The Cane Bay YMCA's membership has a racial and religious diversity among its staff and membership that did not exist at the Cannon Street YMCA in Charleston. When a member walks into the sun-lit atrium at the Cane Bay Y in Berkeley County, Paul Stoney, president and CEO of the YMCA of Greater Charleston and the Cane Bay Family YMCA, said he wants them to see someone who looks and sounds like them. | Photo by Ruta Smith

 Paul Stoney and his staff have quietly built a massive state-of-the-art YMCA within the growing 4,500-acre Cane Bay housing community in Berkeley County. He calls it South Carolina’s best kept secret.

“When people come here, they are amazed by what we have been able to do,” said Stoney, president and CEO of the YMCA of Greater Charleston and the Cane Bay Family YMCA near the development’s entrance. 

On a 69-acre tract of donated land, the 54,000-square-foot Cane Bay YMCA opened in May 2019 with a branch of the Berkeley County library system as well as a variety of indoor and outdoor fitness, sports, education programs and mental health services. An average of 3,600 people of all age groups and physical abilities enter this Y weekly, Stoney said.

The Y is a hopping place. A 25-meter swimming pool and basketball courts are used by Cane Bay High School and four nearby charter schools for a variety of sports and after-school programs. Swimming lessons are growing in popularity, especially among the physically challenged and underserved communities. Youth sports, including soccer, volleyball and basketball, serve more than 1,000 children each season. The Cane Bay Y is a regional tournament venue for a variety of youth and adult sports.

The Cane Bay Family YMCA is also near international manufacturers, such as Volvo, Boeing and Mercedes Benz. Their proximity and support gives the Y a solid membership base. Stoney stresses, however, membership is not restricted to Berkeley County residents. Charlestonians can join this Y, too.

A historic connection

Stoney’s Lowcountry YMCA experience began in downtown Charleston at 61 Cannon St. He gave up a high-level YMCA position in central Florida in 2006 to become the CEO and president of the YMCA of Greater Charleston, which included the Cannon Street YMCA Association. The Cannon Street Y, which is the nation’s oldest Black Y, was chartered in 1866 to teach formerly enslaved people to read and participate in physical fitness.

In addition to its longevity, the Cannon Street Y is remembered as the place that nurtured the Cannon Street All-Stars Baseball Team. It was ruled ineligible to compete in the 1955 Little League World Series because white teams refused to play with Charleston’s Black players.

Before Stoney arrived in Charleston,
the Cannon Street Y merged with the predominantly white Christian Family YMCA at 21 George St. to form the YMCA of Greater Charleston.

Stoney, a native of Queens, N.Y., came to Charleston with 20 years in leadership posts at large metro YMCAs around the country. The top job at the Cannon Street Y presented him with the opportunity to open more Y facilities in the Lowcountry. Accepting the job, Stoney said, placed him for the first time in the leadership position at a historically African American YMCA “where my skills were needed [since] a number of them were closing.”

Stoney realized, however, that the Cannon Street Y’s building, erected in 1955 on a tiny lot, could not continue to serve a changing Black community within a gentrifying Charleston. Because of these forces, he said, the Y was losing about $250,000 a year for 10 years, he said. The organization’s board of directors made the difficult decision to sell the Cannon Street building for $2 million and move to Berkeley County. “If we didn’t get off Cannon Street, we would be dead on the vine,” he added.

A new chapter in Berkeley County

In 2009, Stoney took over the management of a financially struggling Berkeley County YMCA in Moncks Corner.

As a result, Ben Grambling of Grambling Brothers developers asked Stoney what he would need to build a YMCA at Cane Bay. That conversation led to Grambling donating 69 aces for the Berkeley County facility along with $100,000 annually for 10 years. Funds for the $28 million building came from a bank loan secured by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s rural development program. The Cane Bay Y still owes USDA $17 million over 36 years. The Y also received a $250,000 gift from McDonald’s franchise owner Carolyn Hunter-Heyward to build a swimming pool with easy access for people with disabilities.

In 2012, the Moncks Corner Y merged with the YMCA of Greater Charleston when it was on the verge of closing. It is still open, but it is again on the verge of closing.

“It has fallen in disrepair,” he said. “We have voted to sell that property.”

If the building is sold, Stoney said, the Y will continue to offer some services in the Moncks Corner area at a satellite facility. 

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