Although it was once a center exclusive to card-carrying members, the Crescenta-Cañada Family YMCA hopes to become a place where residents can simply stop and take a break.
One recent development leading the transformation is the Community Café, which opened in April. The kitchen offers coffee and healthy breakfast items like an egg white panini. Sandwiches, salads and smoothies are offered throughout the day.
Tyler Wright, the president and chief executive officer of the YMCA of the Foothills, said a woman who was not a member recently approached him and asked him if she could buy something at the café.
He told her that she could.
In fact, he said he actually prefers it when members of the community who do not belong to the organization visit the Y. The new café sits next to the existing patio room, which has seating inside.
"Nobody is checking your ID," said Wright. "This is a nice open space where you can just sit."
John Loussararian, executive director of the Verdugo Hills Family YMCA, said his center has a similar space with self-serve coffee and tea that opened in November. Nonmembers are also welcome at the Verdugo Hills location, he said.
"If they cannot come in and take advantage of the Y that is serving their community, then we're here for the wrong reasons," said Loussararian. "Our doors are always open to the community and we want people to feel that this is their Y."
For current members, the café is an additional perk.
Scott Simpson, the café's chef, said there are already regular customers who order breakfast before working out. Others sit in the patio room to read a newspaper or chat with other members.
Ed Attanasio, a longtime resident of La Cañada Flintridge, said the new space brings people together. Between classes, he and other members sit in cushy chairs and talk about current events.
There were members he never spoke to before the café opened, he said. "A lot of friendships are forming here."
Clusters of people form in the mornings and late afternoons. YMCA staff say that more teens and young adults are beginning to populate the café, which is part of their goal to increase youth initiatives.
The YMCA of the Foothills is also looking to create similar open spaces at local schools in the future.
Wright said many high school students have expressed that they feel overwhelmed and need a space to relax. That is the focus of the café: a place to hang out, rather than a new business that will generate revenue. The food and beverage prices are kept low enough to cover costs, staff said.
"It wasn't a matter of serving food, it was a matter of creating a space like this in all of our locations, so people can sit and chat and get to know each other," said Wright.
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