Wilton Y’s 40th off to ‘booming’ start

Wilton Family YMCA is now celebrating its 40th season, and — with rising enrollment and membership, sweeping renovations and new technologies, and access to a 5,000-square-foot gymnastics facility — the center is poised to have a great season.
Camp was extended to six weeks this summer and hit record enrollment, and the upcoming session of classes this fall have already begun to fill.

“It’s absolutely booming,” said Executive Director Robert McDowell. “We’re having a great start.”

The Wilton Sports and Fitness Center at 644 Danbury Road has leased space to the Y for a variety of activities, ranging from gymnastics to wrestling practices, which are expected to bring in roughly another 100-150 kids, according to Mr. McDowell. The facility will also welcome pre-school and youth classes and Special Olympics programming.

The aquatics staff is now experimenting with a new and innovative safety technology, developed by Aquatics Safety Concepts, of Reading, Pa., in which a headband will send a signal to an alert system when submerged for more than 20 seconds. It is intended to be an aid for guards, and used among both swimmers and non-swimmers, though it will not substitute for traditional guarding duties.

The extra level of protection is “revolutionary,” Mr. McDowell said, and will be particularly effective in the outdoor pond where the water can be murky.

Facility renovations include going green by relamping about 80% of the building. The process is nearing completion, and is expected to cut energy costs, especially by taking advantage of Connecticut Light & Power rebates.
Club membership has increased from last year and has made a significant recovery since the economy went sour in 2008 and households were hit hard, Mr. McDowell said.

The origin of Wilton’s Y dates to 1956, when the Kiwanis Club purchased vacant property at a time when neighboring New Canaan and Norwalk had their own facilities. The site became Kiwanis Park & Pond, an outdoor recreational facility with swimming, a summer day camp and two Little League baseball fields.

The first growth spurt took place in 1967 with the creation of the Norwalk-Wilton Branch Y, which leased space in the Crossways building at the junction of routes 7 and 33. Small classes and programs were also conducted in the rooms of local churches, schools and empty offices.

The club received its charter in 1968 as an independent association from the YMCA of the USA. Fund raising began with a goal of $750,000. The Wilton Kiwanis Club gave $100,000 to the campaign and formally deeded Kiwanis Park to the Y as the site for the building. Construction began in 1971 and the following year the 25-yard indoor pool with locker rooms, a lobby and exercise room along with two outdoor paddle tennis courts with a warming hut were opened. The project came in at $746,000.

Subsequent construction phases saw the addition of a full gymnasium, racquetball and squash courts, a fitness room, and two more paddle courts. The 1990s saw the addition of the 50-meter indoor/outdoor pool with new locker rooms, a greatly increased fitness center, child care areas, and multipurpose program space.

According to the YMCA, under the leadership of Board President Kevin Craw, Trustee Chair Buck Griswold, and Executive Director Skip Raymond, the organization raised over $3.5 million to build the new facilities. This was the largest amount of money ever raised to date by a nonprofit organization in Wilton, the Y said.

The organization now offers swimming lessons, health and fitness programs, senior activities, youth and adult sports, early childhood educational programs, after-school childcare, summer day camp and a host of volunteer opportunities and charitable events.

Aquatic programs include swim lessons for ages six months through adults, Wahoo swim teams, pre- and post-natal exercise, aqua fitness, arthritis therapy, lifeguard training, lap swimming and family recreational time.

Health and wellness programs encompasses the fitness center, group exercise classes, senior fitness, nutrition counseling, diabetes prevention, LiveStrong Cancer Rehab, yoga, Pilates, and club sports.

There is a nursery school for pre-schoolers, and youth activities include indoor tennis, basketball, floor hockey, flag football, archery and martial arts. The Y’s Neighborhood Club is an after-school childcare program for grades one through six, and the Student Union is for older students grade sevn to 11.

The mission of the Wilton Family Y is “to promote healthy lifestyles and positive values by offering a broad range of health enhancing, recreational and social programs affordable and accessible to all people in our community.”

For more information on membership or programs, contact Ms. Wishna at 762-8384, ext. 222, or mwishna@wiltonymca.org.