Mutual support marks YMCA’s post-fire resiliency


Weeks after flames burned through the second floor of the Wilmington Family YMCA, a faint smell of smoke still hangs in the air outside the building at 2710 Market St.

The Feb. 7 fire was limited to about 10,000 square feet of the 60,000-square-foot facility, but smoke billowed throughout the building, compromising the structure and the equipment within it, said president and CEO Dick Jones.

“Anything and everything that was touched by smoke has to be evaluated and determined whether it can be cleaned and reused, or if it’s totally damaged and beyond repair,” Jones said. “Even dumbbells, plastic coated dumbbells. Because the plastic is so porous, you can’t get the smoke out.”

Image of damage inside the Wilmington Family YMCA following a Feb. 7 fire, supplied by the YMCA.

Image of damage inside the Wilmington Family YMCA following a Feb. 7 fire, supplied by the YMCA.

Crews have worked inside the building daily since the fire to assess the damage. Jones hopes to know the extent and total cost of damages early in March, but until then, plans are underway to open a swing site facility within four months while classes, programs and services once headquartered in the building take place at locations scattered throughout Wilmington. The Y staff, also dislocated from offices in the building, worked from restaurants and coffee shops with about a dozen local businesses and organizations that offered space and resources to 7,000 YMCA members while details emerge about the next steps to take.

More than 50 group exercise classes are offered each week at DREAMS of Wilmington and B’nai Israel Congregation on Chestnut Street, about a mile away from the Y. Members are also welcome to exercise at O2 Fitness, the YWCA of the Lower Cape Fear, the Wilmington Athletic Club, and Second Wind Fitness Center in Hampstead. Other organizations across town offered space, including St. James Episcopal School and the Temple Baptist Church Activity Center, who both stepped up to host the Y’s afterschool care program and youth basketball programs.

Staff photo by Allison Potter. A Wilmington Family YMCA group aerobics class is held at B'nai Israel Congregation Thursday, Feb. 26.

Staff photo by Allison Potter. A Wilmington Family YMCA group aerobics class is held at B’nai Israel Congregation Thursday, Feb. 26.

Jones said members have been appreciative of such a smooth transition, enabled by cooperation with community partners, following the fire.

“I know it’s been appreciated. We’ve had many, many folks come back and say thank you for making this happen so rapidly,” Jones said. “It’s part of who we are, and they recognize that. That’s the Y. We want to be able to support one another in whatever way possible.”

Y members and staff are welcoming the individuals and organizations that provided relief during and after the fire to show thanks for the support during a Feb. 28 Fireman’s Walk at the track behind the Y.

“The community opened their arms and welcomed us, which is wonderful. So many people have said, ‘Let us help. How can we help?’ We want to say thank you, and that’s part of what Saturday is about,” Jones said.

The event will offer food and drinks and face-painting with plenty of opportunities to be active with Zumba, soccer games, a family-friendly obstacle course, a bounce house for children, and a walk around the track to honor the Wilmington Fire Department and Police Department and New Hanover Fire Rescue and EMS.

Jones, who remained on-site the night of the fire while crews worked throughout the night and the following day, said he wanted to show gratitude to emergency responders.

“It was a long, long day,” Jones said. “I saw what they were going through. They’re unsung heroes.”

Without a shared place to gather during the last few weeks, Jones also hopes to reunite the Y community in one place at the event. He said he realized the dynamic of the Y community is driven by the people who compose it, not by the place where they gather, following the fire.

“So much of what any Y is, any community across this county, is the people. It is not just a place to swim, or a place to exercise. It’s a social environment, a very inclusive environment, a very welcoming environment,” Jones said.

The event is free for Y members, but contributions to the Y Strong Campaign, a fire relief fund, will be accepted.




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