Lake County Family YMCA shuts down

December 31, 2012 (WAUKEGAN, Ill.)

People in the northern suburb held several fundraisers to try to save the center. But they were unable to collect enough money to keep it in business.

The Waukegan YMCA struggled to stay open, but a crippling debt forced it to close its doors Monday. Members and employees left with heavy hearts, but they haven't lost hope for the future.

The end of the year means the end of the Lake County Family YMCA, which has been in operation since 1912. The institution has been plagued by funding and enrollment issues.

At 1 p.m. Monday the "open" sign went dark for the last time.

A $6 million debt means the branch had to close. It follows months of fundraising by people like David Hall, the former Lake County chief judge who has a form of Lou Gehrig's disease and ALS, has been walking outside the "Y" to save it by drawing pledges.

"The Y isn't all about the building, it's about the Y mission, the spirit of the Y," said Hall.

But no amount of fundraising has been enough.

The closing means about 30 full-time staffers lost their jobs Monday. Program director Devin Johnson is one of them.

"I can find another job. They may not be able to find another positive role model in their life," Johnson said. "Some of these kids are coming up in fatherless homes, so you know, seeing a male figure here kinda helps them relate to what a man is supposed to be like."

But, through the sadness., hope still remains.

"I think we're all cautiously optimistic that somebody will come in and will be able to retain the Y in some fashion to serve the community, be it in this building, in another building or Y without walls," said YMCA employee Dennis Chesney.

Members are already on to the next step despite Monday's closing. A "Save the Y" meeting has already been planned for Friday at 10 a.m. at Waukegan Township Park Place.

Many believe this is not the end of the road, just the start of a new chapter.

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