WHEELING – Some big strides are being taken at the J.B. Chambers Memorial YMCA in Wheeling – both literally and figuratively.
Adam Shinsky, executive director at the Wheeling YMCA, has been steering the local landmark into a new chapter, with eyes set on expanded facilities, a wide variety of programs and growing partnerships with other local organizations.
Shinsky has worked at the Wheeling YMCA since 2005. He served as the sports program director before becoming the facility’s executive director in 2015. He’s actually been a member of the Wheeling YMCA ever since his youth.
He played basketball with friends there when he was in elementary and middle school, joining “the Y” at age 10. He later took the hoops skills he developed at the YMCA to the court at Bishop Donahue before playing for four years at Ohio University Eastern.
His passion for basketball dovetailed from playing to coaching, as Shinsky served for many years as an assistant coach at Wheeling Central under the great Mel Stephens before being named the head basketball coach of the Brooke Bruins boys team in 2020.
Playing basketball at the YMCA helped forge Shinsky’s path to becoming a player and a coach, and also to becoming the sports program director at the facility and eventually the executive director.
And hoops is just one of many offerings at the YMCA, and Shinsky said the myriad of programs there continue to help generations of other local people stay healthy and active.
Not only are members of all ages staying active and working up a healthy sweat in the Elm Grove facility, but big steps are being made with efforts to bring great new improvements to the popular center.
Shinsky said that despite the otherwise tough times through the pandemic, the facility has been buzzing with activity recently.
“Ever since the pandemic, we’re busier than ever now,” he said.
In fact, the COVID-19 pandemic actually has seemed to motivate more people to want to improve their cardiorespiratory fitness. The center has followed COVID protocols and even had to shut down for a period of eight weeks during the height of the pandemic – a situation that made most members gain even more of an appreciation for the services offered there.
“We were squeezing for space prior to the pandemic – now we’re pretty much maxed out with space a lot of the time,” said Shinksy, noting that people rely on the center for fitness needs – and much more.
The local YMCA has been a true mainstay in the city for several generations of people over the course of many decades, Shinsky noted.
“Actually, the YMCA of Wheeling is older than the state of West Virginia itself,” he said, noting that the oldest branch in the state was established in 1856. “The YMCA of Wheeling was formerly known as the YMCA of the Western Virginias. It started out in downtown Wheeling with a fitness center and homeless shelter where the Maxwell Center is now.”
The Chambers branch of the YMCA in Elm Grove came along in 1977, and it eventually became the headquarters and the only YMCA facility in town. A YMCA branch had operated for years in Warwood as well, but it eventually closed, and “The Y” and homeless shelter downtown closed in the late 1990s, making the Chambers YMCA facility Elm Grove sole anchor site.
Shinsky noted that the YMCA offers something for everyone.
“We have programs for children 6 months of age – with our Water Babies program – to probably a couple of handfuls of members in their mid-90s,” he said, noting that sometimes community interaction is as important as physical activity. “We really see how important fitness and community engagement is. For some of our senior citizen membership, this is some of the only interaction they get.”
“The Y” offers youth programs, swim lessons, learn-to-play sports clinics, organized sports leagues, sport-specific personal training, group fitness classes and much more.
“We have something for everyone – pretty much from beginners all the way to advanced,” he said. “Extreme Bootcamp starts at 5:15 a.m. – they’re hardcore.”
Facilities include two full-sized gymnasiums, the swimming pool, a full fitness center with sauna, steam room and hot tub, and a new, all-inclusive playground facility. Shinsky said diversity and inclusion is truly embraced by the membership and staff at the YMCA.
“Regardless of age, race, religion, sexuality – that’s one of the good things about the Y – it’s a safe place for everybody,” he said.
The YMCA’s child care services are a major component of its offerings, too.
“We’ve been full for the last 10 years at our summer camp,” Shinsky said. “We also have after care for your members throughout the year.”
The YMCA’s national mission statement is “putting Christian principles in practice through programs that build a healthy spirit, mind and body for all,” and those at the Wheeling YMCA work to make sure this mantra is upheld.
“Here in Wheeling, we’ve never turned anyone away because of an inability to pay,” Shinsky said. “We work with everybody regardless of income to make sure they are able to participate.”
The YMCA has always been able to rely on community support, and during its annual Light of the Valley celebration a couple of years ago, a new capital campaign to raise $6.5 million in improvements to the facility was announced. Then COVID hit. So they moved forward with the planned fundraising effort and the improvements in phases.
“We just completed phase one of our capital campaign,” Shinsky said. “We have a brand new roof, an outdoor pavilion and a state-of-the-art, all-inclusive playground.”
The second phase is expected to bring a brand new fitness center to the second floor of the facility, which will in turn allow “The Y” to create a bigger child care center downstairs. New electrical and plumbing systems will be installed during the third and final phase of the long-term project.
In recent years, there has been an increased collaboration with other facilities and agencies, which has been great, Shinsky said. From collaboration with the Miracle League to working with veterans programs, organized races, swim programs (there is a severe shortage of natatoriums in the valley), special needs programs and more, “The Y” has many community partnerships.
“This is now more of a community gathering place,” Shinsky said. “Basically, the pandemic taught us a lesson of – don’t take for granted what you have. Wheeling has a longstanding YMCA that’s going to be here forever, so we need the support.”