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25 Years on North Coalter – Part 4

NOTE: This is part four in the four-part 25 Years on North Coalter series. You can find part one here, part two here and part three here

Josh Cole sat in a mostly empty Staunton-Augusta Family YMCA parking lot, his hand grasping a video camera.

The coronavirus response drastically changed Rock Steady Boxing’s third anniversary celebration in May.

Instead of the normal party – held in the YMCA multi-purpose room for year one and in the YMCA boxing facility in year two – the celebration for year three was a drive-thru party in the parking lot.

And, if a Rock Steady Boxing member wanted to say something, Cole would video record it for posterity.  Participating in a YMCA class has always had a way of knitting people together, but the Rock Steady Boxers are unequivocally close. They are all fighting back against Parkinson’s disease together.

So Cole was prepared for things to get a little emotional.

He just wasn’t expecting the six words that he heard.

“This program,” said one of the participants, “literally saved my life.”

On June 1st, the Staunton-Augusta Family YMCA is celebrating its 25thanniversary on North Coalter Street. In that two-and-a-half decade span, Mary Ann Plogger, Morris Peltz and Cole have all held the executive director position.

Each director will leave a different legacy. It’s impossible to boil down all the good that each director did into one single phrase, but Plogger will always be remembered for helping rescue the YMCA. Peltz will always be remembered for taking Plogger’s rescue effort to the next level.

Six years into his tenure as executive director – Cole actually celebrates his own six-year anniversary at the YMCA on June 1stas well – his legacy up to this point has been community impact.

“Many might think of the YMCA as a gym, but Josh has always understood the YMCA could be so much more,” said Hillary Getsey, currently the chief volunteer officer at the Staunton-Augusta Family YMCA. “We’ve added so many mission programs during his tenure, and these programs are booming. He considers both member and community needs. Josh listens to his volunteers, members and staff. This openness has led to the creation of programs like Rock Steady Boxing.”

MAN ON A MISSION

In part two of the four-part series, we covered Peltz’s vision to make the former Staunton Racquet Club into a fully operational YMCA building. With much of the building work done upon his arrival, Cole was able to focus on creating programs that meet community needs.

“Josh has been program-driven, and it’s been great,” said Rhonda Shinaberry, associate executive director of the YMCA. “We’ve been able to serve more people and more kids.”

Under Cole’s leadership, the YMCA now runs over 20 mission outreach programs.

“Josh has put his all into this YMCA,” said Ashley Cole (no relation), youth and family director at the Staunton-Augusta Family YMCA. “You see it day in and day out; whether it’s running in at 4:30 am to an alarm or running the roads on snow days to see if they are passable, or bringing food and soup to sick members.

“He is always searching for people that would make the Y better, building community relationships, and doing whatever it takes to make the Y a source of good for the community.”

YMCA fitness director Wendy Shutty agrees.

“Josh has grown the YMCA outreach into our community greatly by inviting the community into the Y,” Shutty said. “When you look at the additional programs we have for our youth and adults, it’s what the YMCA is about. Josh has either sought out that involvement or has been essential to its development.”

One of the biggest changes under Cole has been adding more youth-focused personnel such as a summer day camp director Nicole Kozikowski, youth and family director Ashley Cole, and Eddie Santiago as the Teen Center supervisor.

“I’m really glad to see Josh was able to build a program out of the Teen Center,” Peltz said. “It’s a great little program.”

Santiago is impressed with Cole’s work ethic.

“Josh’s heart, compassion, and leadership has brought our YMCA to its full potential of serving unmet needs throughout our community,” Santiago said. “He is always looking for that next level of engagement with the community.”

YMCA active older adult coordinator Carol Byrd has been even more impressed with Cole’s leadership through the pandemic.

“As I have watched him work tirelessly through the COVID-19 outbreak, I have a new appreciation for him,” Byrd said. “He is not only working for Y members, but he’s genuinely concerned about the staff and their well-being.”

MAINTAINING THE LEGACY

Cole loves a good road trip.

Upon his college graduation from William & Mary, he decided to take a cross country trip with Alaska as the final destination.

His Nissan Sentra wagon, however, couldn’t keep up with Cole’s ambition.

“I made it to Portland, Oregon,” Cole said, laughing. “My car kind of broke down there, and I applied to the YMCA there and at a teen center. I worked the YMCA during the days and the teen center at night. That was cool.”

Years later, Cole and his wife were actually on a road trip from the northeast down to North Carolina. For two years in a row, he stopped in Staunton to grab a quick meal. A year later, Cole saw a YMCA opening for the town they had driven through.

“I asked my wife (about applying), and she said, ‘Yeah, give it a shot!’” Cole said. “She knew I wanted to get back to the YMCA. She knew I was looking for the next challenge.”

And the next challenge would be continuing on the foundation that Plogger, Peltz, Shinaberry, Georgiann Catlett and many others had laid.

“Coming in, I’m just trying to figure out what the membership needs and what the community needs,” Cole said. “I want to assess where we were at, and also honor the tradition. I wanted to make sure we were thanking the folks who got us here and made it all possible.”

In six years, Cole has done much to honor that work and push the YMCA further into the community.

Everyone who remembers what the YMCA was then is incredibly proud of what the YMCA is now.

“We’re serving so many different populations in the community,” said Jeff Collins, who has been the business director since 1997. “We’re just doing so many more things that we weren’t able to do back then.”

Paul Vames joined the YMCA board when they were trying to find a new home for the YMCA. He couldn’t be prouder of the progress during the YMCA’s 25 years on North Coalter Street.

“I talk to people all over the country, and I tell them about our YMCA,” Vames said. “I usually carry the information quarterly, and if I’m meeting with someone that’s coming to town, I show them that thing. I go to through that thing and I say, ‘ Where can you find a YMCA in a community of 25,000 people with these type of programs? Look at the programs. They’re phenomenal. You’re talking about everything from youngest children to the oldest adults, and they’re very worthwhile programs. It will make your head spin.’

“They look at this (the quarterly) and say, ‘I can’t believe all that happens in a YMCA as small as Staunton.'”

In part one of the four-part 25 Years on North Coalter series, we chronicled how Plogger guided the YMCA through some of its darkest days as a non-facility YMCA. She loves to see the YMCA flourishing once again, just as it was during her childhood.

“I just sit in the background really proud,” she said. “I’m just proud to know I had a big part in what people utilize and take advantage of today. And I think it’s really neat how it’s grown. And now you have a you a lot neat programs going on.”

Part one of the series also featured Joe McCue, who sold the Staunton Racquet Club business to the YMCA with hopes of creating a facility that serviced the community from the cradle to the grave.

McCue believes that dream has been realized.

“I think it’s amazing,” McCue said. “The people at the YMCA make it work. It’s a really dedicated group of people, and you just feel proud when you go in the place.”

 

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