Bloomington-Normal YMCA, Easter Seals holds ribbon ‘tying’ to commemorate new facility

Published: Aug. 30, 2022 at 5:36 PM CDT
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PEORIA (25 News Now) - Bloomington-Normal YMCA and Easter Seals of Central Illinois want one message to go out to the community: all are welcome.

Their new joint facility opened to the public a couple weeks ago. Tuesday they commemorated the partnership and celebrated their grand opening with a ribbon “tying” ceremony, to emphasize the two groups coming together for the new project.

In the two weeks they’ve been opening to the public, both ESCI and BNYMCA said the response from the public has been impressive.

“The vast diversity we’re seeing come through the door,” YMCA CEO BJ Wilkens said, “young, old, all different types of races and it’s been wonderful, all different types of abilities.”

Their attempts at inclusion are spreading to ability as well. The new facility houses new exercise equipment, pools and new playground equipment. At the heart of every inch of the new facility is one core value: diversity. Wilkens said they used a “universal” design in the architecture of the building, which had an emphasis on making the facility as accessible as possible.

The facility offers a zero-depth splash pad, a locker room designed to accommodate all people, expanded gym and outdoor fitness areas and other amenities. The hope to use it to expand YMCA program to include all levels of ability as well.

“Universal design.. essentially takes the Americans with Disabilities Act code and puts it on steroids if you will,” Wilkins said. “If a hall has to be six feet wide we make it seven feet wide. If a doorway has to be 32 inches, we made it 36 inches.”

ESCI also provides counseling and therapy through this facility. ESCI is planning to hire on more counselors and therapists to accommodate the needs of the community. The upgraded facility allows ESCI to provide more services, according to ESCI Community Vice President Amber Gruenloh. There’s been a waiting list for their services in the area. She hopes the expanded facility can help cut that wait list down.

BNYMCA has also expanded staff in the new facility. Wilkens said they “doubled” their staffing levels.

For Gruenloh, the facility provides more than expanded services, it also creates the opportunity for people of all abilities to use the YMCA side-by-side. She believes that promotes empowerment and inclusion for everyone involved, and can help those feelings spread out into the community.

“Those principles travel with our kiddos out into the community,” Gruenloh said. “It shows up in schools at recess or in the classrooms. It shows up in friend groups as well, and those friend groups may include someone they didn’t include before.”

Of the many kids ESCI serves, Charlotte Coleman-Emig is one who brings her lessons home as well. Her mothers Julie Emig, a Bloomington councilwoman, and Mary Coleman have been members of the BNYMCA for a long time, they say. Emig said she’s seen her daughter tackle sensory sensitivities and processing emotions through therapy with ESCI, and she sees the lessons learned be used outside of therapy as well.

Coleman-Emig said she likes having choice in her sessions. She ‘s been counseled in both movement and eating therapy, both of which work to get her used to new sensations that she otherwise might not have tried.

“It feels like I can do more of that,” Coleman-Emig said about trying new things. “It gives me the courage that I need.”

For all the expansion of the BNYMCA’s reach, there is the matter of what happens to those who relied on the previous facility. BNYMCA was previously located at 602 S. Main St. in Bloomington, on the city’s west side. The new facility is three miles away near the OSF St. Joseph Medical Center.

When the new facility was announced, Wilkens said many people from the community reached out to express concern on how they would use the new facility. He is currently workshopping solutions with them and other agencies to get the people who relied on the west side YMCA location to be able to use this facility as well.

Some of the solutions he said they are considering right now is working with Connect Transit to make sure the bus route that stops right in front of the new YMCA runs more often. He’s also working with District 87 to have the bus drop students off directly at the YMCA. The BNYMCA also has their own shuttle buses, they’re considering shuttling people back and forth from a central location in the neighborhood to the new facility.

“We’re really doing all that we can to mitigate people who have a difficulty being able to get to this new facility,” Wilkens said.