director practically since the Y-MV’s inception, is away on business today, but her leadership and vision keeps the facility humming.

By 11:15 am, there have already been seven classes (including the 7 am Resolution Boot Camp) and people are beginning to climb upstairs for the 11:30 Boot Camp and Ray Whittaker’s Balance of Power class. The courses are extremely popular and, according to Group Fitness Coordinator Melissa Aldeborgh, the instructors are passionate about what they teach. “BuBu’s Zumba class and Sian’s yoga class bring in the most consistent numbers,” she informs. “Ironically, they’re like Yin and Yang. The Body Pump classes are also favorites. Although the instructors don’t earn as much at the Y (which is a not-for-profit organization) as they earn elsewhere on the Island, the Y draws the best teachers.”

Throughout the morning and into the afternoon, members drift in and out of the café, meeting friends and holding small meetings, but things start to get crazy at 2:15 when the high school across the street begins to let out.

The busiest times, according to Bryan Garrison, Director of Food Service, is 2:15 to 2:45, when the kids are waiting for the teen center to open at 2:30. “Half of the kids will go in and half will hang out at the café, “He explains. “Then from 4:30 to about 6 o’clock, when there are swim lessons.” The parents and siblings of the swimmers will snack, and, when the lessons are over they’ll eat dinner.

What are the favorites? “There are two different kinds of kids that eat at the café,” Bryan explains. “The athletes will eat yogurts, milk shakes, fries, chicken fingers, protein bars, and burgers. And then there are kids that come over and the only thing they get is an order of fries that they’ll split between a table of kids. It’s very rare that I see one kid — girl or boy — get one huge order for themselves.”

Two 15-year-old girls sit at a café table, giggling a secret between them. Petite Mikala is waiting for her high school swim-team practice to start. Julia’s Makos training is later. She’s waiting for the Teen Center to open. “I usually go into the Teen Center and do my homework,” says Julia whose earrings jitter as she talks. “If I left a textbook I need to use at home, then I’ll watch TV or do something on the computer.”

Mikala, the shyer of the two, admits to coming in on weekends for the events at The Base, the downstairs entertainment area of the Teen Center. She even sang once at an open mic.

At 2:30, Laurel Whitaker opens the Teen Center door for the waiting students and they settle on the couch to watch television or check out joysticks for a video game. Julia finds a seat at a table and opens a textbook.

Fourteen-year-old Arthur is a regular. When he’s not playing hockey, he’s here. A child of the foster system, he explains, “It’s like a family that some of us never had.”

And before the Teen Center? “I wasn’t really doing good,” Arthur recalls. “I used to have issues with the police and all that. I used to do stuff I wasn’t supposed to. I stopped doing that stuff because they were helping me out. I come here and they’re telling me that I could do anything I put my mind to.” He credits Director Tony Lombardi (whom he calls “Uncle Tony”) with the aura of family that the Teen Center provides.

At 3 pm, busses start unloading children for the after-school program. The four counselors herd 32 kids into a large room with giant playful, spider, alligator, and wolf head suspended above. The staff is down one counselor due to illness, but it evens out because some of the kids are also out sick.

By 7:30, the café is closed, counters cleared, cases emptied. Children from the after-school program have all been picked up and the cleaning crew is working in the deserted room. Two lap swimmers glide back and forth in the pool, and 18 people are using the second floor machines and weights. More people are leaving than arriving.

By now, six people have signed up for memberships of various types — two individual one-month memberships, one teen monthly, one senior monthly, one senior annual, and one 2-adult family.

According to Nina Lombardi, Director of membership and Programs, from approximately 956 charter members at the Y’s opening three years ago the membership has grown to 4,241. In summer, that figure swells to 5,200. Three quarters of the membership participates in the programs.

The majority of members are between the ages of 30 and 54. Two gentlemen tie for the oldest members at 92. One, Nina relates, works out on the recumbent bikes. The other does that and the treadmill.

By 8:50, the lights are off in the pool. Upstairs, one person is working out on a floor mat, one is on a machine, one is milling around, and a fourth is packing up her gear. A total of 544 people have checked in at the front desk. Thirteen classes have been conducted. The café has rung up sales of $596.81. Countless miles have been run on treadmills, ellipticals, Arc trainers, stairmasters, and stationary bikes. Countless pounds have been pressed and pulled on Cybex circuit weight machines and free weights.

At 8:55 pm, the door locks automatically click closed. The upstairs lights are out. The music is gone. The remaining attendant at the front desk is tidying up and putting things away. George and Larry, the cleaning guys, are hard at work and will be until 11.

Then the Y will be put to rest for the night. It needs it. It’s been a busy day. And tomorrow starts at 5:30.

Joyce Wagner is a freelance writer who works part-time at the YMCA as assistant to the executive director. She is currently working out five times a week.