The Greater San Antonio YMCA invited the community to celebrate the grand the opening of its newest location on Friday, the Harvey E. Najim Family YMCA, located at 3122 Roosevelt Ave. on the city’s Southside. This is the YMCA’s thirteenth San Antonio facility, and is a welcome addition to District 3, where the population has the highest risk for health complications in Bexar County.

A crowd of nearly 100 children and adults of all ages gathered on the covered outdoor basketball court, frequently erupting in loud cheering. Community stakeholders spoke about how no other community deserved a YMCA more than San Antonio’s Southside.

The sentiment that was excitedly repeated: “This YMCA is close to my house!”

The $4.5 million, 18,400 sq. ft. facility is on 6.5 acres of UNESCO World Heritage Grounds, includes a wellness center, culinary health and education via a teaching kitchen, an airnasium, group exercise studios, a community center, and gives direct access to the Mission Reach trail.

Sandy Morander, president and CEO of the Greater San Antonio YMCA, said that the Najim Family YMCA is “an investment in a world heritage community.”

“We are so proud to sit behind the Mission Library, Marquee Plaza, and the amazing Mission San José,” Morander said. “Regardless of age, income, or background, everyone is welcome at this Y.”

The total budget for the project was $5.9 million. Part of the budget – $2.5 million – came from the voter-approved 2012-2017 Bond Program and the remainder from the YMCA, which included a substantial up-front funding from the Harvey E. Najim Family Foundation, with the promise of continued funding.

The Y hopes to partner with the library and the missions to develop programs for the community that involve health and wellness, education, and respect for the surrounding community and its historical relevance. The community center boasts being “multi-generational,” with special attention to health and wellness needs across the lifespan.

Morander told the Rivard Report that the Harvey E. Najim Family YMCA is the result of several years of planning, beginning with a market study that was completed 6 years ago asking residents in the surrounding areas what was important to them.

“It was a collaborative process,” Morander said, “Most of the spaces are multi-purpose so they can evolve as the needs of the community evolve.”

YMCA of Greater San Antonio President and CEO Sandy Morander welcomes the public to the Harvey E. Najim Family YMCA.
YMCA of Greater San Antonio President and CEO Sandy Morander welcomes the public to the Harvey E. Najim Family YMCA. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

Phyllis Viagran attended the opening on behalf of her family and sister Rebecca Viagran, the District 3 Councilwoman. Viagran said that growing up in south San Antonio she had to travel to the Northside to participate in programs at the YMCA, and that the Southside community has “felt the void.”

“This represents a new era in District 3,” Viagran said. When she told the audience that funding had already been identified for additional amenities, including a community pool, the crowd erupted in enormous cheering.

Sandra Acosta was at the grand opening with her two children, ages 4 and 7, who were running around happily, making faces into the mirrors in the group exercise studio as their mother spoke. She told the Rivard Report that she has lived on the Southside for her entire life, and feels more proud now of her city than she ever has before.

“No words can describe how happy it makes me,” Acosta said. “Even if we aren’t able to get a membership right away, knowing that I have a safe place in the community to take my kids where they will have fun and [learn to] take care of themselves makes me feel excited.”

Acosta, a single mom, hopes that having the YMCA so close to home will increase her ability to take care of her own health. She told the Rivard Report that she rides the bus to and from work, and that time is a barrier for her. With the new YMCA so close to adds to her wellness options and provides a safe place for her and her daughters.

Morander told to the Rivard Report that the mission of the YMCA is to provide affordable memberships on a sliding scale so that people are able to gain membership regardless of income. When you become a member at the YMCA you are able to utilize any of the 13 facilities throughout the city.

According to the 2016 Community Health Needs Assessment created by the Bexar County Health Collaborative, a nonprofit working with the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District, residents south of Hildebrand Avenue on a City Council district map have a 15-20% lower life expectancy than those who lives north of that line.

In Texas, the rate of individuals diagnosed with diabetes per 100,000 is 23.4%. In Bexar County that number increases to 26.8%. In District 3, the number of individuals diagnosed with diabetes is a staggering 67.8%. The same pattern continues when addressing diabetic amputations. In Texas, the rate is 30.8%. In Bexar County it is 42.3%. In District 3 the rate is 45%.

Harvey Najim, president and CEO of the Najim Family Foundation, said that he “fell in love” with the YMCA because of what they are able to do for children in San Antonio, furthering both health and educational efforts throughout the city. In a conversation with the Rivard Report, Najim said that “what makes this exciting is that there is nothing like this on the Southside.

“I did it mostly for the children,” Najim said. “I think we all want our children to grow up to be healthy, happy, and ready children.”

Roseanna Garza

Roseanna Garza

Roseanna Garza reports on health and bioscience for the San Antonio Report.