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Originally published: 2012-01-21 21:33:42
Last modified: 2012-01-21 21:47:56

Williams YMCA of Avery is a nonprofit that makes Avery County great

What makes Avery County great?

Most Avery County residents know that our county is a great place. The people, the landscape, the serenity and much more make Avery County a great place to live, work, learn and play. At The Avery Journal-Times, we believe that a big part of what makes Avery County great is the people, businesses and organizations that work throughout the county to keep our communities vibrant, engaging, wholesome and safe. Every two weeks, The Avery Journal-Times will feature one such exceptional group or person to spread the word on the good work being done throughout Avery County.

Williams YMCA of Avery is a nonprofit that makes Avery County great

Although most people simply refer to it as “the Y,” Williams YMCA of Avery County is known throughout Avery County, but not always for the same reasons. For some Avery residents, the YMCA is the wellness center and the opportunities it offers for conditioning and weight training. For others, the YMCA is the aquatic center with its child-oriented splash area on one side and swim lanes on the other. For others, the YMCA is guided fitness classes. For much of Avery County, the YMCA appears as one of many community outreach programs. Regardless of what the YMCA means to any one person, however, the fact remains that Avery County would not be the place it is without the YMCA.

“You would not have as much focus on health issues and social issues like obesity and diabetes prevention,” explained Jim Richardson, chief executive officer at Williams YMCA. “We have a have a half-a-million dollar grant that we have applied for. We have the obesity program in the public schools. We make our Y available to a lot of different groups to come here and work out. We take our programs out to the hills and the hollers. We go out to the churches for the elderly with what we call ‘young again fitness’ where we teach stretching, toning and balance. We have a lot of different programs, including 32 classes per week. We are getting ready to do a Zumba class for teachers. We are not trying to duplicate anything or push anybody out. We are working together to meet the community’s needs.”

When it comes to how many lives the Y has touched in Avery County, simple math reveals an impressive accomplishment. 

“We have more that 3,000 members, and we’ve reached more than 3,000 non-members this year,” explained Richardson. “Of the total population of Avery County, we are reaching more than one third.”

Numbers do not always tell the whole story, however. Anita Sirak has been a member over the years, and has found the facility and its people invaluable on her road to fitness.

“The Y means everything. It’s the support that you get not only from the members, but from the people that work here,” said Sirak. “If you’re not quite sure about something or you need to work on a problem, they have specific exercises that help. It is a good place to come. It is a community. People all have the same general goals. I would endorse it to anyone, whether they are trying to lose weight like me or just trying to stay healthy.”

Williams YMCA employees four full-time staff and between 35 and 40 part-time employees, but many of the employees that Sirak mentions are also counted among the members. 

“It’s wonderful; it’s the best place anyone could work,” said Marcella Livert, who helps guests as they enter and leave the Y. “The staff gets along real well. Everybody just seems to love each other. It is a job you look forward to coming to. It’s great meeting all the different people from all over the world.” 

Chase Arrowood, who supervises the wellness center at different times throughout the week, echoes Livert’s sentiments. “All around, it is just a really good place to work; a really good atmosphere. I love every minute of it.”

According to Richardson, the Y is not yet done expanding its services in Avery County.
 “When the new building opens up in May, we’re going to start nutrition classes and after school programs. There will be a teen center and summer camps. That will be a great facility for the community.”

Before it was established as part of the new hospital in Linville, many folks in Avery County might have dismissed the idea of a facility like YMCA taking root in Avery County, but with its programs and services extending to more than a third of the population, it is clear that the services YMCA provide are valuable to the community, according to Richardson. “People are interested in their health, so you can see the response.” 

Above all Richardson wants the people of Avery County to know that the Y is for everyone. 

“We never turn anybody away,” said Richardson. “We have spent over $50,000 this year in what we call Y Access Program, which is for anybody that would like to come but can not afford it.” 

For more information on Williams YMCA of Avery County, call (828) 737-5500.

Do you know of a business or group that makes Avery County great?

If you know of a business or organization that does its part to help make Avery County great, and would like to see that it featured in a future edition of this section, send an email to ( with the name of the business or organization and a 100 word explanation that describes what that group is doing to help make Avery County the wonderful place it is.