After learning the YMCA of Metro Chicago will permanently close the High Ridge YMCA (2424 W. Touhy Ave.) Jan. 29, some Rogers Park community members are doing everything they can to stop it from closing.
The organization said it made the decision to close the West Rogers Park location because of the pandemic’s economic effects and financial losses over the years. The location, which operated seven days a week, was dealing with low enrollment numbers, high expenses and limited space, among other things, according to its website.
“Knowing how much the community valued the High Ridge YMCA’s programs and services, we sought to keep the center going despite its losses,” the announcement said. “Unfortunately, we have reached the point where we cannot identify a path to sustainability for the High Ridge YMCA, so we have made the difficult decision to close the center.”
With membership fees ranging from $26 to $147, the High Ridge YMCA, which is 2.6 miles from Loyola’s Lake Shore Campus, offered child care, swim lessons, sports and gymnastics programs and access to the fitness center, among other things, according to its website.
Since 1952, High Ridge has served more than 7,000 people, according to the organization’s website.
Kristin Lems, a member of at least 15 years, said she feels a sense of community at High Ridge. Lems, who lives in Evanston, said she got a membership for the High Ridge location because of West Rogers Park’s diversity, despite being eligible for a discount at her local branch.
“One of the best Y’s anywhere in the city,” Lems said. “If one Y is standing, it should be this one.”
In addition to its location in West Rogers Park, the YMCA of Metro Chicago has locations in Evanston, Irving Park and Lakeview, among others, according to its website.
Save the High Ridge YMCA Coalition — a group of members, employees, community leaders and elected officials rallying to keep the location open — organized a protest outside of the center Jan. 17, according to the Save the High Ridge YMCA Facebook group.
Lems said there were over a hundred people who came out to protest against the closure, fighting to save it in spite of the cold, 30-degree temperature.
In a Jan. 21 meeting, the coalition was informed by YMCA officials the organization will close the facility as planned, but it won’t sell the property for another two months, according to a Jan. 22 newsletter from 49th Ward, which covers Rogers Park and some of West Ridge.
At the meeting, the coalition informed YMCA officials more than 200 community members have pledged to purchase memberships at High Ridge, according to the newsletter. The coalition is currently looking for corporate benefactors to help the YMCA location financially.
The creator of the Save the High Ridge YMCA Facebook group, Larry Moss, said losing the High Ridge YMCA would be a personal loss for him, as well as a great loss to the community. Moss, who teaches an exercise class and coaches a swim team at the facility, said he’s made many enduring friendships at the location. A 20-year member, Moss said the YMCA has also provided many essential services to low-income and underserved people.
For example, waivers and reduced fees may be available to members who are struggling financially, according to the organization’s website.
“We live a mile away from the lake, so it’s important that kids learn how to swim. The Y has provided that to the community for decades. I don’t know how that would be replaced.”
Larry Moss, 65, who teaches an exercise class and coaches a swim team at the YMCA in West Rogers Park
Moss said the coalition arranged a virtual town hall meeting Jan. 12 where around 200 concerned members shared stories of their experience at the facility and voiced arguments on why the location shouldn’t close. YMCA officials were sent a letter requesting their attendance, but they declined.
YMCA Metro Chicago spokesperson Man-Yee Lee told The Phoenix the organization would be willing to meet with a small group of leaders to discuss their concerns, but are opposed to a town hall meeting because they feel the conversation would be too confrontational.
“We believe that the smaller group forum with leaders and elected officials would have allowed us to have a more productive dialogue about how and why we reached this decision,” Lee said.
Constance Hamedani, a member since 2010, said services at the High Ridge YMCA helped her recover from a stroke in 2007. By exercising and taking classes at the location, she said she was able to restore most of her mobility.
Hamedani said the High Ridge YMCA is a great place for many people to take swim lessons since the price is reasonable. Noting history surrounding swimming pool segregation, she said she’s thankful the location provides swim opportunities for Black children in the neighborhood.
“Because there were generations of African Americans that did not have an opportunity to learn how to swim, I am very thankful that High Ridge offered a swim program that allowed a place where particularly, African American children can learn how to swim,” Hamedani said.
Rogers Park is home to over 14,000 Black people — about 26 percent of the neighborhood’s population — according to data from the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning.
The 67-year-old Rogers Park resident said the High Ridge YMCA welcomes people of all backgrounds.
“It doesn’t matter what your ethnicity is, what your cultural background is, they welcome everyone, and they make you feel very comfortable,” Hamedani said. “It is a very family-focused facility.”
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