A typical morning for Joe Cerny begins with a workout at the Avon French Creek YMCA. While his daughter is supervised at the on-site child-care center, Cerny enjoys swimming laps in the eight-lane competition pool or utilizing the cardiovascular and strength-training equipment on the fitness floor. He has tried every group exercise class — all 70 of them — and admits Lethal Legs nearly killed him.
It’s a convenient commute to his office — which is just down the hall. Cerny, 30, serves as executive director of the Avon French Creek Family branch, the largest of the YMCA of Greater Cleveland’s 10 traditional facilities. Though he was appointed to his current position in October, Cerny has been part of three branch grand openings. He began his career with the nonprofit community service and health organization in 2004 as program director at the Geauga branch prior to being named executive director of the Lakewood branch in 2007.
“You get to meet so many new people when you open a YMCA,” says Cerny, who exudes a passion and commitment to the members and Lorain County communities it serves. “Everyone has their own story, and you get to build some great friendships. I’ve seen some people make tremendous strides in their life. In five or six months, we have people that have lost 40, 50, 60 pounds, and that’s extremely rewarding.”
The Avon French Creek YMCA opened its doors on April 19. The goal was to establish a health-and-wellness destination for one of the poorest counties in Ohio, offering not only health and fitness programming on-site, but across the county as well. Cerny and his team expected to reach 2,500 memberships in the Avon branch’s first year, but it exceeded that within the first few months of operation. The Avon Y boasts more than 3,300 adult and family memberships, and upward of 1,200 senior memberships and 400 program participants to date.
“We know we had to create an environment that health seekers are going to want to come to and come back to,” says Cerny, pointing to the staggering number of people who start and stop wellness programs. “We’ve grown to the point where we’re really impacting this area here in Avon and also the greater county. We still expect it to grow. There’s so much room in this facility.”
The 66,527-square-foot branch features an eight-lane competition indoor pool with spectator seating; an aerobics-multipurpose studio with 70 group exercise classes offered for adults, seniors and kids; a child-care center; family gym; community meeting spaces; and a wellness center. In addition, the facility offers wellness coaches for guidance and support, a Life Fitness private room for beginners or those who feel uncomfortable exercising on the main fitness floor and state-of-the-art technology that enables members to track their health and fitness goals, and monitor their progression.
Construction of the $14.2 million facility was made possible through a collaboration between the Greater Cleveland YMCA and the city of Avon. It employs more than 100 staff members on site and is expected to bring in nearly $300,000 in federal, state and locally generated tax revenues. Plus, the vast facility has the potential to attract and retain employers with its corporate health and wellness programs. Employees of Avon businesses, along with city residents, receive 20 percent off the monthly membership fee.
“Healthy living is more than just working out. In reality, we’re three key things: youth development, healthy living for the spirit, mind and body, and social responsibility,” says Cerny.
He points to the Y’s role helping Lorain’s Central Park Pool stay open this past summer as one example of its community activism. The Y provided aquatic programming at the pool after the city announced it would remain closed due to the poor economy. The Y also ensures everyone has access to these healthy living programs by subsidizing memberships. The Avon branch is on track to grant $180,000 in scholarships and program subsidies this year.
In addition to its main center, the Avon branch manages programs at locations scattered throughout the county, including fitness classes at the Elyria Wellness Center and Amherst’s Heritage Presbyterian Church. It also offers child-care programming at Sheffield and Sheffield Lake elementary schools, and youth sports camps at the Elyria School District Administrative Offices.
Though the Y is located in Avon, 66 percent of its membership comes from outside the city — a testament that Cerny is achieving his goal. He recognizes the tremendous needs of the community and creates programs based on them. The five leading causes of death in Ohio — heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease — are directly linked to unhealthy lifestyles. What’s more, 28 percent of Lorain county residents smoke, 24 percent are obese and 41 percent are overweight, according to the Greater Cleveland YMCA’s website.
As a community partner, the Avon Y collaborates with community hospitals and other health organizations to provide health and wellness programming. Cerny and his team, in collaboration with the Cleveland Clinic, hosted the Westside Health Fair in September and conducted health screenings for more than 500 participants to help pinpoint high-risk factors. And in October, the Avon Y partnered with LifeShare to host a blood drive on site that raised more than 300 units of blood.
“We’d like to be the premier collaborative organization within the community,” says Cerny about the branch’s future. “When you partner, the resources you can put around a particular project … it’s amazing to see the results.”