‘What if…?’: Plans for a rural wellness center in Elmwood move forward with $3.75M federal grant
Greater Peoria Family YMCA president Andy Thornton posed a series of “what if” hypotheticals to the crowd gathered Thursday outside the Graham Medical Group clinic in Elmwood.
He asked the attendees to imagine a state-of-the-art community facility that offered exercise classes, swimming lessons, rehabilitation therapy, social interaction, sports and recreation opportunities, day camps and much more.
Then he summed up with a final query: “What if I told you that place was possible right here, where we stand today?”
Thornton joined 16th District U.S. Rep. Darin LaHood, R-Dunlap, along with representatives of the Elmwood Community Foundation and the Graham Health System, in publicly unveiling plans for a 3,300-square-foot rural wellness center on land adjacent to the clinic.
The collaboration has raised more than $5 million toward a $15 million goal to make the facility a reality. Most of that initial fundraising comes from a $3.75 million federal grant secured through the appropriations process, with assistance from LaHood and former Democratic 17th District congresswoman Cheri Bustos.
“This is going to help rural America," LaHood said. "It's going to help 8,000 families that live in this area, whether you live in Yates City, whether you live in Farmington, whether you live in Brimfield, Elmwood, all the way to Maquon. This is going to be essential for our regional area here."
Thornton said the idea for the wellness center has been in the works for quite some time.
“It’s been a vision for more than eight years. It started with Community Foundation, so it's kind of their project,” Thornton said. “They brought the YMCA and the hospital in as partners probably about six years ago or so. And the way that it works is, we're working collaboratively to get the funds donated to support the construction of the facility.
“The foundation will own the facility, and the Y will be their operating partner. So we will run it, we will manage everything that happens inside and outside of that building, from all the staffing, all the program development, all the services that are provided.”
Community Foundation president Tony Hart said seeing the project moving toward fruition is exciting.
“The vision all along has been for the surrounding area, surrounding communities to have access to physical fitness,” Hart said. “Luckily, we partnered with Graham Medical Group — they built the clinic here — so we can have the physical fitness aspect as well as the healthy wellness living.
“It'll be nice to have a real central place for all these different communities to get together and interact with each other," he said. "We don't have to just be ‘Friday night foes’ on the (high school football) field.”
Graham Health president and CEO Bob Senneff said the creation of a wellness center would have a huge impact from a health care perspective.
“Some things we'd like to do in this community we just cannot do without having a pool or a walking track or weights,” Senneff said. “So with Andy's building literally connected ours, our cardiac rehab folks, our physical therapy, occupational therapy patients will come here (and) stay here in this area versus dealing with trying to fight their way down to Peoria or get all the way down to Canton. So it's just tremendous in that the whole wellness thing marries itself with the pure health as we know it.”
Hart said they likely will need another 12 months of fundraising in hopes of starting construction next year, with an anticipated opening in the summer of 2025. Thornton said he expects the wellness center will have a major impact on the area once it does open.
“It really does serve the needs of the community, from the youngest to the oldest, wherever they are in their journey of wellness,” Thornton said. “Whether they just want to come in and do their workout and not be bothered, or they need somebody to guide them along the way. Or you need your child in a childcare program that's going to help enrich their life and build up some of those developmental capabilities within them — teach them important skills like swim lessons, or just include them in a youth sports program as they're starting to explore their passions and desires at the earliest of ages.
“So it really is a true asset for the region," he said. "It's a community center, that's really what it is. It's where people come (to) hang out, build relationships, and build a sustainable healthy lifestyle.”