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To better serve our members, the Joplin Family YMCA will consolidate operations to a single flagship membership center. After serving the Joplin community as a YMCA for more than 90 years, the Downtown YMCA facility will be closing on July 1, 2017.
The South Y was selected to serve as the flagship center because of its location and potential to be remodeled for state-of-the-art programming.
The consolidation will allow us to invest our resources into developing more collaborative programming in our focus areas of healthy living, social responsibility and youth development.
The Downtown YMCA has stood proudly at the corner of 5th and Wall for over 90 years, and it has served the community well. While it’s difficult to say goodbye, the heart of the Y has always been our members. It’s important to remember that the Y is, and has always been, more than a building.
The YMCA’s mission makes it essential that we continuously evolve to meet the changing needs of the community. We at the Joplin Family Y are excited to be part of this transition as we position ourselves to continue serving the needs of the community today and in the future.
On June 30, the grand old building on the corner of Fifth Street and Wall Avenue, known to most as the Downtown YMCA, will officially close its doors. This end of an era comes nearly 96 years to the date of the building’s official opening to the Joplin community on June 16, 1921.
While many think of the downtown building as Joplin’s original Young Men’s Christian Association, the YMCA actually had more humble beginnings. The idea for a YMCA in Joplin was conceived by a small group of volunteers in 1891. The organization began in the living room of Mr. and Mrs. A.H. Waite, and a location above the Keller-Bierig Bakery at 414 Main St. was quickly secured. In 1897, the community raised funds to purchase the former Haven Opera House at Fourth Street and Virginia Avenue to house the YMCA. When the community found that a larger, more modern building was needed, a fundraising campaign was again conducted, the result of which was the stately building at Fifth Street and Wall Avenue.
When the difficult decision was made to close the Downtown YMCA, my first reaction was of hurt and disappointment. However, our leadership knew that consolidating our facilities to create a flagship YMCA was the right decision for a community the size of ours. The consolidation will allow the YMCA to strengthen its financial position so that it can better serve the community through the development of more innovative programming and services designed to help residents improve quality of life in terms of health and well-being.
Our Executive Director, Cookie Estrada, wrote this in his letter to The Joplin Globe:
"Over the past 30 years that I have had the privilege of being part of this great organization, my office has always been at the Downtown YMCA. Over that time, I have been fortunate enough to establish strong friendships with the many families and community leaders who call this building home. In talking to those people and listening to their stories, I realize that the Fifth and Wall location is more than bricks and mortar; it is a repository of memories that has had a significant impact on the many people who have passed through its doors over the past century.
As I prepare to say goodbye to the building that has been my home for the past 30 years, I feel it is necessary for me to share my thoughts on the many lives that have been affected by the Downtown YMCA.
I always ask myself, “If these walls could talk, what would they say?” It is immediately obvious that there must be thousands of stories these walls would tell. I am sure they would share the excitement of the Joplin community when the magnificent, state-of-the-art Downtown YMCA opened its doors in June of 1921. They would tell about the young men who found refuge from the vices of city life at the Y as they searched for housing and established themselves in the Joplin community. Perhaps they would tell of the soldiers from Camp Crowder who filled the gym while on their weekend passes. They would recall stories about how young boys gained confidence by learning to swim and engaging in physical fitness activities that encompassed mind, body and spirit.
It’s almost possible to see this building swell with pride at the thought of the many Joplin youths who went on to become community leaders after participating in character-building programming such as the Hi-Y Club. And imagine how it felt seeing the first woman walking in the door for a membership to the YMCA after women were first admitted in the 1970s or witnessing the decision to merge the YMCA and YWCA to form the Joplin Family Y in 1986. This building saw more community members than one could ever imagine — young and old — participate in programs developed especially for their well-being.
These memories and so many others are an important part of the Downtown YMCA and its legacy. They reflect the big and small moments that have helped shape all of us. Personally, I want to share my impression of some of what this building has given to the people it has served: I have seen the joy of families celebrating when a child makes their first major accomplishment during a youth sports game. I have seen the relief on the faces of senior citizens when they enter the warm pool to soothe their pain. I have seen tears of poignancy when a child leads a prayer before a youth activity. I have seen the care and compassion with which a young mother teaches her newborn to swim. I have seen Joplin youths who come to the Y for their first job develop skills and become productive community members. But most of all, I will always remember the friendships and camaraderie I’ve seen develop among people from varied and diverse backgrounds throughout the community who have come together at the Downtown YMCA.
Even though the doors of the Downtown YMCA will soon be closing, the Joplin Family Y will be holding true to its mission of putting Christian principles into practice through programs that build a healthy mind, body and spirit for all. As we consolidate operations into a single flagship YMCA, we are excited about the future and the opportunity to meet the changing needs of the community for the next 100 years.
In conclusion, I’d like to express my most sincere thanks to the Joplin community and all the volunteers, donors, members, program participants and staff, past and present, who are your local YMCA, because the YMCA has always been more than a building.
From 1 to 3 p.m. Wednesday, we will be celebrating the memories and the impactful relationships created within the iconic Downtown YMCA. I hope that you will stop by between 1 and 3 p.m. to share your story with me."