Whether you’re coming for a workout class, a lesson or play session for your children, or a fundraising event for the community, chances are that if you’ve lived in Northwest Bergen County for a while, you’ve been to the Wyckoff YMCA at least once. Every town or area has a place like this– a hub of activity that people orbit around, coming and going. With a storied history that stretches back decades and a heartfelt and devoted commitment to the people who call this area their home, the Wyckoff Y is a particularly special example of a community center. This month, we were lucky enough to chat with Joy Voterro, executive director, and Ellen Gifford, an event coordinator of the development office, about the organization’s past, present, and future.
“The Y itself is about 80 years old,” Voterro said. “It was founded here at Spring Lake as a summer camp for servicemen during World War II. We’re now a member of the national YMCA in good standing. We’ve been at our location at Spring Lake for a little over 40 years. We trotted around a bit to a few different areas and wound up back here in 1981. We’ve developed the property ever since and added a lot to it. Our building has great amenities: two pools, an outdoor lake, and we gifted the town of Wyckoff a turf field in 2015, which is enjoyed by all people in the community. The YMCA welcomes all members of the community, and the Wyckoff Y in particular is known for the outreach that we have. This is our home, and we welcome everybody in it!”
That outreach is not only a major part of the regular operations at the Wyckoff Y, but it’s a huge source of pride for the team, the happiness and satisfaction in their work are easy to see as you speak with them. “Give back is sort of our middle name!” Voterro said. “We have an arm of our organization called Wyckoff Y Cares which donates to individuals who are financially struggling, or having difficulty as a family facing a debilitating illness, for example. We also have a very large program here for members with special needs, children and adults. That has been going on for almost 40 years. We’re the go-to place. We’re known for it, we’re proud of it, and over the years we’ve grown substantially because people rely on us to be here for them in times of need. We have about 12,000 members from over 35 towns, so in the little town of Wyckoff we’re a big nonprofit and we’re all about social responsibility and service. If you have known anybody who has ever needed help and has come to the Y, I know you would hear that response, and that’s something we’re very proud of.”
The Covid-19 pandemic was a rough time for Wyckoff and its surrounding areas, but the Wyckoff Y took it as an opportunity to step up. “When we went through Covid in 2020, we were trying to do as many things as we still could for the community, especially during that difficult time, so we held some events outside on our campus,” Gifford explained. One of these events that underwent a move during the pandemic was the annual Big Holiday Shop, which rolled with the restrictions of the past few years and is still going strong for 2023.
”It’s our thirteenth year!” Gifford said. “We started the event as a way to give back to the community. We have so many members and community members that often come to us in some way to promote their individual businesses, and we thought that we had that space and that this would be a great forum to host an event like this where some of our members and community members with small businesses could promote them at a holiday time, so that people could just do some one-stop shopping here. It’s another way for us to give back to our community.
“We started the event in our indoor double gymnasium, and it’s currently held in the same place,” she continued. “We held it in our parking lot in 2020 and 2021 as more of an outdoor event. Then, with some threat of foul weather, we decided to move the event back inside into our gymnasium last year.
“We have an awful lot of foot traffic on that day. Lots of young families will bring their children for swim lessons on Saturday mornings, and we have a large population at our fitness classes on Saturday mornings as well, and those people often wind up staying for the Big Holiday Shop. We also sometimes have a swim meet on the day of the event, which even brings in people from out of town to our facility. It does end up having kind of a built-in audience outside of just the people that we advertise to.”
As for the shopping itself, the Big Holiday Shop is a great way to knock out a chunk of your gift list. “We do often have young children at the event and there are gifts and things on sale that are geared to them. One of the vendors that we really love sells unique children’s books, which has been very popular with our community and our members who learn about the event through our e-blast and our community presence,” Gifford said. “We have many fabulous jewelry vendors and local crafters. One man sells cutting boards that he makes! We have scarves. We also have local brick and mortar stores bring stuff over, which has been very popular. Having everything in one area with so much variety is really popular with the shoppers. It’s kind of like TJ Maxx on steroids! There’s food, there’s camaraderie. People love it! Many people know each other and end up having a great time catching up while they’re there. It’s a really great vibe. The Y really serves as such a presence in the community, not just Wyckoff, but in the greater Wyckoff area. It’s really a home away from home for a lot of people who come here. There’s a very strong attraction to being together and being known as a community center. People are very comfortable coming for a class and then staying and having that cup of coffee and socializing with others, so it lends itself perfectly to this type of event.”
The rest of December, as well as the upcoming new year, is looking interesting for the Wyckoff Y as well. “We have a big performing arts wing with wonderful kids theater, and we’re really known for all of the shows! We have a big show coming up in December, Elf, which is amazing! We have a tremendous performing arts team,” Voterro said. “We also have Wyckoff Day, which is another outdoor community event that we have at a different time of year.”
With a schedule full of upcoming events and another year of giving ahead of them, the Wyckoff Y is sure to continue in its role as a Bergen County community center. On December 2nd at 10 am, make sure to visit for the thirteenth annual Big Holiday Shop!
This is our home, and we welcome everybody in it!