Happy 20th Birthday Cary YMCA!

Story by Lindsey Chester. Photo of 1992 ribbon-cutting provided by the Cary YMCA.

Cary, NC- Hard to believe, but this year the Cary Family YMCA turned 20 years old. I met with Executive Director, Diane Hillsgrove to talk about the past and future of this powerful community organization.

A Brief History of the Cary Y

I had heard the Cary Y began as a walking club, and Diane confirmed that. The club met at Cary Towne Center (at the time called the Cary Village Mall). But even before that, in 1987, the first fitness classes were offered at East Cary Middle School. That year Tracy Howe was hired (he still works for the YMCA).  Then real fundraising began to build a permanent home, beginning  with the Santa Claus Booth in the mall.

From the walking club, the organization then began children’s camp programs.  Camp Outer Limits was the first summer camp located at West Cary Middle School.

A key part of the plans came together when the land and pool was donated in 1987. The existing main pool was built originally as a neighborhood pool. The pool and 15 acres (current Y location) were donated to the project by Parkway Developers. The Finley Y was also instrumental in assisting. Without that initial vision and donation, perhaps the Y would never have been built.

The building officially opened on January 6, 1992, when this area of Cary was almost a wilderness. The town had 60,000 residents. Cary’s population has more than doubled to 141,000 since then, causing organizers to need to expand, and finally to build the more recent Kraft Y in southern Cary, to accomodate the need for more facilities, camps, and members.

We Build People: Helping Those in Need

One of the most important programs that the Y provides has nothing to do with folks getting their daily workout. The annual We Build People campaign funds outreach programs for kids.

This program was launched in 1993 with a goal of raising $50,000. Diane proudly explained that this year’s campaign beat their goal of $435,000- topping $490,500!! (what recession?) The money raised does not go to capital funds, or Y operating costs – it is 100% invested into Y Learning programs during the school year and summer camps scholarships.

The program is effective. Even during the summer camps, the students get tutoring, as well as swim lessons and weeks at Camp Seafarer. Children that participate achieve better EOG scores than their peers in similar circumstances. More money raised, means more kids able to participate. The aim is to make the Y accessible to all.

We Build People: By The Numbers

  • 95 Year round and traditional school and preschool scholarship participants
  • 70 Day campers
  • 100 Y Learning Tutorial participants
  • 160 Camp High Hope campers- fully subsidized

Cary YMCA Milestones

Leaders at the Cary Y weren’t done once the building was put up. Every year, they look at what can be improved. Membership currently tops 5100 units-  families or individuals which could mean as many as 20,000 Cary residents!

  • 1997: Expansion- built Gym 3
  • 1997: Built lower Oasis Pool
  • 2001: Completed the Spray Ground
  • 2007: Built the Slide
  • 2009: Renovated the Inside, expanding workout areas
  • Planning future Expansion- Indoor Aquatics Facility

Diane told me that Dick Ladd, who was an early and instrumental leader, believed Cary needed a Y because of the part a YMCA played in his life growing up. “If not for the vision of these early promoters, there would not be this wonderful facility that has impacted the lives of so many.”  I can vouch for that – my first and longest known friends have come from my 13 years as a Y member. My youngest’s earliest memories are as a Bumble Bee club member in their childcare program.

Our very first story on CaryCitizen (7/28/2009): YMCA Blood Drive.

I call myself a “Lifer” and don’t know what would fill that part of my life if the Y did not exist. Thanks to those who had the vision to build 20 years ago.


Lindsey Chester has been a member of the Cary YMCA for 13 years.