With more than 1,000 members overall and almost 500 signed up for its shiny new fitness center, the YWCA of Niagara is one of the fastest-growing activity organizations in Niagara County.
But the YWCA is a lot more than that. It promotes women's well-being through such facilities as Carolyn's House, which offers housing and job training for homeless women and their children in Niagara Falls, and special programs such as the Institute for Public Leadership, which coaches women on how to be candidates for public office.
Executive Director Kathleen Granchelli said these are just some of the ways the YWCA lives up to the goals emblazoned on its letterhead: "Eliminating Racism, Empowering Women."
It also aims to keep its program affordable. Girls sports leagues cost as little as $20 for a six- or eight-week season, according to Jeff Apple, the girls sports director.
"What we're trying to do is keep the cost to a bare minimum," Apple said.
Granchelli said memberships at the fitness center cost $100 for three months, $200 for six months or $350 for a full year.
Senior citizens pay a flat $25 a month, and the same price is offered to girls ages 16-18.
Fitness Center members also need to be regular YWCA members, but that costs only $35 a year. Granchelli said a one-day trial of the Fitness Center is free.
"All of our instructors are licensed personal trainers," Granchelli said. "We're the only women-only fitness club in the area."
That suits some Lockport High School girls just fine.
"The football team's in the [high school] weight room 24-7," said Granchelli's daughter, also named Kathleen.
She and a fellow senior, Brianna LaSota, prefer the YWCA to other fitness facilities.
"It's small and not as many people, so you have your space," LaSota said.
Shaine D'Andrea, a senior at Victory Christian Academy, said that private school allows senior girls to log workouts at the YWCA in place of gym classes. The price is discounted to $150 a year.
"A lot of them take advantage of it," D'Andrea said.
"We are trying to attract more of the high school girls," said Fitness Center co-director Sheila Hanczarowski.
Earlier this year, the Fitness Center moved from the Old Post Office, 1 East Ave., to a new suite two blocks away in the Ulrich City Centre, 80 Main St. It marked its official grand opening Wednesday.
Granchelli said she's glad the newly constructed building was available. Although she said the center's former landlord, Patricia George, treated the YWCA well, Granchelli said the basement setup in the Old Post Office included a fair amount of unusable space.
"We were planning on making a move anyway," she said. "We wanted to keep it affordable, and we wanted a smaller space. Some people don't want to work out in a basement. We also have a commitment to Lockport."
The commitment goes beyond Lockport. The Institute for Public Leadership, being offered for the third time, is meant to give practical advice to would-be female politicians.
Registration for the next sesson will cost $35 and is available by calling 433-6714 or online at www.ywcaniagara.org.
"The YWCA in Buffalo has been doing it for years, and the majority of women who have won elected offices in Erie County have gone through the program," said Granchelli, who ran for the Niagara County Legislature in 2003.
Scheduled speakers Saturday will include Assemblywoman Francine DelMonte, D-Lewiston; County Legislator Rebecca E. Cuddahee, D-Niagara Falls; Lockport Alderwoman Flora M. McKenzie, D-3rd Ward; Democratic Elections Commissioner Nancy L. Smith; and Jane Schroeder, district aide to Rep. Louise M. Slaughter, D-Fairport.
"It's a daylong, very hands-on program with speakers who have been in elections," Granchelli said. "We have a majority in the county of females, but not in elected officials."
>Carolyn's House full
For women for whom running for office is a distant dream at best, Carolyn's House, located in a former nurses' training residence and Vincentian seminary on Sixth Street in Niagara Falls, opened last August. Its 19 units have been full regularly. Granchelli said 25 women have lived there.
"We've had some issues -- it's Carolyn's House, not Barbie's House -- but we've had several women who have found great jobs and are moving on," Granchelli said.
Consistent volunteerism and donations of furnishings and equipment have helped the facility, named for Carolyn Van Schaik, a local attorney and activist who died in a 2003 auto accident.
"Not enough can be said about the support we've gotten from the public," Granchelli said.
Back in Lockport, Apple is stepping up the girls sports program, which was long centered on a winter basketball league in the gymnasium at the YWCA's Lockport headquarters, 32 Cottage St.
Hoops continues, but offerings are being expanded.
A spring indoor girls soccer league will start April 10, and a major summer sports program will begin July 10, including everything from lacrosse to football.
"There was no summer programming at all before I came here," said Apple, in his third year at the YWCA. "It's the first time we've offered a full sports program in the summer. I'm pretty jazzed about it."
Among the summer choices is an athletic sampler called the Super Sports Pack. It allows girls to try different sports to decide which ones they'd like to keep in their repertoire for the rest of the summer.
"If you don't know you like something," Apple said, "to commit six weeks to it is pretty big."
>YWCA of Niagara
These are among the upcoming programs at both locations:
Main branch, 32 Cottage St., Lockport (call to register or for information, 433-6714, extension 24)
* Indoor girls' soccer: League starts April 10 for an eight-week season for ages prekindergarten to sixth grade. Cost, $20.
* Summer girls' sports season: Starts July 10 for six weeks. Leagues will be offered in indoor soccer, volleyball, three-on-three basketball, dodge ball, lacrosse and a program divided between football and floor hockey.
* "Super Sports Pack:" Girls can sample each of the sports, meeting once a week to decide which they'd prefer to play. Cost, $20 for girls in second to 12th grades, except for soccer, where girls as young as prekindergarten will be accepted.
YWCA Fitness Center, 80 Main St., Lockport (For times and registration information, call 438-5534)
Monday and Wednesday: Interval Cardio/Strength; Pilates and More; Step and Strength; Cardio and Tone.
Tuesday and Thursday: Strength and Step; 29 Lo-Impact/Weight and Balance; Functional Training; Cardio/Yoga Stretch; Pilates.
Friday: Variety; Interval/Cardio/Strength; Pilates and More.
Saturday: Variety; Pilates and More.