Lawton’s Armed Services YMCA is ready to take the next step in its evolving mission.

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Lawton, OK | The Lawton Constitution | February 3, 2013

From its beginnings as a USO station for military personnel serving in World War II, through today’s multi-use facility, the Armed Services Y has evolved to fit the needs of the soldiers that fill its building. The problem isn’t willingness to serve. Rather, it’s the fact that service is restricted by the building’s cramped facilities, said Executive Director Bill Vaughan, while sitting in the crowded office he shares and which also functions as staff meeting space.

Friday marked the formal beginning of the solution for cramped quarters: It was the day the Armed Services Y’s lease for the Army Reserve Center went into effect. The City of Lawton secured ownership of the building on the northern edge of Elmer Thomas Park from the Department of the Army in August 2012 and at its Jan. 22 meeting, the City Council approved a 50-year lease that turns the building and its 4.13 acres of land over to the Armed Services Y for a rent of $1 a year, effective Feb. 1.

The lease specifies the Armed Services Y is responsible for the building and is allowed to upgrade it, working under a budget that already has $1.6 million committed and another $1.1 million expected to cover a renovation estimated at $2.6 million. Work is expected to begin this year.

Vaughan said Fort Sill built the existing facility, opening it in May 1942 as a USO, situated in an area immediately south of Emerson Elementary School (today, Wayne Gilley City Hall) and just north of a jumping downtown that provided entertainment and shopping for soldiers. When the war ended, the staff had the option of staying with the USO or following the Armed Services YMCA (that option brought money for an operating budget).

“We became the Armed Services YMCA,” Vaughan said.

In its early days, the facility offered dances, plays, pool table, library services and a telephone bank for the mostly single soldiers it served. By the 1970s, the nature of the Armed Services Y had begun to change, reflecting the evolution of Army personnel. While the typical World War II-era soldier was single, the Army in the 1970s saw an increased number of married soldiers and those soldiers, many with young children, needed different services.

That’s why the Armed Services Y, with help from the McMahon Foundation, transformed its facility into a daycare center. While the facility has other programs  it offers social services such as a food pantry and a “closet” for household items  the largest one, the program that greets your eyes and ears the moment you walk through the secured front door, is daycare, Vaughan said.

The center’s child program, including daily childcare, Army Unit care, Friday Night out and Protestant Woman, numbered almost 2,500 children and parents in 2011, Vaughan said. Another 11,660 people were served by other programs, including the Soldier’s Closet (6,246), Military Welcome Center for soldiers and families (1,800) and the Food Closet (1,195)

Combined programs brought the total of soldiers and family member served to 14,654 in 2011, and Vaughan expects a similar number when statistics are calculated for 2012. That number has remained consistent since 2006 and it is a 200 percent increase from the 4,688 people served in 2003, the year Operation Iraqi Freedom was declared, Vaughan said.

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