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Family Dollar's founder donated $2 million to a YMCA branch. Here's what it will do.

The Leon Levine Center for Healthy Living, the new expansion project at the Dowd YMCA, is scheduled to open in early July.
The Leon Levine Center for Healthy Living, the new expansion project at the Dowd YMCA, is scheduled to open in early July.

The Dowd YMCA in Dilworth serves over 16,000 people, and with a donation from Sandra and Leon Levine, they’re hoping to help even more.

On May 22, the Leon Levine Foundation donated $2 million to the Dowd YMCA, allowing the branch to finish the construction of its 52,500-square-foot expansion. The addition is located in front of the existing building and will expand the YMCA's programs by offering more group exercise and gathering space. The new structure will be named the Leon Levine Center for Healthy Living in honor of the gift.

Molly Thompson, vice president of public relations and communications for the YMCA of Greater Charlotte, said they are “incredibly grateful” to the family and the foundation.

“We’re just lucky as a community to have a family like the Levines that recognizes that in order to be successful and thrive as a community, that our people have to be healthy first, our adults and kids have got to have healthy lives,” she said.

The new center, which is bigger than most full-size YMCAs, will be a place to test new health and wellness programs that could be expanded to the other branches in Charlotte, Thompson said. It will also offer nutrition and wellness coaching, yoga and barre studios, a rooftop outdoor track and a new sports center with CrossFit. Atrium Health will also open a medical clinic inside the center.

The center will open in early July, as part one of a two-part, $32 million plan that will also renovate the existing building and includes a new parking deck. Thompson said the renovation of the existing building will be finished in the fall and will connect to the new health center, creating one large YMCA that will better meet growing membership demands. Certain parts of the old building will close periodically as a result, and the overall flow of the YMCA will change, Thompson said.

The Dowd YMCA was first built in 1960. Aside from smaller facelifts, this is the first major renovation.

Once the center is open, the YMCA predicts that it will be able to serve an additional 2,000 people at the Dowd branch.

According to the Mecklenburg County health department, 66.4 percent of people were overweight or obese in 2016. North Carolina also has the 16th highest obesity rate in the country, at 31.8 percent. Thompson said the donation would allow more people access to preventative healthcare.

The cost to attend the YMCA varies based on income, which allows people to join who may not otherwise be able to afford a gym. Thompson said the expansion would help the Dowd YMCA expand its reach into the community and further ensure that low income is not a barrier to good health.

“One out of every four (members) has less than $20,000 as a household income, so these are people who need our services,” she said.

Leon Levine is the former Family Dollar CEO and founder. His foundation, the Leon Levine Foundation, invests heavily in nonprofits and is one of the country's largest philanthropic organizations.

Executive Director Tom Lawrence said in a statement that the foundation is honored to help the YMCA of Greater Charlotte.

“Improving access to quality healthcare is a key component of the foundation’s mission, so we were thrilled to collaborate on the Leon Levine Center for Healthy Living," he said.

Leah Asmelash: 704-358-5590; @asmeleah
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