Time for YMCA to return?

It may be time for the YMCA to make a return to Red Deer, says a former longtime volunteer with the organization.

It may be time for the YMCA to make a return to Red Deer, says a former longtime volunteer with the organization.

Wendy Walls, who chaired the local YMCA for many years until it folded about 20 years ago, says there has been growing interest in bringing the organization back to the city.

“I became aware the Calgary Y is interested in starting a Y in Red Deer,” said Walls, who said the issue came up at a meeting of the Calgary group’s board.

To get the ball rolling, a local group would need to come together which can spearhead the project by forming a board, or recruiting representatives to pitch the proposal to the city.

YMCA got its start in Red Deer in the early 1960s and eventually bought the Sacred Heart School, which was located at 43rd Avenue and 58th Street before it was torn down many years ago.

To pay the mortgage, local YMCA volunteers worked weekly bingos. At the time, the city was not interested in supporting the group and it remained the only YMCA west of Winnipeg to not get municipal funding, she said.

Eventually, the burden of keeping the facility — which had been expanded with a pair of racquetball courts — got to be too much for the volunteers and the YMCA folded. It had also rented a city pool to offer some of its programs.

Walls said Medicine Hat and Lethbridge both have YMCAs and Edmonton and Calgary have about three each. Red Deer would be a natural location for a revived group.

The city would be needed to provide the facility and the YMCA would re responsible for the programming. The underused Michener Centre pool and facility might be a good fit, she suggested.

Since YMCA programs involve a lot of volunteer participation, programs can be offered at an affordable rate for families with limited incomes.

Walls said she often hears people who have come from other communities ask at social functions why Red Deer has no YMCA.

She has also heard that the city is more receptive to the idea than it once was.

Walls, who is now 75, said she’s willing to help those interested in setting up a YMCA get started, but she’s not able to carry the organizing load herself. Younger champions with good business and community connections are needed.

Mayor Morris Flewwelling said the idea has some merit.

“I suspect with our much larger population now it may well be time to pick that up,” he said.

Those interested in a YMCA can contact Walls at 403-347-2876.