New teen programs and tradition of health at the Y


By Judith Stiles

These days in New York City, where do you go if you get a sudden hankering to hang out with friends? If you are too young for pubs and clubs, and if you’re too antsy for a good park bench, try the Mc Burney YMCA at 125 W. 14th St.

“The Mc Burney Y is a happening place for teens, offering a wide array of athletic programs, as well as an open Teen Center on Saturday nights where teens of any age can watch movies, play basketball, swim, play computer games and do teen stuff with a great staff that will even help with homework,” explains YMCA Executive Director Christian Miller, although he admits requests for homework help on Saturday nights are rare.

This fall for middle school students who don’t want to return home right after school, sixth to eighth graders can participate in a variety of age-appropriate activities including art, swimming, boys/girls clubs and academic-enhancement classes. They can join a leadership program designed to promote community service, raise self-esteem and develop a sense of independence as they make their way into their teen years.

The after-school program is offering some new activities this year, such as learning to use the equipment in the fitness room.

There are also specialized workshops, such as “Will Power/Won’t Power” for girls, “which addresses the pressure from the media and peers to have sexual intercourse,” according to the catalogue.” This workshop is a sexual education and assertiveness class giving girls the tools to make healthy choices. A similar class is offered to mothers and daughters (or caregivers) to create a comfortable environment for more open and honest discussions. “We hope that this is a place where myths can be shattered and real truths can come out in a safe environment,” Miller adds.

Older high school students can take a class called “Futureworks,” an entrepreneurship program that teaches teens the skills needed to create and run their own small businesses.

The hankering to hang out with friends is part of the original reason why George Williams founded The Young Mens’ Christian Association in London in 1844. He created a place where working-class men could gather when they were suffering from fatigue and too much pressure at work. Sound familiar? Also like today, the YMCA encourages the younger generation to exercise their talent and become responsible citizens in order to best serve the community at large.

In 1858, Robert Ross Mc Burney founded the first YMCA in Manhattan, on 23rd St. and Park Ave. Fast-forward to December 2002, and the Mc Burney Y found its new home in a sunny spacious, 70,000-sq.-ft. space on 14th St, serving the needs of babies up to seniors, who live in Greenwich Village, Chelsea and beyond.

There are few wide-open spaces in Manhattan like the Mc Burney Y, where the openness in the building seems to foster an open and friendly environment with the members. Young and fit, Eric Diamond, a personal trainer, can be seen happily chatting with Sister Grace Henke as they prepare for her first day of body building. Sister Grace merrily adds that her plan is to be healthier in general and “lose a little flab from the ab” (although she already seems quite physically fit).

While the kids are in school, on just about any day you can peek in on a lively card game, organized by senior citizens, usually playing bridge. Or you catch a glimpse of a computer classes for technologically “challenged” adults (with very patient instructors, of course). Don’t be fooled by spotting seniors, cavorting and gabbing in knitting groups. Hand-and-jaw exercise? A quick look into the weight room reveals 50 percent young people and 50 percent the gray-haired set, which includes the crew in their 70s and 80s.

On average, 1,500 people pass through the front door of the Mc Burney Y every day, and it is safe to say that on most days, 1,500 people walk out the door feeling a little bit better. “Our ambition in making each experience positive for every Mc Burney member is an ongoing challenge that we work toward with great pride,” states director Miller, as he happily trots off to look in on the ever-popular swimming class for babies.

Eric Diamond, a personal trainer, left, and Sister Grace Henke SC, RN, Ed.D., chatting before getting down to a workout at the McBurney YMCA.