Fort Mill Times

YMCA offers 30-day pass to unemployed residents

Elaine Durrman pumps iron last week as part of her daily workout at the Baxter Village YMCA.
Elaine Durrman pumps iron last week as part of her daily workout at the Baxter Village YMCA.

First, Elaine Durrman's marriage of 14 years collapsed.

Then, the Fort Mill woman lost her job.

Five months and 256 resumes later, she remains unemployed.

And frustrated with mounting bills.

"I was starting to fall into depression," said Durrman, 50. "I was isolating myself from friends and the community."

Until she joined the Baxter Village YMCA.

"The 'Y' has brought me back," said Durrman, the mother of 14-year-old Dante. "Being there has made a difference."

Last week, the Upper Palmetto YMCA kicked off its Opening Doors starter membership plan, giving recently unemployed residents of York and Chester counties a new lease on life at a nerve-racking time when the economic downtown offers little in the way of employment.

"Anybody who has lost their job is able to come in and use our facilities to work out," said Christle Ross, YMCA marketing director. "Our goal is to allow people to have an outlet where they can exercise and spend quality time with their family during a stressful time."

All participants must provide proof of unemployment, such as severance or separation documentation and complete financial assistance paperwork. That process usually takes two weeks, Ross said.

"But we're allowing 30 days to use the facility," said Erin Gilles, YMCA marketing coordinator. "After the 30 days, then they can decide to become members."

The 30-day program is not limited to Fort Mill. It's available to those unemployed in Chester and York counties for use at facilities in Chester, Clover and York, in addition to both Rock Hill sites and the aquatic and wellness centers, Ross said.

The effort is less about increasing YMCA membership and more about keeping unemployed residents fit and focused, Gilles said.

"We know so many of our friends and neighbors have lost their jobs," Gilles said. "It's been proven that exercising and maintaining a healthy lifestyle can help them reduce the stresses of life that they're faced with in these economic times."

Durrman, once an avid YMCA financial supporter, knows first-hand about hard times.

One month after the collapse of her marriage, Durrman left Pennsylvania and settled in Fort Mill in March 2008. In Charlotte, she landed a human resources job later that month.

She lost that job six months later.

"It was a merger acquisition that left my entire team out of work," Durrman said. "I was beside myself. I was out of work with no money in the bank. I have no family here."

Just like that Durrman joined the York County unemployment ranks that has peaked to 14.3 percent in February while neighboring Chester County reflects 20.8, according to Annie Reid of the South Carolina Employment Commission. In January, those numbers were 12.8 for York County and 19.5 percent for Chester, Reid said.

It took Durrman two months to get unemployment compensation and the college graduate went from making $1,000 a week after taxes to receiving $300 in unemployment benefits, she said.

"We're only covering the rent and my utilities," she said. "We have no money left over for food or the car payment."

As grave as that situation is, diabetes and high blood pressure snuck into Durrman's life at a time when she lacked health insurance. She gained weight and isolated herself from everyone but her 14-year-old son, Dante. She put out 256 resumés but found no job, she said.

"I was stressed and really worried about falling into depression," she said.

But that mindset changed when she joined the YMCA, where she works the treadmill and pumps iron.

Durrman credits the Y for her emotional and physical turn around.

"They saved my life," she said. "I've lost 25 pounds. I'm not taking any medication. I feel wonderful. Life would be great if I had a job."

But she doesn't.

Last week, Durrman drove to Columbia for an interview, where she learned that she is one of three finalists. That good news was short-lived. Driving to Columbia had consequences, she said.

"I'm down to less than a quarter tank of gas, and the rent is due," she said.

The next day, Durrman made it to the Y. She hit the treadmill and lifted weights, all the while wearing a smile and staying positive for the job yet to come.

"It's been really good for me, being in an environment where I'm accepted without prejudice on my ability to pay," she said.

Exercising.

That's what improved Elaine Durrman's quality of life and gave her control after losing her job nearly five months ago.

"A lot of times, when you lose your job, that gives a sense that your life is out of control," Jennifer Solomon, a sociology professor at Winthrop University said. "Having a sense of control is key to a healthy quality of life."

Control and happiness took a detour when Durrman lost her human resources job. Frustration and stress commanded center stage in a world that seemed to promise Durrman nothing but chaos and a growing stack of bills.

Then hopelessness kicked in.

"Some people feel helpless," Solomon said. "Exercising can help people regain a sense of control over their lives."

Durrman sent out more than 200 resumés, but the college graduate remained unemployed prompting a downward spiral marked by diabetes and high blood pressure. She isolated herself, gained weigh and worried about keeping a roof over her head and that of her 14-year-old son.

"I'm anxious," she said. "My self-esteem has been shaken. I'm generally a strong, independent female, who takes care of everybody in my world. Now, I can't take care of myself."

The threat of looming depression is commonplace among some people who lose their job due to downsizing, layoffs, shut downs and mergers, Solomon said.

"A lot of the jobs are just disappearing," Solomon said. "There are fewer jobs, and more people are looking."

To some like Durrman, that forecast seems crippling, she said.

Durrman fought her way out of depression's grips via exercising at Baxter and Gold Hill YMCAs, she said. Daily, she turns up at the YMCA to workout on the treadmill and lift weights. Doing so ushered in a change.

"There's research that regular exercise has a lot of benefits," Solomon said. "A lot of studies have found that exercising makes your heart stronger. It can have an affect on lowering your cholesterol. It can help prevent and control diabetes. It can lower your blood pressure, which will reduce the risk of stroke. It will help control your weight."

And Durrman's stints at the Y also yield another advantage, Solomon said.

"When a lot of people lose their job, they have difficulty sleeping," Solomon said. "Exercising will help them sleep better."

Plus, Solomon said, "you will be around other people through exercising. ... Having a good social network is strongly related to quality of life and longevity."

- Toya Graham

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