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Free public gym opens at Yancey Community Center in southern Albemarle

A free gym opened at the Yancey Community Center last week, part of an ongoing effort to improve health disparities in southern Albemarle County.

With row machines, treadmills, stationary bikes and hand weights, the new facility is one of the only gyms in the county’s more rural southern region, and the only one that is free for public use.

“There’s plenty of public spaces to walk but we’re the first one to open up a high-quality gym facility for the public to use to improve health and well-being,” Edward Brooks, the center’s community engagement manager, told The Daily Progress.

The facility was made possible with a grant from the Charlottesville Area Community Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving inequities across the region. Its three-year, $300,000 Strengthening Systems Grant is what allowed Brooks to begin his role at the Yancey Community Center in 2020, as well as other health programs in the area.

But when the COVID pandemic put much public life on pause, the center wasn’t able to spend all the money as had been mapped out in the grant. About $35,000 was remaining, and Brooks asked the foundation for more time to decided what would be a good use of the remaining funds.

The foundation allowed it, and when the center decided on installing a gym, the foundation threw in an additional $15,000 to make it a $50,000 facility. Albemarle County Parks and Recreation also made a contribution, committing to keep the facility open for 20 hours each week, with supervisors watching over the gym and making sure the equipment is working properly.

“To come in and add a quality fitness room, the way that this one looks just blows people away to see how advanced it really is,” said Brooks. “We’re trying to decrease heart condition issues, diabetes and to increase longevity to match longevity rates of other parts of the county population.”

Data collected by the University of Virginia Equity Center shows southern Albemarle residents are not only more likely to have less education and lower income than their neighbors to the north but also lower life expectancy.

“The discrepancies in scores between neighborhoods suggests substantial differences in residents’ connections to the resources that expand choices, opportunities, and access across the County,” reads the Albemarle County equity profile.

Those numbers help guide the work of the Yancey Community Center and its goal to increase wellness in the rural region.

“When we flesh it out to different areas of the county, any rural county in Virginia and America seems to have lower health indicators than perhaps people in the suburbs. We don’t want that to be the accepted story,” said Brooks. “We’re not going to accept that we’ll just have lower than average numbers just because we live in the country and rural area.”

The center’s new gym, and the grant that funded it, is one of the ways officials are seeking to improve the health of those living in the southernmost corner of the county.

“We’re looking to have long-term metrics that’ll show a community that is focused and concentrated on better health can actually get it done with the right resources,” said Brooks.

Interested parties should not the gym keeps irregular hours.

The Yancey gym is open from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Mondays; 12:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m Tuesdays; 9:00 a.m. to noon and 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Wednesdays; 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Saturdays and 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. Sundays.


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