The Covington Family YMCA has helped thousands of children and adults live happier and healthier lives during its nearly 25 years in Covington. Looking back into the history of the YMCA, one realizes it’s taken just as many people to bring the organization to Covington and support it.
On Friday, the Y is celebrating the 10th anniversary of its main facility on Newton Drive. Known for its large wellness center, athletic classroom and outdoor pool, the main facility sees hundreds of children, adults and seniors pass through its doors daily and is the face of the Covington Y. It was the result of a multi-year $2.5 million capital campaign that brought together many of the county’s most prominent personalities.
But what many people may not know is the history of the Covington Y goes back to the early 1980s, when the Covington-Newton County Chamber of Commerce conducted an extensive community survey asking residents about their main concerns. Three answers were most prevalent: the schools, housing and recreation and entertainment.Ron Manson was the chamber’s board chairman in 1980. In 1981 he became chairman of the United Fund, a non-profit that raises money for other non-profits. While in those two roles, Manson saw a possible solution that could address two of the community’s main concerns at once.
"I grew up with YMCA as a young man in Ohio. Really from day one as child I was around the Y. Swimming in pools, going to Y camps, we were involved," Manson said. "In the beginning I couldn’t understand why we didn’t have a nice YMCA program in Covington … I just started thinking a Y would solve the recreation problem and even help address help the school system."
While many people were instrumental in bringing the Y to Covington, Manson was probably the lead organizer; that was a much tougher role than he expected.
More than three years of organizing and outreach efforts finally lead to the Y first coming to Covington in 1986; its first house was much different than the facility celebrating its 10th anniversary this year.
The red brick and white siding building, which today sits next to the YMCA, for years was known as the Teen Can building. In the early 1950s the building had been a social gathering spot for teenagers, a place to hold school dances and congregate after basketball games.
In fact, the whole block was a hot spot for city activity. American Legion Field, located behind the Y, had been a popular park since 1940. Where Sharp Learning Center is located now used to be Newton County High School. And where the Y building is now located, the Kiwanis Club built an outdoor pool.
Manson said that area’s history made it a natural place to house the Y. Over the years much of land came into the hands of the city of Covington and the deteriorating pool was filled in during the 1980s. The city agreed to give the Y a multi-decade long lease for $1 a year.
In addition, Manson contacted officials from the county and Oxford College, members from the Kiwanis Club and Rotary Club, who used the Teen Can building for years, and the people who had formed the Newton Youth Soccer Association, one of the foremost recreation groups at the time. He approached the United Fund and Arnold Fund, who both provided significant start-up funds.
He also consulted with community leaders, Ed Robinson, E.G. Lasseter, Frank Turner, Rob Fowler III and Chuck Morgan. Finally, he called the National YMCA. The YMCA of Metropolitan Atlanta, next door, was one of the leading organizations and its support was instrumental in the formation of the Covington Y.
Manson even talked to other athletic clubs and child-care centers to ease their concerns about added market competition; he left no stone unturned.
Now that the Y was in town, it was time to get build a new facility.
"In 1986 I was tremendously optimistic and thought I could raise $5 million, for a facility with and indoor pool and gymnasium and everything. It wasn’t that easy," he said.
Finally, in the mid-1990s, the Y decided it needed to conduct a capital fundraising campaign. The community rallied around the Y and managed to collect $2.5 million. The slightly more modest facility was opened on Feb. 19, 2000.
Interim Executive Director Louly Hay-Kapp said the first two programs started in the Teen Can building were the soccer program and day camp. Combined they served just more than a 100 kids.
Today, there are 165 day campers and 500 soccer players. In 2000, the Y had 140 member units, either individual or family memberships. Today there are more than 800.
Over the past 10 years, the Y has added several more programs. In 2001, the annual healthy kids day Cheerios challenge began. The premier fundraising event, which consists of 5K, 10K and 1 mile foot races, takes place every April. This year it’s April 17.
In 2004, after school care was added, where schools are bused in after school for homework help, exercise and a healthy snack.
And in 2008, the 27-acre outdoor center was opened near the Stone Road and Ga. Highway 142 intersection. With three-large multi-use fields and a playground, the outdoor center extended the Y’s reach. Hay-Kapp said future plans for the complex call for office space, tennis courts and possibly an open-air gymnasium. She said another capital campaign may soon be in the works.
One highly anticipated future project is the addition of an indoor pool. Hay-Kapp said the plan continues to remain on the forefront.
In a world so often divided, the YMCA has been bringing together residents of all ages, socio-economic statuses and races in Covington for nearly 30 years. No one is ever turned away.
The Y’s dedicated staff, 200-plus annual employees and dedicated community partners will strive to ensure the Y will remain prosperous for another 10 years.