YWCA - EHS1961

El Dorado News-Times, Monday, June 03, 2013

YWCA - More than just a fad: HealthWorks Fitness

Time shifts focus from women and children to the entire community

By Allison Gatlin

(Editor’s Note: The following article is the 31 st in a series on established El Dorado businesses that have been in operation for 40 years or more.)

Summers at the Y were customary for most El Dorado natives of the 60s, 70s and 80s, ending up in the swimming pool, on the field or behind a craft table at what was formerly the Young Women’s Christian Association. However, long before the SHARE Foundation transformed the YWCA into a premier fatness center and decades before children’s health became a focus, El Dorado’s YWCA began with a focus on empowering women, particularly those in the hard-to-break-into business world. According to archives from the walls of HealthWorks, 304 N. Madison Ave., the YWCA first took root in 1921, in El Dorado, and on Oct. 14, 1922, purchased of the building and equipment at 126 N. Peach St. For $18,358.98 from John M. Dumas.

Operating under the YWCA name, El Dorado’s chapter became officially affiliated with the national organization 1927, according to the archives. Several years later, the women opened a cafeteria in the Garrett Hotel and built a pool at the 126 Peach St. property in 1924 and 1927, respectively. Although the cafeteria closed in 1931, its profits were enough to fund the construction of a second building in 1938 at 118 N. Peach St, which now houses the De Soto Area Council of the Boy Scouts of America.

The 1930s were an active time for the YWCA, which in 1937 saw 30,000 people in through its building, rented the club room for various meetings, hosted 300-plus women each week for the Girls reserve and sponsored a club for the business girls of El Dorado, according to a letter dated Feb. 22, 1937, from M. K. Hearin, president of the YWCA Board of Directors. Two years following, the YWCA hosted the first annual Girls Reserve Conference.

In 1950, the 126 N. Peach St. property was transformed into a business girls’ dormitory, a mainstay for young ladies living in El Dorado on their own when it was perceived improper to do so, explained Pat Callaway, former volunteer for the YWCA. "Girls grew up and they needed a place to live when they came to town," she said. "[In later years] things changed girls could move to town and live with a bunch of girls and not be looked on prostitutes. [Before that] it just wasn’t done."

Although the dorms were only in use until the mid-1950s, during their time of operation they could hold up to 18 women plus a house mother. All girls were expected to abide by strict moral guidelines for admittance and living, according to the archives.

First and foremost for the YWCA, locally and nationally, was a Christian life style, said Pat Daugherty, former executive director. "Early on they were one of the first supporters of women and giving women coming in from the farm safe places to live," she said. "Women’s rights and voting were always important but the primary focus of the YWCA was Christ and it was always a faith-based organization. "In the same time period, the hosted craft and wellness classes at the property which held only seven rooms, two bathrooms and four employees, according to the archives.

The 1970s, however, saw a change from the focus on women specifically. After 50 years of funding from the national organization, during which the local chapter had grown to 900 members who each paid $5 annually, the YWCA received enough Title VII funding to create a nutrition and socialization program for senior citizens.

In May 1978, the Girls Youth League was formed in El Dorado and the softball era began at the YWCA. The 1980s also took a leap. According to the archives, the current 304 N. Madison Ave. structure was built in 1987 with the funding from a massive capital campaign and was home to a large pool in which elementary school students received Red Cross swimming lessons, severely limited number of exercise machines and several aerobics classes.

The Y was particularly known for its Elementary Swim classes, Daugherty said. "We taught and introduced the children who wouldn’t normally have the opportunity to be in water," she said. They would come over starting in third, fourth or fifth grade."

An after school program quickly spread into neighboring schools and members were comprised primarily of children benefiting from the low prices of swimming, softball, soccer and craft lessons. Most of these programs were duplicated elsewhere and eventually merged into other organizations when SHARE took over the YWCA building, Daugherty noted.

However, work in the 80s and 90s to flesh out the operations of the YWCA from a focus on women’s living to children’s health was the culmination of a lot of work by a number of dedicated women, Callaway said. "The problem was there just wasn’t enough money."We had some fitness equipment but we didn’t have enough money to pay people to supervise it."

In 2000, the SHARE Foundation stepped up, first helping with grants and then making the jump into full ownership in June 2002 when the local YWCA disaffiliated with the national organization and sold the facility to SHARE for $1, Callaway said. The switch from the YWCA to Health-Works Fitness Center was harmonious with the SHARE Foundation’s goal of creating a health and wellness center in El Dorado, Daugherty said. Both Callaway and Daugherty were proud of the decision to sell the building and the local YWCA assets to the SHARE Foundation for the good of the community.