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‘Loved and welcomed’: Former UNC basketball player Al Wood kicks off Hurley YMCA’s annual campaign

By Liz Moomey

liz.moomey@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — Former UNC basketball star and NBA player Al Wood kicked off the JF Hurley Family YMCA’s annual campaign Tuesday morning with a message to “make a difference.”

The Hurley Y serves 9,000 members and half of the members qualify for a reduction in membership dues, for which it allocates $400,000 annually for financial assistance services.

“This Y’s philosophy is we turn nobody away for financial reasons,” said Tom Childress, chair of the board of managers. “If they want to be a member of this facility, we will work to make that happen.”

Wood said the importance of having a community center for youth is important. As a kid, Wood said, his father left and his mother was a “practicing alcoholic” who moved the family around a lot. There is a need for young people to have a place to go that is safe and welcoming, he said.

“They just want to be loved and welcomed,” Wood said. “Historically, that’s what the Y has been. It’s been that place where a young person can go and they can feel welcomed.”

If a Y is not available for young people, it may lead them to join a gang, he said, adding that young people are looking to find someone to latch onto and tell them that they are good.

Hurley Y Director Richard Reinholz listed the many activities the facility offers, including a variety of sports from basketball to pickleball and programs. They also run Special Olympics, hold a second grade swim program for six elementary schools, partner with Novant Health to offer physical therapists, work with Healthy Rowan to teach children good eating and exercise habits and host water therapy for exceptional children in Rowan-Salisbury Schools.

“I believe we are one of the greatest assets of our community and the only way we can continue to be that asset is having help from our volunteers and having help from our donors,” Reinholz said. “I don’t like asking people for money, but I’m not asking for myself.”

Wood said people personally can make a difference.

“Many times, we look at somebody else to be able to make a difference when it’s in our own power,” Wood said. “It’s within our own hands to make a difference and do what you do. Some people can give time. Some people can give money. Some people can give whatever they have.”

It doesn’t matter who you are, Wood said, to make a difference.

“You may not be able to throw a baseball,” Wood said. “You may not be able to swim like Mark Spitz. You might not be able to do all that or run like Carl Lewis, but you can make a difference.”

Wood spoke about struggling himself with alcoholism. A date he won’t forget is Nov. 19, 1989 — the last day he drank. He had help getting sober, and he now talks to young people about drinking and drug use through Game Plan for Life, a nonprofit created to teach youth about consequences of destructive decisions.

Referring to the sudden death of basketball player Kobe Bryant, Wood said he wanted to make a difference. 

“While you’re still breathing, while you’re still have breath, make a difference, because soon the count is going to be out and there ain’t nothing you can do,” Wood said.

The fundraising campaign will continue for a month for Hurley Y. If you’re interested in donating, contact Reinholz at 704-619-0792. He also said the Y also is looking for volunteers to coach youth sports leagues or teach classes.

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