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Rogers Park community rallies to save local YMCA

Past and present members of the High Ridge YMCA — set to close Jan. 22 — rallied Sunday as they pushed to keep it open.

From left to right, Laurie Sneed, Reyna Walk-Faust, Rogelia Guerrero protest the closure of the High Ridge YMCA at 2424 W. Touhy Ave. in West Rogers Park. , Sunday, Jan. 17, 2021.
Laurie Sneed (from left), Reyna Walk-Faust and Rogelia Guerrero protest the closure of the High Ridge YMCA, 2424 W. Touhy Ave. in West Rogers Park.
Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Reyna Walk-Faust started going to the High Ridge YMCA in West Rogers Park when she was seven. Her mom — a single mother working full-time — would drop her off before school and pick her up at 6 p.m.

But the High Ridge YMCA, at 2424 W. Touhy Ave., which has served the community for nearly 70 years, is set to close Jan. 22, the YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago announced in December.

“This was my childhood,” said Walk-Faust, 29, now living in Evanston. “A lot of kids won’t have as great an opportunity as I did to grow up with this family [at the YMCA].”

About 100 people lined the intersection of Western and Touhy avenues Sunday, with posters reading “Save Our Y” and “Help Save High Ridge.” The High Ridge YMCA serves one of Chicago’s most diverse neighborhoods, providing services community members rely on, including after-school programs, summer camp and Head Start.

The High Ridge YMCA, 2424 W, Touhy Ave. in West Rogers Park, is slated to close Jan. 22. Photo taken Sunday, Jan. 17, 2021.
The High Ridge YMCA, 2424 W, Touhy Ave. in West Rogers Park, is slated to close Jan. 22.
Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Keeping the site open is an equity issue, said Mary McNeill, who has been a member at the YMCA since she moved to Rogers Park 12 years ago.

“I’m going to be fine,” said McNeill, 49, but “what about the people who aren’t out here because they don’t have time to, or the people who don’t even know the Y is closing because they don’t have an email [address]”?

The High Ridge YMCA operated at a loss even before the pandemic, the YMCA of Metro Chicago said Sunday in a statement. Though the organization said it had tried to keep it open for the community, those financial losses, compounded by the pandemic’s economic stress, led to the decision to close the location permanently.

Laurie Sneed, 60, of Rogers Park, used to work at the High Ridge YMCA. She said the staff in the past has held fundraisers and membership drives to support the location. But the decision to close that branch surprised Sneed and others, she said, so they didn’t have the chance to raise money this time.

Members held a virtual town hall Tuesday with local aldermen to discuss the High Ridge YMCA, but YMCA Metro didn’t attend because “the conversation would feel more confrontational rather than constructive,” a YMCA Metro spokesperson said, though the organization “remains open” to meeting in smaller groups.

The fight to keep the High Ridge YMCA open is far from over, said Ald. Debra Silverstein (50th), who attended Sunday’s rally.

“We will continue to reach out to YMCA Metro and gather support,” Silverstein said. “We are not giving up.”

Protestors hold up signs protesting the closure of the High Ridge YMCA at 2424 W. Touhy Ave. in West Rogers Park, Sunday, Jan. 17, 2021. | Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times
Protestors gathered near Touhy and Western avenues Sunday to call for the High Ridge YMCA to remain open.
Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times