FLEMINGTON, NJ – The Hunterdon County YMCA has been designated the Nicest Place in New Jersey by Reader’s Digest magazine, putting it in the running to be recognized later this year as the Nicest Place in America.
The Y was nominated by Teri Snyder, who recalled her experience as a single mom 35 years ago, looking for a job to support her and two small children. The job was perfect for her, in part because she could bring her children to work and avoid childcare costs.
Her children thrived at the Y and so did Snyder, who returned to school and earned a teaching certificate. She truly found family at the Y, where she even met her husband.
“The wedding was a beautiful affair,” Snyder wrote to Reader’s Digest, “with my Big Italian Family and my Big Y Family.”
Those who are familiar with the Hunterdon YMCA already know it’s a nice place. But the Y is not really one, single, isolated place at all. If you look carefully – you’ll find the Y all across Hunterdon.
Of course, there are the landmark Deer Path and Round Valley branches of the Y. But there’s also Camp Carr in Clinton Township , YMCA Pre-School at Milford Presbyterian Church, and the North Hunterdon Active Older Adult Center in Lebanon Township. There are also its numerous before- and after-school programs based in local schools, including in the Flemington-Raritan School District here.
So it is really fair to consider the Hunterdon Y as the single, nicest place in New Jersey? It certainly is if you consider being nice as a state of mind.
It’s surely a state of mind for Hunterdon YMCA CEO Bruce Black.
“What we’ve tried to do is make this a place where we want to work,” said Black said, “and where if we didn’t work here, we’d want to be members ourselves.”
Black said the Y is where many come to escape the day-to-day grind. “We want to make this a place where they are welcomed, nurtured, and cared for,” Black said. “It’s as simple as that: Making people feel valued.”
Black recalled he recently met a new team member who works at the Y a few hours each week with children.
“I was introduced to her as the CEO, the Big Guy,” Black said. “My comment to her was, ‘I’m Bruce. Come see me anytime, and let me know if there’s anything I can do to help.’ ”
Black says that that message transfers to the senior team, to Y staffers and part-time folks, to part-time employees and then “to the people who are walking in the door.”
“I want people to be important to us. It’s the way I was brought up,” Black said, although he acknowledges a lot of the elements were in place when he took the post about 12 years ago.
“The Y should be fun,” Black reasons. When people are treated right, the Y becomes “a place they want to come back to day after day.”
The Y takes its nurturing role seriously, as Snyder’s experience suggests. But her experience is just the tip of an iceberg. Recognizing that drowning is the second leading cause of accidental death for children younger than 14, the Hunterdon YMCA has offered free swimming lessons to second-graders for years. The Y offers swim lessons for all ages – children as young as one year old can benefit from formal swim lessons – as well as lifeguard certification and recertification classes, and CPR and First Aid certification and recertification classes.
And the Y offers programs that you might not expect, such as nutrition counseling. A US Citizenship study group. The “Stewards of Children” child sexual abuse prevention training for adults. And there is a Financial Assistance Program that even includes its child care and camp programs.
Its members attest to the nurturing, such as Brian Fellin, whose Y journey led him from jumping into his father’s arms as a toddler in the pool at the Deer Path Branch, to jumping out of helicopters to save lives. He applied what he learned at the Y to his everyday life.
“Passion shouldn’t just be about goals or a career,” Fellin says. “It should flow into everything.”
Sometime in August, the YMCA will learn if it’s won first place in the Nicest Place in America faceoff. You can examine the other state’s finalists online, where you can also cast your vote in favor of the Hunterdon Y.
If you want to be extra nice, you can vote twice.