With six branches in Chester County alone, the YMCA is definitely becoming a force to be reckoned with in the competitive market of fitness centers.The YMCA of the Brandywine Valley, which is the YMCA chapter for Chester County, includes the Brandywine Y, Kennett Area Y, Octorara Y, Southern Chester County Y, Twin Valley Y and the West Chester Area Y.

Membership includes access to any of these locations, and with over 50,000 members registered to the chapter that's a lot of business compared to other area health clubs.

Unlike their competitors, the Y is a nonprofit, community service organization that offers health and welfare services.

Denise Day, Senior Vice President of Operations for Brandywine Valley, said that the experience, atmosphere and programs offered make membership to the Y unparalleled.

"We really don't view ourselves in the same way as our competitors," she said. "The Y is more than just a gym," said Day.

Special programs like "Healthy Kids Day" and "Learn How to Swim Day" are very popular with members, and the youth sport program "Sports in Perspective" teaches kids and families good sportsmanship and allows kids the opportunity to try all positions of the sport.

Another program, called "Activate," is a huge part of the Y, and representatives travel around the county teaching people how to move more, and eat healthy.

"We focus on families," said Day. "We want everyone to enjoy the YMCA," she said. "It's a great family value when families can come and play to gether in this environment."

The"Activate" Program is a huge part of the YMCA, they travel around the county and teach people how to move more, and eat healthy.

As far as funding for these many unique programs goes, Day said that general funding is raised by contributions from donors, membership fees and program fees.

The "Good Kids" campaign provided over $1.4 million in financial assistance to needy families and their children last year. The campaign was started to secure more funding on a yearly basis, and the majority of the funding goes towards children.

Currently, membership rates are broken down into family, adult, seniors ages 65 and older, senior couples ages 65 and over, college, youth ages 12 thru 17 and child ages 0-11.

Rates are the same for Brandywine, Kennett, Southern Chester County and West Chester locations, but rates are lower for both the Octorara and Twin Valley Yes because they are program centers.

However, Day said that membership rates are not set in stone, and that special assistance is available on a needs basis.

"We consider our membership to really be on a sliding scale," she said. "Sometimes we just need to be made aware that someone needs help," she said.

Day also added that the YMCA of the Brandywine Valley is currently the largest provider child-care in Chester County.

The Octorara Y, which opened last year, is just one of the locations under the Brandywine Valley umbrella where members utilize childcare services.

According to Day, there are more than 100 kids per day in the Octorara childcare program. Though they have only been part of the community for a short time, they are working on increasing services, and "building a foundation on which to grow on," said Day.

In addition to providing care for school age children, the Octorata Y also offers fitness and wellness classes, and the Octorara Red Brick Players theater group addresses the need for the arts.

Octorara is also part of the "Girls on the Run" program, which is exclusive to YMCA, and the Octorara Y is the only site in the area to offer the program.

Day said that all Brandywine Valley branches offer the program, which is designed to teach leadership skills and self esteem to girls ages 8 thru 12.

The Southern Chester County Y is also beginning something new this year, by offering for the first time a special program for Oxford Borough children.

"We are excited to offer a Borough camp for children for free over the summer," said Day. "The Southern Chester County YMCA Board of Directors is committed to serving the Oxford Community," she said.

The decision to open the camp came from a donation from former YMCA members who saw the need in the Borough, said Day.

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