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YMCA builds Carol Van Andel Healthy Living Center

November 11, 2015
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Mary Free Bed YMCA Carol Van Andel Healthy Living Center teaching kitchen rendering
A rendering of the teaching kitchen at the Carol Van Andel Healthy Living Center at the Mary Free Bed YMCA in Cascade Township. Courtesy YMCA of Greater Grand Rapids

A new YMCA location scheduled to open next month will feature a 10,000-square-foot healthy living center focused on improving community health, thanks to a donation by Carol Van Andel.

The Carol Van Andel Healthy Living Center at the Mary Free Bed YMCA in Cascade Township, at the corner of Kraft Avenue SE and Burton Street SE, will serve as a hub for innovative, evidence-based programs intended to combat the growing obesity epidemic and preventable or manageable diseases through nutrition, physical activity and education, the YMCA of Greater Grand Rapids said last month.

Van Andel, who is executive director of the David and Carol Van Andel Family Foundation, said the goal of the center is to “improve the health of West Michigan individuals, families and communities by promoting healthy and active lifestyles.”

Food-based programs

The YMCA will house its ACTIVATE department, formerly the community engagement department, at the center.

ACTIVATE programs include the Veggie Van program, which is a mobile farmers market that serves communities located in food “deserts” around Grand Rapids, and the Nutrition in Action program, which is a hands-on nutrition education program for vulnerable children and families intended to increase the consumption of healthy food and physical activity.

The Healthy Living Center will also include a learning farm, greenhouse and teaching kitchen.

Programs hosted in the teaching kitchen will help community members learn how to prepare healthy, affordable meals that can feed the entire family, while the learning farm and greenhouse spaces will include programing focused on nutrition education and farm-to-table meals.

The learning farm and greenhouse will also be used for entrepreneurial training for small-scale farmers.

“We are incredibly grateful to Carol Van Andel for the generous gift she has made to the Mary Free Bed YMCA,” said Ron Nelson, president and CEO, YMCA of Greater Grand Rapids. “Thanks to her contribution and passion for bettering the community, we will now have a central headquarters for all of our healthy living programs.”

Programs "all day long"

A YMCA membership is not required to participate in the YMCA’s Healthy Living Center programs, according to Julie Sielawa, ACTIVATE executive director.

“We will have opportunities for individuals who are non-Y members to take classes and to engage in activity,” Sielawa said. “We anticipate having classes, opportunities and programs all day long for different audiences based on different needs.”

Mary Free Bed Y

The $30 million, 116,200-square-foot Mary Free Bed YMCA broke ground in September 2014 and will be the first-of-its-kind Y in the nation to comprehensively implement “universal design,” enabling it to serve people of all abilities. 

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