When you think of the YMCA, you might traditionally think of swimming and basketball. Historically, that notion may have held true, but it has never been less true than at today's YMCA.Today's YMCA's services are as diverse as its members. Social services, child care, adult and youth sports, character programs, senior programs, aquatics - the list seems never-ending. The YMCA of the Kanawha Valley serves people regardless of age, race, religion or economic situation and turns no one away for inability to pay.With more than 8,500 members, a place so large, with so many programs, could be impersonal. But come into the Charleston Family YMCA and you will see people gathered in the lobby, sipping coffee and talking with friends in between workouts, business associates playing tennis or racquetball or meeting for lunch at Subway, and mothers organizing play-dates for their children on the outdoor playground or dropping them off for supervised play.When I moved to Charleston, I did not know anyone and was looking for work. My cousin suggested the YMCA; she said, "You'll love it there, nothing but good people." She could not have been more right. After 10 years, the YMCA is a second home to me. Whether as a member or an employee, it is an important part of my life and when I married and had children, it became part of their lives. Many things have changed about the YMCA, but many of the smiling faces I saw 10 years ago, the people who made me feel at home, are still there today.The YMCA builds strong kids, strong families, strong communities. It offers youth sports programs that emphasize character-building virtues, not just winning. It strengthens families by providing high quality, affordable childcare so that parents can work without worry. It strengthens the community by turning away no one for inability to pay, offering recreation and programming to everyone. After 100 years in the Kanawha Valley, the YMCA is a constant in an ever-changing, fast-paced world.About Third Places
Home and work are the two most important places in the lives of many people.But some communities have a "third place" - a public space away from home and work where people can congregate and socialize.In his book The Great Good Place, sociologist Ray Oldenburg identifies a third place as a spot where people of different races and economic backgrounds feel equally comfortable. Regulars feel at home there, and newcomers feel welcome. The atmosphere is playful and warm. Conversation flows freely. Old friendships are nourished, and new ones are made. Third places can be taverns or coffee shops, diners or gas station or some other utilitarian spot.One such third place is the Charleston YMCA.Do you have a Third Place?
Does your community have a thriving Third Place? Tell us about it. In 300 words or less, tell us what makes your Third Place a magnet for members of your community, and how it enriches the public life. Be sure to give us a complete address, and contact information for at least one person familiar with the space. We will consider them for future installments of "Third Places."Send submissions to Third Places, c/o M.K. McFarland, The Saturday Gazette-Mail, 1001 Virginia St. E., Charleston, WV 25301, or email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.