HAMILTON HEIGHTS – While Bayer takes on the headaches of lawsuits filed against Monsanto, the company it acquired in 2018, the pharmaceutical giant handed the Gateway Region YMCA at 5555 Page Blvd. a healthy money grant.
Along with being rededicated as the Bayer YMCA, ground was broken Monday to begin $2.5 million in renovations.
The groundbreaking and renaming ceremony was held inside of the former Monsanto YMCA because of a snowstorm.
Bayer presented a $1.5 million grant, and the remainder was given by an anonymous donor.
“The Y has been in this community doing good things for a long time, and I appreciate Bayer for stepping up to the plate,” said 22nd Ward Jeffrey Boyd, a longtime area resident near the Y.
“I watched the Y grow over the years. It’s a jewel in the city, and I’m excited about it expanding,” Boyd continued. He added that the center “really cares about youth and has programs that help them grow into productive adults.”
Marcus Wilson, executive director of the Y, said that its membership had grown 50 percent in three years and that he hoped the renovation and expansion would attract even more members.
“I’m excited that when we planned the renovation, we did it to meet specific needs of the community,” he said. “With more revenue, we will have more financial flexibility to respond to the needs of the people and community. … As we move forward, we will continue assessing what our members and community needs from us.”
The Y plans to stay open during the construction process, moving equipment or classes as needed until the whole project is completed, hopefully by June 1.
“We hope to inconvenience our members as little as possible,” Wilson explained.
He listed some of the key projects ahead:
“Our early childhood education center will provide a strong foundation in education for youth in our community. Statistics show that children who attend ECEC and PreK have more success
in school from elementary through high school. Our new ECEC will begin enrolling
at the age of 6 weeks.”
“Our tech center will continue that education with youth of all ages to give them opportunities and exposure to STEM, robotics and technology,” Wilson said. “Also, in response to the summer violence that hurt
so many youth and families in our community, the Bayer Y will provide a safe,
positive space year-round.”
Wilson noted that the new health and wellness area would help fight the high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes and other chronic health issues that are prevalent among African-Americans.
“Our community kitchen will help attack the root of these issues by providing healthy foods and healthy eating habits,” he said. An expanded community garden is also on tap.
A new family locker room will be especially helpful to families with young children.
“We are thrilled to begin what are substantial upgrades planned with the mindset of addressing some of the most critical challenges facing north city,” said Tim Helm, president and CEO of the Gateway Region YMCA.
Al Mitchell, vice president of corporate engagement for Bayer, called the YMCA branch a beacon for the people of north St. Louis.
“Over the years, it has provided much-needed services to combat violence, health disparities and develop educational opportunities outside of the classroom,” Mitchell said, continuing:
“Bayer believes health and education are great equalizers for the obstacles many families may face. Our hope is that this investment will continue the great work this branch has demonstrated since our initial commitment in 1981.”
The YMCA facility had borne Monsanto’s name for years. How does the name change sit with the Y?
Wilson replied positively, saying, “I am excited to be the Bayer YMCA because as with all things new, it brings excitement. There are many people who have been a part of this Y since the days of the Pine St. Y, Page Park Y, North City Y, Monsanto Y and now the Bayer YMCA. The Bayer Y will have programs and features that have never been offered in the past, so when people think of the name ‘Bayer YMCA’, I hope it brings a feeling of excitement, family and community engagement.”
In the meantime, the Bayer YMCA is still fundraising and preparing for its 35th annual MLK Breakfast on Jan. 20. Food will be served at 7 a.m., and the program will run from 8 a.m until 9:15 p.m.
This year’s keynote speaker will be Missouri Supreme Court Chief Justice George Draper. Former Fox 2 reporter Bonita Cornute will serve as emcee.