It's smart to stay at the YMCA

It's smart to stay at the YMCA

CHAMPAIGN– One of the better options for living on campus may be better known for its first-floor Thai restaurant.

The YMCA, 1001 S. Wright St, C, houses fewer than a dozen male students in five rooms on the third floor. It is closer to the center of the Quad than living in a hotel room at the Illini Union, yet most people don't realize it's a University of Illinois private certified housing option.

Freshman Brent Weber, 19, knew about the YMCA because his older brother lived there several years ago and told him it was a great environment.

Senior Joel Morris, 22, who previously lived at another university residence hall, heard positive word-of-mouth from former residents.

Dan Fike stumbled across his opportunity to live at the YMCA.

He came to campus during orientation in July needing a room because the UI had accepted the largest number of freshmen in its history. Fike was told to go to the housing department and put his name on a residence hall waiting list. While he was navigating on the Quad with a campus map, a woman stopped him and asked if he needed help with directions. She was wearing a UI housing department shirt and suggested he look into private certified housing at the YMCA, which still had two slots left. He filled out an application that day.

"It is laid back here. You feel comfortable," said Fike, 18, from Beach Park, a first-year student with sophomore credit. "The Y believes in strong community."

"There are so many perks we have here," said Morris from Urbana.

Each room has an air conditioning and heating unit with free laundry facilities located in the basement.

The floor has $900 to spend on program events, such as field trips, barbeque parties and movie nights. Other UI residence halls have less than $300 to spend for the same activities. The YMCA residences do work for their money through volunteer projects and fund-raisers.

The YMCA is also one of the most affordable option for students. A triple costs $235 a month per person, while doubles cost $260.

"The price of the Y is so low as opposed to dorms or apartments," said Morris, who considered both options before moving into the Y this year.

The students buy their own food and can use the YMCA van for grocery trips. They also get leftover food from the Thai restaurant downstairs and programs and events held at the Y.

Most YMCA students said they spend less than $100 per month on food, while one said he has spent $10 on groceries so far this year.

"I like the fact that I can cook my own food and not spend a lot of money," said Resident Advisor Chris Garcia from Chicago.

When they want to relax, they simply walk a couple steps into their floor lounge. It is equipped with a small entertainment center, pool and ping pong tables, dart board, computer, three couches and two refrigerators.

"The lounges in the dorms are more like study areas," Fike said.

The students are use to getting strange looks when they tell people about living at the Y.

"They think it is kind of weird," said Fike, who said most people picture a large room with cots scattered around. "Sometimes, you get awkward looks due to the reputation the Village People have given to the YMCA."

They said some people seem to feel like it is their purpose to sing the catchy, but often annoying, '70s classic song when they tell others where they live.

Getting the closest room to campus requires students to fill out an application requiring references, which can include an employer, university faculty member or church leader. Those who have dealt with the YMCA before and have financial needs are given priority consideration. However, most times it is a first-come-first-serve basis, said House Director Johanne Bloch.

Carlos Matos-Ramos, 19, of Montgomery, Ala. likes the grown-up mentality of his floor, which ranges from teen-age freshmen to an African graduate student in his mid-30s.

"They're pretty motivated and pretty independent. The Y expects a good amount of maturity," said Matos-Ramos, who added that residents know they represent the YMCA every day by their actions.

Fike, a freshman with sophomore credit, lives with a senior, which normally wouldn't happen at a regular UI residence hall. He said he gets sound advice from his older roommate and encouragement to keep focused through his college career.

"You feel like you get to know everyone," added Weber from Teutopolis.

Garcia, 21, is in charge of keeping the positive vibe going. He rented a house with fraternity brothers last year before seeing an advertisement about becoming a YMCA residence adviser.

"It sounded like a good deal and turned out better than I thought," said Garcia, a senior in agricultural communication from Chicago. "I didn't know what to expect because I knew it was different than being a typical R.A."

In most residence halls, the adviser is responsible for up to 60 students and could have around 180 people living on a floor. The YMCA has 11.

"(Our) bedrooms are a lot bigger than the other dorm (too)," said Weber, discussing another perk.

A standard double bedroom at a UI residence hall is 12 feet 6 inches by 11 feet 4 inches, while a double at the YMCA is 20 feet by 13 feet, according to university housing Web sites. A YMCA triple can fit four desks, three beds, a television set stand, a bookshelf, a drawer and closet space with room to walk around.

So the thought of living in another residence hall would be akin to slumming it, for some.

"You get used to a good thing so you don't want to go to something worse," Garcia said.

You can reach Ernst Lamothe Jr. at (217) 351-5223 or via e-mail at elamothe@news-gazette.com.

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