April 22, 2024

Newton YMCA showcases its strengths and future ambitions in tour with Miller-Meeks

Organization wants to continue meeting community needs with proposed $15M expansion

U.S. Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks on Feb. 26 receives a tour of the Newton YMCA.

U.S. Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks toured through the daycare and recreational facilities of the Newton YMCA this week and was shown how the organization is responding to community needs and what other needs it could fulfill in the future with a proposed $15 million expansion, which is just beginning to find footing.

Lucas Hughes, the CEO of Newton YMCA, wanted Miller-Meeks to see all the great things the facility is able to do for its community, from supporting young families with child care to providing fitness fanatics with space to grow activities like pickleball. He also wanted to show what “a-day-in-the-life” looks like at the Y.

“To come and see the boots on the ground and what these teachers go through, it’s imperative for her to understand the child care world,” Hughes said. “Looking at the YMCA in general, she has gotten to experience a couple of different tours now and the great things we’ve been able to do. And that’s what our priority was.”

Prior to visiting the YMCA in Newton, Miller-Meeks toured through another YMCA facility in Mahaska County. According to her newsletter, a number of YMCA representatives — including Hughes — also met with her at her Washington, D.C. office to discuss youth development and healthy living.

In an interview with Newton News following the tour, Miller-Meeks said the YMCA’s promotion of fitness, health and child care are all important to Congress when it comes to its legislative calendar; if individuals are adopting healthier behaviors, it can reduce illness and puts less stress on the health care system.

Lawmakers are also trying to address health by reducing prescription drug costs and having obesity treatments to be covered by Medicare, she added. When it comes to child care, Miller-Meeks said Congress is looking at ways to expand child care, provide greater access and make it more affordable for Americans.

“And not put forth regulations that prevent people from coming in to that space, which creates more shortages for access to child care for young families,” Miller-Meeks said. “I think all of those are things that we look at. It’s important to know the communities that you serve.”

From what she can gather visiting the YMCA facilities in her district, they are very much supported by their communities through funding and memberships. She also found the YMCAs try to meet the needs of their communities and end up becoming a “great resource” for people.

For instance, Miller-Meeks was impressed by Newton YMCA’s commitment to providing child care for very young children and its preschooling partnership with the local school district. These types of collaborations are important when meeting the needs of people in Newton and Jasper County.

“And then I really like their focus on teens and giving teens a safe place to be,” Miller-Meeks said. “That is critically important. We try to be that home for our teenagers, where there is no alcohol and no drugs. Teenagers can come. They can congregate. They can be together and talk in a safe place.”

U.S. Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks on Feb. 26 receives a tour of the Newton YMCA Early Learning Center.

Hughes wants the Newton YMCA to put even more emphasis on a teen-focused space with the proposed expansion, which he unveiled at the Feb. 27 county board of supervisors meeting. It would also be furnished with a new basketball court, indoor pickleball courts, a cutting edge weight room and studio space.

The 5,000-square-foot teen program center meets a demand the Newton YMCA is seeing from both non-members and members. The community wants teen programming more than anything. Hughes said the teen program center gives the facility the space it needs to fulfill that demand.

“We’ll have programming like governance and leadership and STEM classes and music and art and things that are really designed around teen programming,” Hughes said to Newton News. “It will be a multi-functional space there, and it would be renovated the cardio area. As of right now, that’s our thought process.”

The 25,000- to 30,000-square-foot expansion is where the new and additional recreational space be housed, and it would extend northwest of the current facility. Hughes noted it would not negatively impact the Newton Community Theatre, but it would take up some existing parking spaces.

“It will look almost like a V, but the existing doors will remain the same,” Hughes said of the proposed expansion, which would also revamp portions of the parking lot. “We have no intention of moving the community theater out. If anything we would be giving both organizations a facelift out front.”

Hughes sought out the non-monetary support from county supervisors, who ultimately signed a letter acknowledging the positive impact the Newton YMCA has on the surrounding areas and championing the facility’s proposed expansion project. Supervisor Brandon Talsma commended the YMCA’s work.

“You guys do a lot for the community and I don’t think it will be a problem … I think we would be more than happy to sign this letter of support for you guys and help you in your endeavors to continue to expand,” Talsma said before signing the letter.

Although Newton YMCA has not yet begun its capital campaign for the proposed expansion, the organization will first seek out foundation and grant opportunities before going public with its campaign. It is an ambitious project that will take considerable time to fully realize. Support from local leaders will be key.

Hughes appreciates both the county and the city support of YMCA’s efforts to not only improve its physical space but also its offerings to the community.

“I’m very grateful for their support,” he said.

Christopher Braunschweig

Christopher Braunschweig

Christopher Braunschweig has a strong passion for community journalism and covers city council, school board, politics and general news in Newton, Iowa and Jasper County.