YMCA members will soon have regional access to any Y in Stark and Summit counties.

YMCA members in Stark and Summit counties now have access to all 17 facilities in the two counties thanks to a new regional membership that will be available later this month.

The cost for a regional membership will be a little higher or about the same as the regular membership, depending on which YMCA membership you have.

Beginning Dec. 16, Y members will have a few days to try out the regional membership at no cost. After Dec. 26, the regional membership will be available for purchase. Members also have the option of keeping their current memberships, opting not to take the regional plan.

The regional membership was announced at a Tuesday morning news conference at the Towpath Trail YMCA in Navarre by Tim Shetzer, CEO of the YMCA of Central Stark County.

"Together I think we'll be stronger and better at the end of the day," Shetzer said. "This will be the first time ever to be able to do what we've been able to do. The end result for youth and families will be really good."

Stark was the only county in the state that had three separate Y membership systems, Shetzer said. The collaboration also saves money for staff training because employees will have access to all the YMCAs.

Four separate YMCAs will join in the two counties: YMCA of Central Stark County, YMCA of Western Stark County, Alliance Family YMCA and Akron Area YMCA.

"It just made sense," said Jim Stanford, CEO of the YMCA of Western Stark County.

Previously, members of the YMCA of Western Stark County and Towpath Trail could not use facilities at other Ys throughout Stark County without a half-price guest pass, said Beth Alban, director of the Towpath Trail YMCA. The Towpath Trail Y also has an agreement with Ys in Tuscarawas County and Orrville Dalton.

"We're trying to make it easier for people to reach their wellness goals," she said.

Besides YMCA representatives at the news conference, Perry Local Schools Superintendent Marty Bowe was present. This past summer, Perry began offering Y programs in the schools such as day camps for children and fitness programs for adults. He said that ultimately township residents would enjoy their own facility in Perry, but in the meantime, the partnership will help to expand programs this summer.

"That's one less giant hurdle," he said.

Ed Whitmore, board chairman, also mentioned that the new pool at the Towpath Trail YMCA and the expansion to the child care center is on track to open near the beginning of 2014.

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