Turning the Corner

Dryades YMCA Forges Ahead with an Optimistic Future

Eric Connerly Data News Weekly Contributor

Although the James Singleton Charter School shut its doors in June of 2022, the Dryades YMCA is showing no signs of slowing down. Amidst a cloud of legal challenges associated with the former school, the YMCA is turning the corner with a major overhaul of its modus operandi as it undergoes upcoming strategic planning with the Y USA to shore up the continuity of this Central City legacy institution that has operated since 1905 as an integral part of New Orleans and the Greater Metropolitan Area, and which has historically provided educational, recreational, and social services to meet the needs of the African-American community during segregation. Newly elected board chair, Bishop Tom Watson is no stranger, to the “Y.” He was voted chairman of the board in August 2022, succeeding the late Barbara Lacen Keller, a longtime Central City activist and affiliate of the “Y.” Having grown up in this community and benefitting from the “Y”’s services is what motivates Watson’s leadership to turn around the embattled organization. Watson, a Master’s level social worker, understands the importance of sustaining this institution and ensuring that members of the community continue to benefit from the programs and services offered by the “Y.” Now, as board chair, Watson is up for the enduring fight to stabilize and make the necessary changes to ensure the viability of the organization and rid it of operational inefficiencies that once doomed the more than a century old institution. Under the current board leadership, a strategic partnership has been formed between the City of New Orleans Office of Job 1 and the Dryades YMCA, which will bring Job 1’s operations to the Dryades Y Myrtle Banks Building on Oretha Castle Haley Blvd. Watson emphasizes, “This is not just a tenant and landlord relationship, but a flagship partnership with the ‘Y’ that will yield vocational training opportunities and other workforce initiatives.”

With affordable childcare being in demand, the “Y” is nearly doubling its current capacity from 40 toddlers to serve more children and to accommodate an ever-growing waitlist. Under the recently appointed Director, Stephanie Cockerham, who boasts 30 years of experience working in high quality childcare centers around town, Cockerham plans to import those quality enhancements that she’s worked under to the “Y”’s program by making immediate upgrades to the facilities and curriculum. “We are in the process of implementing the Creative Curriculum, which is a research-based, best practice curriculum for early childhood and advancing the professional development of our entire staff,” Cockerham declared.

As a prominent spiritual leader in the community, Watson believes he is the right chairman at the right time, as he plans to restore the faith component, which represents the “C” in YMCA, the organization whose mission is to put Christian principles into practice through programs that build a healthy spirit, mind and body for all. Watson sees an opportunity to focus on holistic wellness through the “Y”’s Wellness Center. “Spirituality is the triad to physical and mental well-being,” said the board chairman. “So, the Health and Wellness Center at the ‘Y’ will also see a facelift, making the programs more relevant and accessible to the community, especially seniors—and, taking a more holistic approach.”

A partnership with the Council on Aging will soon bring forth daytime recreational activities for seniors. Promoting healthy eating will come through the Cyber Café, which the organization plans to launch, and will be reminiscent of deli counters operated at the “Y” during the 1960’s-70’s when Blacks had limited access to food establishments. The modern version is intended to bring the community together and provide access to hi-speed Wi-Fi. It is planned to be located at the school’s old library building. Watson acknowledges, in order to continue the momentum and bring a refreshed operating culture to The Dryades YMCA, “we will be recruiting new board members through our strategic planning process who are energized and ready to take the Dryades YMCA to new heights in its potential for this community.” Repeat of the Zion Williamson Youth basketball camp and the traditional youth summer camp program.

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