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Area YMCA Continues To Expand

By Emma Dill, posted May 17, 2024
Sarah Gibbs (from left), vice president of development for the YMCA of Southeastern North Carolina, and Dick Jones, CEO of the YMCA SENC, are shown in one of the workout rooms at the Nir Family YMCA in Wilmington. (Photo by Madeline Gray)
For Dick Jones, the man who’s been at the helm of the YMCA of Southeastern North Carolina since the early 2000s, the Y’s singularity comes down to its ability to offer programs that run the gamut from youth sports and after-school child care to group fitness classes and resources for active seniors. 

“The Y is unique in that it does a lot of different things,” Jones, the nonprofit’s local president and CEO, said recently. “It’s different things to different people, and so we try to make sure that we can serve well in each of those areas.” 

According to Jones, the YMCA of Southeastern North Carolina has about 13,000 members; approximately 11,000 live in the greater New Hanover County area. That membership figure doesn’t account for the roughly 20,000 individuals who participate in other Y programs, including youth sports, summer camps and after-school programming, he said. 

With an eye toward the organization’s continued growth, the Y has plans to expand its footprint across the Wilmington area.  

Last month, the organization purchased the Temple Baptist Activity Center at 709 George Anderson Drive in midtown Wilmington in a $3.5 million transaction. The Y has operated its midtown location there since 2016 in partnership with Temple Baptist Church. 

The New Hanover Community Endowment awarded the YMCA a $4 million strategic grant in December to help fund the development of the midtown location, which YMCA leaders envision as a full-service facility complete with aquatics and child care, Jones said. 

The organization also has plans to expand its reach into northern New Hanover County. In early May, YMCA leaders went before the New Hanover County Planning Board to request a rezoning for about 50 acres of undeveloped land along Sidbury Road. The rezoning request was unanimously approved and is now set to go before the county’s board of commissioners. 

Following the area’s growing population is key to ensuring the Y’s services remain accessible to members and other users, Jones said. 
“Certainly, as the community expands north, we’ll follow that,” he said. “There’s tremendous growth happening over in Brunswick County; I would expect that to be on our radar screen sooner rather than later.” 

Over the past decade, Sarah Gibbs, the Y’s vice president of development, has watched her career grow alongside the organization she serves.  

Gibbs started working part time at the YMCA while attending the University of North Carolina Wilmington. Upon graduation in 2014, she accepted a full-time role and has been there ever since.  

Today, Gibbs oversees the Y’s development department, where she works to establish community relationships, secure funding and manage marketing and communication efforts. 

“It’s been a blessing to be a part of the organization and kind of grow alongside it,” she said. 

Gibbs credits the Y’s growing physical footprint for sparking its recent growth. 

“Over the past 10 years, and especially over the past five years, we’ve experienced exponential growth,” she said, “and I do think that’s largely due to some of the new branches and new locations that we’ve opened.” 

The YMCA invested in the Ogden area in early 2020 by fully leasing a former basketball center at 7207 Ogden Business Lane. While the Y had previously offered programming at the Ogden site, the lease allowed for program expansion and facility renovations. Then, in 2022, the Y expanded into Sampson County by opening a new facility in Clinton. 

“Just increasing our capacity by having more buildings and locations out in the community,” Gibbs said. “It helps us to reach more people with the programs and services that we offer.” 

Over the years, that growth has faced some setbacks.  

In 2015, a fire started in the sauna room at the Nir Family YMCA at 2710 Market St., causing more than $2.8 million in damage. It took nearly four years and millions of dollars to renovate and reopen the facility, which also serves as the organization’s headquarters. 

Then, in early 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the YMCA, prompting drops in membership the nonprofit is still working to recover from. Today, the Y’s membership numbers range between 90% and 95% of pre-pandemic counts, according to Jones.  

But Jones sees the fire and pandemic as “catalysts” for the organization that sparked change and prompted community members to rally around the YMCA and its programs. 

“The Y that came out of the fire … not just a physical building, but the staff, the programs, the environment is so much stronger than before the fire,” he said. 

For Gibbs, the nonprofit’s ability to adapt to new challenges is vital. 

“We’ve navigated a lot in the community, just in my time here,” she said. “We’ve had a fire, we’ve experienced hurricanes, we’ve opened new buildings, we’ve experienced a pandemic. The Y has really been kind of a vital organization for the community over the years, and we just continue to adapt with whatever we’re faced with to keep meeting the needs of the community.”
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