For the first time, the small central Wisconsin community of Adams has its own YMCA.
The Adams YMCA-Aspirus Health Center opened Aug. 30 and within four weeks, more than 500 people became members, ranging in age from 8 to 88, said President and CEO Bret Salscheider. For most of the area’s residents, it is their first access to a local health and fitness facility, with strength training machines, group classes and wellness consultations.
“This is one of those rare projects in the country, in terms of expanding into the rural community like this,” says Salscheider. “It has been a huge desert for health and well-being programming. There are people coming through the doors who have never been on a treadmill before. Really, this is helping to fulfill a huge need in terms of youth, adults and the overall community health.”
The 6,600-square-foot YMCA sits in the center of Adams, near schools, parks, senior living apartments and a new Aspirus health clinic. It features a state-of-the-art fitness center, a group exercise studio and a child drop-in area, and the site has room for eventual expansion.
Adams County is largely rural, and residents have an average household income that’s in the lower one-third for the state. According to the UW Population Health Institute, the county ranks 69th of the 72 Wisconsin counties in health outcomes, a measurement that considers factors such as premature death, adult obesity and access to health care. The new YMCA breaks down income barriers and provides affordable programs to help members take the steps they need to reduce their chances of developing diabetes or other life-threatening illnesses, says Salscheider.
The facility also opens the door to child care. For now, that consists of drop-in care for the children of members who come to work out or attend YMCA classes or community programs. But perhaps as soon as 2022, the center could begin to provide regular child care. “We would like to offer high-quality, affordable child care—whether it’s for an infant or up to a five-year old, as well as before- and after-school care,” says Salscheider.
Head Start and in-home care have been the only options for day care in the Adams area, while the school district offers before-school and after-school child care. Salscheider says the YMCA is working with the school district on a summer program for next year, and that phase two of the Adams YMCA project could involve building an addition—perhaps even a child care wing.
WEDC provided a $250,000 grant for construction of the Adams YMCA-Aspirus Health Center. “The partnership with WEDC was an important component of our overall financing,” says Salscheider. “We wouldn’t be able to do it without that.”
The Adams YMCA is a branch of the John E. Alexander South Wood County YMCA in Wisconsin Rapids, which completed a major construction project of its own in 2020, also with WEDC support.
The South Wood County YMCA partnered with the Boys & Girls Club and moved to a new site, replacing a small storefront facility with a 90,000-square-foot center equipped with a swimming pool, a gymnasium, a health and wellness center, exercise studios, computer labs, community gardens, a running track and a full-day child care center with room for up to 60 children. WEDC provided two grants, together totaling $343,800, for the $27.5 million project, which is in Wisconsin Rapids’ downtown, near several low-income neighborhoods.
Membership at the Wisconsin Rapids branch has soared, says Salscheider, who also is president and CEO of the John E. Alexander South Wood County YMCA. “Our membership is up 30% from before, and that is during a global pandemic,” he says. “We are in the top 2% of YMCAs across the country” in terms of growth over the past two years.
The child care center was quick to fill and is at or near capacity, with a waiting list for infants and one- and two-year-olds to attend. It also offers four-year-old kindergarten classes for the Wisconsin Rapids Public Schools District.
Child care is a key component for both of the YMCA locations, and it is a “huge workforce development issue,” says Salscheider. That became more evident than ever when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in early 2020. “Even with remote workforces, we saw a change in the way families looked at that,” he says. As many employees have continued to work remotely, some employers have not taken kindly to having children interfering with their parents’ job responsibilities. Notwithstanding changes in work patterns, workers still need child care.
Child care is one of the pillars of a community’s infrastructure, says WEDC secretary and CEO Missy Hughes, noting that in addition to providing direct business assistance, WEDC is taking steps to facilitate broader community improvement. “Our challenges are not only to help employees find work, but also to provide the infrastructure they need to perform their jobs: access to broadband, public transportation and affordable child care,” she says.
Improving health and wellness in Adams and Wisconsin Rapids will give residents a better chance to fight off illnesses such as COVID-19 and it will give local employers another tool in their workforce development efforts. Salscheider says companies want to make investments in employee health, but they lacked community support until now. “This helps with attracting and retaining young people and young families, and providing economic benefits to their workers,” he said.
Salscheider says WEDC’s collaboration with the YMCA construction projects in Adams and Wood counties “is the type of investment in rural communities that I think will have a dramatic impact.
“The old paradigm was: Build it and they will come. The real paradigm is: How are you getting out to people where they need it? That is happening in Adams. We’re hearing stories about how everybody knows everybody else, coming in through those doors. That’s the magic you want to see happen.”
For more information about WEDC’s strategy to help Wisconsin recover from the pandemic, see the report Wisconsin Tomorrow: Building an Economy for All.