More than a building

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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 Dick Jones, president and CEO.

“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.”

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, which will help the YMCA board of directors determine what improvements will be made to the building. But until those details emerge and a course is charted, plans are underway to open a swing site facility within four months. Classes, programs and services once headquartered in the building currently take place at locations scattered throughout Wilmington, thanks to partnerships forged with about a dozen local businesses and organizations that stepped up to offer space and resources.

DREAMS of Wilmington is one community organization that offered help, Jones said. Emily Colin, DREAMS associate director, said the organizations are connected professionally through a shared goal of fostering positive youth development, as well as personally, with many DREAMS staffers doubling as Y members. Colin said the DREAMS team realized the nonprofit’s newly renovated space on the north side of downtown could fulfill the Y’s unexpected need, and since mid-February, DREAMS has opened its doors free of charge to Y classes every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.

“We are all one community. The more we can work together, that’s fantastic,” Colin said.

More than 50 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 the two Wilmington O2 Fitness locations, the YWCA of the Lower Cape Fear, the Wilmington Athletic Club and Second Wind Fitness Center in Hampstead.

YMCA member Karen Nelson, who attends group exercise classes twice a week to support her cardiovascular health following a heart attack, said she was worried she wouldn’t be able to keep up her routine when she heard about the fire.

“In just one week of not exercising, I could feel the difference,” Nelson said.

Nelson said she is happy to be able to continue her Zumba and pilates classes each week, where she visits with fellow members and improves her mental and physical health. Jones said many 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.”

To show support for the individuals and organizations that provided relief during and after the fire, the Y hosted a Feb. 28 Fireman’s Walk, thanking the emergency responders who extinguished the fire after an all-night battle, and bringing about 200 members together again. Uniting Y members, now meeting and exercising in locations across town, was one motivation Jones cited to organize the event, but following the fire, Jones said he realized the dynamic of the Y community is driven by the people who compose it, not the place where they gather.

“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.

YMCA member Bob Cronin agreed. He became a member a little more than one year ago to improve his health, and while he achieved that goal, he learned membership offered more than physical fitness.

“It’s turned out to be a lot more than that. It’s fitness as well as the community, the social aspect of belonging to a larger group,” Cronin said.

email miriah@luminanews.com

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