All in the Family
Francis Family YMCA
The Francis Family YMCA, has accomplished the impossible:
It runs a teen center that teens actually enjoy.
Before dismissing the Temperance, Mich., facility as an urban legend, first learn how it accomplished such a remarkable feat. The teen center is part of a new 46,000-square-foot YMCA that boasts programming for all ages. The $7.5 million building has strong partnerships with the local high school, which provided land in exchange for a competitive venue, and an area hospital that runs a rehabilitation center in the new facility.
But it's the teen center that sets the Y apart from its peers. Instead of just assuming what local teens would like, architects met with local youth and asked them what they want. They went to the high school and bought pizza for several students, then picked their brains over lunch.
What they learned for the kids surprised them. YMCA officials had planned on designing a high-tech center, filled with computers and video games. The students, however, requested a place to play cards and board games. They much preferred a space where they could interact with each other instead of a television screen. While the teen center does have a few computers, which are used to help with homework and surf the Internet, the most popular feature, however, is the retro table and chairs where kids play cards. Architects balked at a request to put a monitor's desk in the room because they thought it would make the kids feel as if they were in school. Instead they put large windows in the room, a move that allows supervisors to observe the teens without stealing their sense of freedom.
Their instincts proved prophetic as the teen center has become the local middle-school hot spot. The YMCA initially offered a van shuttle from the local middle school to the facility. They recently had to upgrade to a bus to meet the demand.
"There has been a tremendous response," says Todd Tibbits, Francis Family YMCA executive director. "We have a teen center that teens like hanging out in."
The Francis Family YMCA, of course, is more than just a teen hangout. The center has special spaces for children, seniors and families. With views of the leisure pool, lap pool, fitness area, climbing wall and youth rooms the building appears to flow outward from the centralized "living room" for easy viewing of each of the activities. This living room, complete with a fireplace, provides a warm, welcoming atmosphere that emphasizes the family-focused mission of the YMCA. Bright colors and distinctive flooring patterns and materials generate a mix of excitement and relaxation. All activities radiate out from the central room, allowing staff, parents and children to stay visually connected while participating in a range of programs.
"You walk in the front door and see all the activities going on," architect Frank G. Beans says. "The more you show off the activity, the more inviting it becomes."