In October 2011, the expanded and renovated Kent County, Rhode Island YMCA facility was opened to the public. A generous donation from the Howland family created a dynamic new entrance and lobby.
The renovations were all part of a project that expanded the Y facilities far beyond its space and equipment. A lot of thought went into making it "more friendly" to those who might feel awkward or intimidated being around people who are more physically fit than they are. To do that, walls were removed in some areas to facilitate communication, relationships, and self-esteem. The idea was to create a place that emphasized both community and fitness.
With over 1,300 people passing through the lobby each day, it is the hub of communication for the facility. "We're changing the way we do business," said Eileen Barber, Executive Director of the Kent County YMCA. Rather than the extended counter that used to greet members and guests of the YMCA, there is an island from which the staff can provide personalized attention - another form of removing barriers. Parents can sit at tables placed around the lobby and watch their kids play in the adjacent kid's room or just sit and chat with friends. Also adjoining the entry is another gathering spot - an airy room with a high, peaked ceiling - and a new "studio" for programs like LIVESTRONG at the YMCA created for cancer survivors to help them rebuild their strength after treatment.
The result is a beautiful community center right in Bradford's back yard. Mr. Howland stated:
Hopefully the new Kent County YMCA can be enjoyed by many Bradford employees as well as other members of the surrounding community. It is a place designed to promote healthy lives and strong families, and our family was honored to help make the renovation a reality.
This is not the first time that the Howland family has been involved in helping the community through the Y. Allen Howland, John's father, was the first Chairman of the Board for the Kent County branch in the late 40's. It was largely Allen's vision and the financial support of the Champlain foundation that enabled the Y to acquire the 118 acres of land off Route 2 that the Kent County YMCA now occupies.
The Howland family has remained involved with the Y through the years. The recent renovations at the Kent County YMCA were dedicated in honor of John's father and mother, Allen and Katharine Howland.