By MARTHA SMITH
Special to the Standard
NORTH KINGSTOWN â€“ The music is pulsating, the sound of iron clangs like an army of bots playing tackle football and, everywhere, men are sweating and flexing.
If it were anywhere else, this would clearly qualify as a man cave.
But itâ€™s the West Bay Family YMCA and this roomful of guys can be forgiven for really, really enjoying themselves: the room was gutted and repainted and all its equipment is new, as are the treadmills and other apparatus in the cardio center.
â€śWe get a lot of high school wrestlers coming in here,â€ť explains Jackie Emrich, who was named the Yâ€™s health and wellness director a month ago.
â€śWe took all the equipment out, cleaned the tile and ceiling, painted the walls a peaceful blue and moved in all new equipment â€“ in three days. It was a pretty crazy three days.â€ť
In fact, much of the Y has undergone serious renovations that included reconfiguring the locker rooms, painting and refitting areas where children gather for play groups and adults take classes in dance, exercise and even karaoke.
The pool, a popular place for a variety of programs, has also been drained, acid-washed and repainted.
Emrich, a Texas native and former forensic chemist who was in the forefront of DNA testing development for the State of Virginia â€“ has been a Y employee for more than eight years.
â€śFitness had always been my hobby,â€ť says the University of Pittsburgh graduate. When she lived in Connecticut, the parks and recreation department needed someone to teach gymnastics. Sheâ€™d already been leading her momâ€™s friends in an exercise class, so it was a good fit.
After her children were older â€“ one is 21 and the other nearly 16 â€“ Emrich became seriously devoted to helping others approach life in a healthier way. Sheâ€™s excited about the renovations and programs the Y is sharing with the community.
â€śThe changes to the locker rooms are a huge improvement,â€ť she says. â€śNow, children and their parents can get ready together [in a space] right off the pool.â€ť
The womenâ€™s locker room is a sunny, airy space with warm colors and, unlike some swimming facilities, no chlorine odor.
Programs are burgeoning, too, as karate is offered for diverse age groups and specialty training is available for those entering road races and triathlons.
The Y also instituted its first childrenâ€™s 5K preparation classes which boasted an attendance of more than 20 kids twice a week. Another popular summer feature was â€śY on the Move,â€ť a traveling van that went to such places as the town beach where music would play and â€śwe would do what people wanted to do,â€ť says Emrich. â€śThat included hula-hooping, games, face painting and bubble-blowing.â€ť
Another summer program, a book swap in which members bring a book to donate and take away another, was so popular it was expanded with shelves of books for grownups on the first floor and kidsâ€™ books downstairs.
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and the Y will be hosting a number of programs and events including a memorial fundraiser.
For more information about the West Bay Family Yâ€™s upcoming programs, call 295-6501.
Martha Smith is an award-winning journalist and author. Retired, she is an independent contractor for SRIN and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.