Current-day Westport-Weston Family YMCA, left, and the former Bedford Family YMCA downtown
The current Westport Weston Family YMCA on Allen Raymond Way, left, which opened in 2014, and the Y’s former downtown home.
Among the many activities offered at the Y include, from left, swimming in one of the pools; Rachel St. John with her 18-month-old twins Ava and Maya at the Adventure Gym, and Aria Brockway, 6, is on the giant slide at Camp Mahackeno. / Photos by Gretchen Webster

By Gretchen Webster

WESTPORT — The Westport Weston Family YMCA is an impressive organization not only because of its 100-year legacy as a dynamic community focal point.

But, over the course of a century, it has continually evolved into a place that meets the needs and interests of more than 1,000 people who check in daily for a far-reaching slate of activities and programs, according to Anjali McCormick, the Y’s CEO. Its annual membership is over 11,000 members, she said.

“The Y is super busy,” McCormick said in what can only be an understatement. “That’s wonderful news for the community.”

McCormick and former state Sen. John McKinney, the chairman of the YMCA Board of Trustees, also are gratified that the non-profit, based at 14 Allen Raymond Way, is able to open it doors to everyone, regardless of ability to pay.

“It’s very important to us — we want to be a need-based organization,” McKinney said. In 2022, the Westport Weston Family YMCA gave $746,000 of in-kind aid to more than 400 families, including $446,000 in financial assistance and $300,000 in related grants, officials said. 

“One of the reasons I got involved in public service is that my parents and grandparents always instilled in us that it was important to give back to your community,” McKinney said. “That’s something we do at the YMCA.”

Scenes of activities at the Y over its first 100 years.

Marking a century 

The Westport Weston Family YMCA was founded in September 1923 by McKinney’s great-grandfather, Edward T. Bedford, settling in a brick building at the corner of Main Street and Post Road East in the center of town. And through the next 100 years, the Bedford family has continued to support the organization financially. 

In 1944, Frederick Bedford, Edward’s son, provided the funds to purchase Camp Mahackeno, a 30-acre wooded area near the site of the Y’s current location, and still used for a children’s camp and other outdoor activities.

Over time, the downtown building became more and more cramped as Y programs expanded, until after a contentious process, the Westport Weston Family YMCA moved to a completely new building on the Mahackeno property. The move was completed in phases, McCormick said, with the help of a bequest of more than $40 million from Ruth Bedford, the granddaughter of the YMCA founder.

There was disagreement about the move from the Main Street/Post Road location, now the home of the Anthropologie store in Bedford Square. Some Westporters didn’t want the YMCA, so central to many lives over the years, to leave town center. 

Others in the neighborhood where the Y planned to move fought its proposal to open on the Mahackeno property, next to the the Merritt Parkway. The entire process took “10 to 12 years and 19 P&Z meetings,” to finally get approval and make the move, McCormick said.

Nearly a decade after the 54,000-square-foot facility opened, and since has been expanded, participants in YMCA programs have a lot to say about its varied programs.

Alex Keenan, at left, a recent college graduate, has been coming to the Westport Weston Family YMCA since she was a child. At right, Dan Fred, of Westport, who was at the Y recently for a work out with his trainer, especially likes the facility’s family vibe.

Westporter Dan Fred comes to the Y once a week to work out with “a great trainer.” His 14-year-old son plays basketball at the Y and uses the pool, and father and son come together weekly, which they both enjoy.

“We have a family membership. It’s great for a family.”

Barbara Cleland, a Weston resident, has been a member for over 10 years. “Their yoga program is fantastic,” she said.

She’s been to other YMCAs in nearby towns, she added, but came back to the Westport Weston Family YMCA. “The programming here is very good — very strong,” she said.

Recent college graduate and Westport resident Alex Keenan regularly patronized the Y while she was growing up.

“I’ve been coming here since I was a little kid. Everyone is super friendly and they have a wonderful staff. I love the Y.”

Centennial celebration

Activities have been planned all year to honor the history of the institution and to help support its future.

They include:

Robin Tauck

A “$100,000 Matching Challenge:” Robin Tauck, a former Westport Weston Family YMCA trustee and benefactor of the Y’s Robin Tauck Wellness Center, will match every dollar donated at $500 and above with an equal contribution through June 30.

The money raised will support new health-related programs for seniors, adults and youth. Funds also will support the Financial Assistance program, serving under-resourced families and those in need. 

For more information or to make a donation, click here.

“Share Your Stories:” YMCA members and the community are invited to share stories, memories and photos about the organization. They are featured on the centennial page on the Y’s website. Submit a story and/or photos here.

The 100 for 100” yoga fundraiser: The event, set for Thursday, May 11, from 10-11 a.m., is an outdoor yoga class at the Mahackeno Outdoor Center, with the goal of getting 100 participants to register for $100 each. Participants will receive a yoga mat and a flower. It is open to all levels of yoga enthusiasts. Register by clicking here.

7th annual Golf Tournament: Planned on Monday, May 22, at Aspetuck Valley Country Club in Weston, the event raises funds for the Y’s financial assistance program. Register here.

“Sneaker Ball,” 100-year anniversary gala: The event will be held at 6:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 6, at the recently renovated Mahackeno Outdoor Center. Money raised will benefit under-resourced families and those in need, according to organizers. For more information, click here.

The Y’s Centennial web page features an illustrated timeline of the organization’s history, old photos submitted by Y members and information about special events.

Events earlier this year included “Healthy Kids Day” in April and “100 Faces of My Y,” a project inviting youth to create self portraits to be displayed in the YMCA building. 

For more information, visit the Westport Weston Family YMCA website or call 203-226-8981.

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Freelance writer Gretchen Webster, a Fairfield County journalist and journalism teacher for many years, was editor of the Fairfield Minuteman newspaper for 10 years and teaches journalism at Southern Connecticut State University.