On Saturday February 29, the newly opened Berkeley Heights YMCA celebrated its momentous grand opening with a ribbon cutting ceremony, special activities and tours of the new facility.
MARCH 4, 2020 – A cold February morning could not keep the crowds away from the Berkeley Heights YMCA, a branch of the Summit Area YMCA (SAY), as the newly built facility welcomed the community to its official Grand Opening Day Ceremony. From infants to seniors, politicians to community leaders, Y staff to volunteers, the Berkeley Heights YMCA’s sparkling, modern interior became filled with life, stories and laughter that morning.
The ceremony began with a warm welcome from the Summit Area YMCA’s President and CEO, Paul Kieltyka, who made introductions for various special guests and guest speakers as well. “Today we celebrate not just the opening of a beautiful facility for the community, but the ability for us to continue fulfilling our mission and expanding our impact through the Y pillars of youth development, healthy living and social responsibility. We look to further provide our community with amazing programs, financial assistance and opportunities to change more lives in Berkeley Heights and beyond.” said Kieltyka. “We are proud and excited to grow our partnership with the Berkeley Heights Township, and extremely thankful to Liza Bianna and their team for working tirelessly with us to make this building happen. We wouldn't be standing her today without the help of everyone else who dedicated their time and treasure to ensuring that our Y can continue serving the community, including Vericon, USAA Architects, Dynamic Engineering, our Board of Trustees, Facilities, Finance & Advancement Committee, Y Staff, and generous donors of this great community.”
Many of the speakers shared personal Y stories and its impact on their lives, starting with the Invocation from Jeff Ebert, Senior Pastor of the New Providence Presbyterian Church who received his first paycheck from the Summit Area YMCA, a former Judo instructor. The ceremony went on to include inspiring messages from Congressman Tom Malinowski, Senator Tom Kean, Jr., Assemblyman Jon Bramnick, Mayor Angie Devanney, Councilwoman Jeanne Kingsley, Y members Debbie Mahon, Brian Mahon and Laurie Liming, SAY Board Chair Rob Jeffries, SAY Capital Campaign Chair Robert Radest, and Berkeley Heights YMCA Executive Director Tiffany Escott.
Congressman Tom Malinowski (D-NJ 7th District) recounted his days in the YMCA Little League in Princeton. “The biggest win of my entire life was not getting elected to the United States Congress…[but at] the age [of] 11…scoring the tying run in the last half of the last inning of our local world series.”
For State Senator Tom Kean, Jr.’s Y experience involved taking his daughters to swim lessons, competing in chess tournaments, and being part of a community where “a sense of friendship, a sense of safety, a sense of opportunity, a sense of people who are working together…[is represented in this building.]…The people know that this building and this family will be here for generations to come.”
Rob Jeffries, Summit Area YMCA Board Chair, related the history of how the new facility came to be, thanking the community and partnerships for their commitment and help in building the new Y. The Berkeley Heights YMCA originally opened in 1995, operating a leased facility at 550 Springfield Avenue. Well over the past 10 years, it has worked to find a permanent location, to better serve the evolving needs of our growing, diverse communities. On February 6, 2020, the Berkeley Heights YMCA opened the doors of its brand new 40,000 square foot state-of-the-art facility located at 59 Locust Avenue. This momentous occasion is captured historically as the first new YMCA branch built in New Jersey in over 10 years.
Rob Radest, Capital Campaign Chair, reminded the crowd of the SAY’s ongoing fundraising efforts through the SAY’s Capital Campaign and 2020 Annual Campaign, which supports Y services, programs and financial assistance.
Y members shared impactful stories about how the Berkeley Heights YMCA gave their families more than just a place to get healthy. Laurie Liming, a survivor of metastasized stage 3 breast cancer, described her story of physical and emotional recovery with the Y. “Joining the LIVESTRONG® at the YMCA program saved my life…Once a runner, I now struggled to walk up stairs without pain, and never thought I would outrun the shame that came with losing my body to cancer. But...under the watchful eye of the Y staff, I learned to walk safely, balance myself to avoid falling, and yes, eventually I learned to run again…I found myself surrounded by fellow survivors, and I was finally able to talk about the cancer struggles with friends who understood. Under the careful comfort of the YMCA, I found myself healing….And where will you find me now? I’m the girl upstairs, working out, winking at my two sons as they race each other on the treadmills.”
Tiffany Escott, Executive Director of the Berkeley Heights YMCA took to the podium thanking all in attendance and to all who helped to support the project from concept to completion and read a proclamation sent from Senator Cory Booker. She shared memories from preparing the Y to new experiences since the building’s opening on February 6. “One of the areas that we have seen tremendous growth since we opened a few weeks ago are our families and teens. The families that have been in the gymnasium playing together is so important. I love seeing the teens in the facility before and after school working out, playing basketball in the gym or hanging out in the lounge doing homework. The Y is a community place for all ages and we look forward to expanding these program offerings.”
Tiffany recognized her staff, Branch Advisory Board, family, the former Mayor Robert Woodruff and his council, Councilwoman Jeanne Kingsley and current Mayor Angie Devanney for their assistance and patience along the journey. Councilwoman Jeanne Kinglsey covered a brief history of the Berkeley Heights Community Pool and its partnership with the Summit Area YMCA, while Mayor Angie Devanney described the impact of the Y in the fast growing Berkeley Heights community, eager to see the many future partnership opportunities that will help the community thrive.
Another member, Debbie Mahon, shared her son’s experience at the Y with the crowd. “Brian happens to be autistic from birth and not quite like other people. But autism does not define Brian, there is so much more…As a parent of a child with special needs…we are always looking for inclusion. True, real and genuine inclusion. Because inclusion is not a place, it’s not a program. It is not the bricks and mortar of a building. True inclusion comes from the hearts, from people who are giving and caring. That is what Brian is very lucky to experience here…everyone here at the Berkeley Heights Y from the moment you walk through the door…shares their individual gifts that mentor and guide Brian in not just his physical wellness journey but socially, improving his self confidence and giving him skills he can use on his path to independence…on behalf of Brian and all special needs families, thank you for recognizing our voice.”
With the conclusion of kind words, touching stories and voices of unity and appreciation for the Y, the ceremony concluded with the anticipated ribbon cutting. The day’s activities continued with guided tours of the facility, YMCA information tables and vendors, healthy snacks, children’s activities in the child care center, family Zumba, live music by the fireplace, chair massages, basketball and soccer tournaments, lots of smiles, laughter and stories.
The Summit Area YMCA is grateful to the Berkeley Heights community including YMCA members, local donors, and the township itself, for its support of the Y and its mission. The Y believes their more than $14 million investment in the community, will cement it as a true community leader for youth development, healthy living and social responsibility for years to come. Their new, 50 meter, Olympic-size, seasonal heated outdoor Berkeley Heights Community Pool at the YMCA is scheduled to open this summer.
To join or learn more about the Berkeley Heights YMCA or Summit YMCA, please visit www.theSAY.org/join.
To join or learn more about the Berkeley Heights Community Pool at the YMCA, please visit www.thesay.org/bhcp.
About the Summit Area YMCA
The Summit Area YMCA is one of the area’s leading 501(c)(3) charitable organizations. Founded in 1886, the Summit Area YMCA has a history steeped in working side-by-side with our neighbors to ensure that everyone, regardless of age, income and background, has the opportunity to learn, grow and thrive. Each year, we serve more than 10,000 individuals with our free and fee-based programs and services in an area spanning the communities of Berkeley Heights, Gillette, Millburn, New Providence, Short Hills, Springfield, Stirling and Summit. Through the generosity of our members, donors, and partners, we are able to offer financial assistance for our programs and services to those with demonstrated need.