As much as Tuesday's ground breaking for an East Los Angeles YMCA marked the start of its construction, it also marked the mid-point of a five-year, $53-million expansion program that has transformed local Y's from places to swim and shoot hoops into community centers with language classes, job training and child care.
And although the 24 centers that make up the YMCA of Metropolitan Los Angeles are still havens for athletics, changing times have forced Y directors to "reexamine their mission," directors say.
"(A few years ago) I think the Y was just there," said Los Angeles County Sheriff Sherman Block, a member of Metropolitan YMCA's Board of Directors. "Now we are being more pro-active in determining the needs of the community and being more responsive to those needs."
Tuesday's ground breaking was evidence of that response. The $2.9-million Weingart-East Los Angeles YMCA will include a 75-foot swimming pool, showers, locker rooms, a fitness center, community meeting rooms and a child-care center for preschoolers.
The center, scheduled for completion in 1989, is part of a $53-million fund-raising and building program called "Challenge 90" begun in 1985 to build, renovate and maintain centers and programs.
Two products of the "Challenge" that have changed the face of the Y dramatically are the English language training classes begun two years ago and child-care programs begun five years ago for infants, toddlers and school-age children.
According to YMCA President John Ouellet, the language classes started at the East Los Angeles center sprang from a need to better serve the mostly Latino neighborhood that has been anxious to learn English.
"If you look at the L.A. school district's adult education classes, you find long waiting lists to get in," Ouellet said. He said the Y's language program, which is also offered in Huntington Park and Van Nuys, provides 36 hours of instruction over nine weeks for only $54. He added that the fee is cut or waived depending on the student's financial situation.
In addition to the more than 1,000 graduates the East Los Angeles center has turned out, it also offers guidance in applying for amnesty, typing and job training classes.
But probably the biggest gains the Y has made are in child care. YMCA officials said the Y is the largest child-care provider in the state with over 6,000 youngsters being cared for daily.
The Y's offer infant-toddler, preschool and school-age children programs for $35 to $45 a week on the average. Again, financial aid is possible and fees for about 350 of the children are subsidized by the state program, designed to aid organizations caring for children with working mothers, according to Melinda Sprague, YMCA senior vice president.
"What I think makes our program unique from the others is that we focus on family enrichment," she said. "We know more about what Johnny did in school today than the parent does. And it's important that we communicate with the parent and let them know what's happening in the child's life."
Children are also involved in nutrition and health classes and, of course, sports.
Before the end of the "Challenge" program in 1990, Y officials hope to set up child-care and language programs at all the centers. The fund-raising drive, of which $32 million of the targeted $53 million has already been collected by the individual branches, will also serve to renovate and expand the Metropolitan District's facilities.
In addition to the Weingart center, a new $1-million child-care facility is envisioned for the Valencia Y. This Santa Clarita Valley location already accommodates more than 950 youngsters in rented office space and schoolrooms.
Another $4 million is slated to go for improvements to three Y camps, two in the San Bernardino Mountains and one in the Sierra. Additional money is planned for such refurbishments as pool surfacing and coverings, basketball floors and plumbing at locations throughout the district.