Saturday, July 21, 2018

Niles-Buchanan YMCA



We visited the Niles-Buchanan YMCA on July 21, 2018. It's building was built in 2006 and words I would use to describe it would be "exceeded expectations" and "YMCA architectural wonder".  And I don't say that lightly after having visited 35 other YMCA's in Michigan in the past 9 months. The 55,000 square foot facility is conveniently located just outside of the downtown area of Niles, Michigan in a beautiful property overlooking the St. Joseph River in Berrien County. 

From the moment one enters the lobby area there is a sense that the YMCA is an important part of the history and future of the community. The lobby invokes the nostalgia of a gaslight village with various paintings on the walls depicting significant pieces of community history. There is plenty of space for people to gather and carry on conversations before or after their exercise regime. 

Being at this YMCA was nostalgic for me personally as one set of my Great-Grandparents with the surnames Ebersol and Shook lived and died in Berrien County, Michigan a little over 100 years ago. 

Jonathan loved every part of our visit from the just right temperature of the warm therapy pool to the solid track that overlooks the exercise equipment.  Everything was clean from the locker room to the immaculate landscaping outside of the building by the parking lot. Everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves in the pools and exercise area, and it had precisely the right amount of activity without feeling at all overcrowded.

It was a rainy day in Michigan when we were able to visit the Niles-Buchanan YMCA. And it was a relief to learn that the building was built with proper grounding that enables them to keep their pools open in the midst of rainstorms outside. I don't fully understand how that works but it really adds a lot to the aquatics program to not be at the mercy of the weather in conducting inside water activities.

In March 2017 the Niles-Buchanan YMCA formally joined their work with the St. Joseph-Benton Harbor YMCA to bring the two branches together under YMCA of Southwest Michigan organization. The morning of our visit the organization had the 2018 Race for YMCA 5K/10K in St. Joseph, which involved both branches.

The Niles-Buchanan YMCA has so much going for it that it is hard to imagine it's programs are going to be getting even better soon, but that is exactly what is in the works. It was heartening to learn that they have a capital campaign going on to ultimately add 30,000 more square feet to their building, which will add a second gymnasium, a youth center, a teen center, and offices (Niles-Buchanan YMCA Sets Expansion Efforts, Debrah Haight, HP, September 9, 2017). The improvements will be constructed in three stages with each phase costing about $2 million dollars and adding 10,000 square feet. More information on their capital campaign is on their website

The community of Niles-Buchanan can be proud of their YMCA. This YMCA stands out as a vital part of their community through not just the sheer awesomeness of their physical structure, but more importantly in the vision and heart and soul of their programs.  

Jonathan and Alan Stokes are on a mission to visit every YMCA in Michigan and are showing that the YMCA is FOR ALL, especially those with autism. 

Map Credit: By Arkyan [GFDLCC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC BY-SA 2.5], via Wikimedia Commons

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Farmington Family YMCA



We visited the Farmington Family YMCA on April 7, 2018. It is a beautiful location just a short drive from an I-696 exit in Oakland County. Farmington Hills is the second largest city in Oakland County. The Farmington Family YMCA has served their community for over 50 years with this 52,000 square feet facility. 

Jonathan enjoyed his traditional autism walk through the facility. I smiled when I observed this sign in a prominent place to encourage us that, "God Loves You make it a great day!".  One of the phrases Jonathan has in his limited grasp of language is "God Loves You". 

The highlight of the day was swimming. They have two pools and we spent time in the one called the Robertson Pool, which is maintained at a warm 88 degrees. I know that Jonathan enjoyed the pool because we left to go use the hot tub and I took him into the locker room thinking our swimming was finished, but he didn't want to leave and asked if he could go back to the pool. That is a very good testimony about how much he enjoyed it coming from a teenager with ADHD and autism. 


I was able to have a very memorable conversation at this YMCA with a family who has an adult with autism who is in his 20's. He's about 15 years further down life's road than Jonathan. I shared with this autism mother about our travels around Michigan to all the YMCA's and pointed out some of the stops we had already made. One of the most encouraging thing to me was when she asked her son if he would want to do travels like this and in my presence with his glee vowed to also visit every YMCA in Michigan. I told her she had a head start because 20% (10 branches) of all the locations in Michigan could be found right in her backyard in the Detroit Area system. 

I don't know if this family will actually end up completing a similar journey, but the reality is even if they only ever utilize their home YMCA in Farmington Hills, they are already on a familiar road. All of us autism families share a bond that can not be broken by where we call home. We come from various races, faiths, and socio-economic backgrounds, and none of us asked to also be in the autism family. But we are some of the strongest families there are who will climb any mountain for our children as long as we can, because we know they may likely never be able to leave the nest. My money is on this mother following through and in her families own way and time visiting every YMCA in Michigan.


This was our first venture to one of the ten branches in the YMCA of Metropolitan Detroit and the visit set the tone for a very positive experience at our recurring travels to the Detroit Area. The time of the year we made this trip had all the hope and expectation that Spring is about to come alive in Michigan.

Jonathan and Alan Stokes are on a mission to visit every YMCA in Michigan and are showing that the YMCA is FOR ALL, especially those with autism. 


Map Credit: By Arkyan [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC BY-SA 2.5], via Wikimedia Commons

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Cadillac Area YMCA




We visited the Cadillac Area YMCA on December 9, 2017. It is a beautiful facility on the campus of Baker College. It is named the Dillon Community Center, because Tom Dillon (1926-2005) donated $2.5 million to assure a permanent place for the YMCA in Cadillac, Michigan. The community around Cadillac is truly blessed to have this facility in their backyard. 





One thing that is obvious upon touring the facility is how friendly it is for youth. For example, they have a real metal basketball goal in the gym that is set a lower height for children to enjoy dunking, which Jonathan found appealing.

Their pool is wonderful and the hot tub is twice the size of what one will normally find in a 4 star hotel.  We met a wonderful couple on our visit and the gentleman talked to me about their life and the impact of the YMCA to brighten their days. His wife has dementia and is institutionalized and this loving husband has her on a routine of faithfully bringing her almost every day to enjoy the Cadillac Area YMCA and its hot tub. The YMCA truly does bring families of all ages and medical situations closer together, whether it be dementia that this older couple is dealing with or autism that Jonathan and I navigate through each day.

The Cadillac Area YMCA is a wonderful benefit to the community both for fostering a healthy lifestyle in individuals and responding to emergencies. For example, in April 2018 they opened their doors to people without power, whether they were members or not, so that they could use a shower or the Internet (9 & 10 News, Brett Greenacre, Cadillac YMCA Offering to Help People Without Power, April 15, 2018).

The Cadillac Area YMCA is also continuing to add new and improved programs. For example, in February 2018 they opened child care facilities to meet a need in the community (9 & 10 News, Cadillac Area YMCA Opens Child Care Facilities at Baker College).

This was our longest trip to a YMCA until the Summer when we would travel to the Upper Peninsula, but it was so worth it. The trip had all the beauty of Northern Michigan in early Winter and truly ideal weather with snow on the trees but not so much on the road.

Jonathan and Alan Stokes are on a mission to visit every YMCA in Michigan and are showing that the YMCA is FOR ALL, especially those with autism. 

Map Credit: By Arkyan [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC BY-SA 2.5], via Wikimedia Commons