The Duneland Family YMCA is Way More Than Just the “Friendly YMCA”

By: Caitlin Vanlaningham Last Updated: August 17, 2015

The Duneland Family YMCA is one of many YMCA’s in Northwest Indiana, but it stands out as a singular entity among the others for its sense of kinship and unadulterated feeling of friendliness.

In 1966 is was dubbed Porter County YMCA’s Westchester Branch. An initiative championed by the Chesterton Junior Women's Club, it was an establishment that was meant to provide "year-round recreation for all ages, a lasting project that can be expanded through professional guidance."

“It was founded by community members,” Jane Delligatti, Marketing Coordinator for the Duneland Family YMCA said. “They felt that this was a necessary component to the community and through thick and thin it has remained here.”

The original location for the Duneland Family YMCA was in what is now the Thomas Library. A few years after its fruition it outgrew the space and in 1972 the Duneland Family YMCA moved to its current location on Roosevelt Street. 1977 was the year that the Porter County YMCA Westchester Branch became the Duneland Family YMCA.

“I have been involved with four YMCAs so far,” Dave Kasarda, Executive Director and CEO for the Duneland Family YMCA said. “And the Duneland Family YMCA is unique in several capacities, starting with the size of the town. With all five Duneland communities combined we have about 16 to 17 thousand in the population. It’s a smaller organization with a more close-knit history.”

If you look at historical records pertaining to the Duneland Family YMCA, you will see many names repeating themselves. This is because generation after generation of families have served the Duneland Family YMCA. Fathers and sons serve on boards as well as mothers and daughters. Grandchildren follow in their footsteps. Familiar names like Anton, Harris, Welsh, and Perkins that were part of the YMCA’s beginning are still part of its continuation today.

“There are several generations of families that are deeply ingrained in the organization not just as participants or members but as donors, advocates, friends, and founders,” Kasarda said. “The Duneland Family YMCA is so important to so many communities in Chesterton, and a lot of Chesterton families stay in Chesterton. It’s neat to hear the stories from years ago about how we got to be where we are now from the folks who were in the boardroom at the time. Now their kids are on the board.”

Kasarda’s predecessor, Kym Groceman, put a lot of emphasis on the social side of the Duneland Family YMCA. Anyone who came through the doors in need of help was not turned away. Kasarda said that Groceman’s vision was larger than that, and made sure that everyone received the services they needed.

“Kym had a great legacy here,” Kasarda. “I worked very closely with her for a long time. YMCA directors all come in with the same heart but a different vision, so the YMCA will grow and change depending on the CEO’s vision… Our growth is dependent on our staff.”

The Duneland Family YMCA has always been known as the “friendly Y”. You are always greeted with a warm smile and “hello” when you enter the facility, and the kindness extends throughout the building. Kasarda said that this is because the right people were chosen to fill the right positions. People who work at that Duneland Family YMCA genuinely love their jobs and that love seeps out and into the members and then into the community.

“I talk to members all the time and they always remind me that this is the friendly YMCA,” Kasarda said. “It’s not uncommon for members to be out in the lobby drinking coffee and laughing, our staff will walk the halls and stop and have a conversation with a member. It’s about that human elements and building those human relationships. This is a sincere want to build that connection. Our staff not only knows the names of our members but also their families’ names.”

“The sense of community is powerful here,” Delligatti said. “We’re a community here as well outside in the Duneland community. It’s just so intertwined.”

Kasarda spent his beginning months as CEO out in the community finding out what people loved about the Duneland Family YMCA. Many of them answered: the pool.

“Many outsiders don’t’ understand this, I was one before I came here,” Kasarda said. “I wondered why so much money was put into a pool that is only used 10 weeks out of the year? Now I know. It’s a big part of this town, an important element in the community. People learn how to swim in that pool and it’s one of the few outdoor public pools in Porter County.”

Kids of all ages learn to swim in the Duneland Family YMCA’s pool. They have children of different age groups come over from their childcare facility and swim on certain days of the week and have even partnered with Chasing Dreams Inc. and set aside time for the kids from that organization to come and swim.

“We have a childcare facility that is second to none,” Delligatti said. “The curriculum is what sets it apart. We take kids as early as six weeks old and when they come in they start learning. The instructors just love and care for the kids so much and when kindergarten rolls around the kids are more than ready for it.”

From infancy to adulthood and beyond, the Duneland Family YMCA is there for the people of its communities, doing its best to give back what has been so richly given to the organization.

“All YMCAs do great things, and we’re proud to be part of that,” Kasarda said. “When you are here at Duneland and you’re part of the team, the one thing that drives this team is our mission. We do everything we can to serve people of all walks of life. You’re not just a member here. It’s taken to a much more personal level.”