Local YMCA closes one door, set to open another

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Photo: Coosa Valley YMCA Executive Director Leroy Falcon displays a pin recognizing his 35-year tenure with the national organization during a meet and greet on April 14 prior to the closing of the facility at 100 Walnut Street in Gadsden. Falcon noted that the Coosa Valley YMCA will continue to serve the community with a number of non-facility programs. Pictured with Falcon from left are wife Patricia, daughter Kate and son Lane. (Chris McCarthy/Messenger)

By Chris McCarthy, Publisher/Editor

After 59 years, the Coosa Valley of the YMCA physical facility shut its doors on April 15.

However, at an April 14 celebration of the organization’s service to the local community, executive director Leroy Falcon stressed that the closure of the facility located at 100 Walnut Street did not include the organization’s charter.

“We’re going to be able to regroup and restructure. We may be closing this door, but when God closes one door, He opens another one. We are on a path to determine where out next YMCA [facility] will be. It’s a trend that we’re not only seeing locally but across the United States. But I really wanted this day to be a celebration about what the Y has meant to so many people in this community.”

Falcon mentioned several programs that would continue to be implemented, including a partnership with the Gadsden City School System for afterschool childcare.

“We’re also working very diligently to bring back some programs that have gone away.

“Folks are starting to realize the power of collaboration; in that they can’t do it all by themselves. When the YMCAs and Boys and Girls Clubs work alongside the local schools, it’s a much more successful experience for the children.”

Falcon estimated that 180,000 local children learned to swim at the Coosa Valley YMCA over the past 59 years.

“That’s pretty impressive,” he said. “I haven’t been able to do the specific math, but I can also promise you that the number of daily users over that same time frame is in the millions.”

Falcon said that he is most proud of the fact that when he arrived 15 years ago, the YMCA was approximately 1.5 million dollars in debt. Just prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, that figure had been reduced to $300,000.

Falcon expressed appreciation to former YMCA board members who helped bring him from the YMCA in Baton Rouge, Louisiana to the Gadsden facility 15 years ago.

“Quite frankly, I had to look Gadsden up on the map when I was first told of the opportunity, and what a positive move it turned out to be for me and my family. I recognized a lot of the young men from an old photo of a YMCA-sponsored youth football team who today are community leaders. That says a lot of about how the YMCA helped mold those individuals to be the people that they are today.”

Along with his wife Patricia, who is the executive director of the James M. Barrie Center in Gadsden, Falcon started a program called Restorative Yoga that was geared specifically for children who had experienced sexual abuse, along with their parents.

“It was all about the healing process, and we had some very powerful experience through that program,” he said.

“Leroy could have not done the work he’s been able to do here without an amazing team of staff members around him,” said Patricia Falcon. “Leroy has a special gift for feeding people both physically, spiritually and emotionally. I’ve watched as Leroy has lived out the Y’s for core principals of caring, respect, responsibility and honesty, and I’ve seen him sharing that with our children at home. I look around today and see people who helped welcome us to this town, and we knew from the moment we were here, I felt a sense that we were among good people.”

Falcon’s daughter Kate and son Lane were in attendance.

“The community helped raise my children,” Falcon said. “They’ve been able to experience so many wonderful opportunities provided by the Y, and they along with Patricia have been very supportive during a difficult last few years.”

Falcon recognized Alice Bircheat, who worked for every executive director at the Coosa Valley YMCA since 1981, including Bill Musselman, Pat Griffith (twice), Bill Pulford, Ben Johnston, Bob Huff, Chris Johnson and Falcon.

“I’ve enjoyed a lot of good years here, and now I’m seeing the grandchildren of the first kids that came to [summer] camp,” she said. “I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.”

Falcon extended thanks to Yana Pickette and the local chapter of the United Way for its support during the transition of the YMCA.

“They’re continuing to stick behind us while we reinvent ourselves,” he said. “For their board to have the flexibility to financially help us means a lot.”

Falcon also expressed appreciation to current and former YMCA board members, including Marsha Williams, Anthony Cylar, Chris McCarthy, Randy Burns, Chuck Brown, Spencer Williams, and John Freeman, as well as YMCA Regional Director Charles Trammell.

“I was here for four years, and I know now that I was in the perfect place during that time of my life,” said former Coosa Valley YMCA marketing director Heidi Darbo. “I’ve seen kids out in the real world who grew up here at the Y, so this place is family to me.”

Falcon said that despite the closing of the doors at the current location, the mission of the Coosa Valley YMCA remains clear.

“It is to put Christian practices to work through our programs that build a healthy mind, body and spirit for all. I promise you that as we move forward and get our programs up and running, that philosophy will be a large part of who we are and what we’re going to be. We are closing this facility, but we’re not going to lose a YMCA presence in our community. In my heart of hearts, I truly believe that one day we’re going to have multiple YMCA facilities and new innovative programs operating in our community.”

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