On almost every weekday morning for the past nine years, Maria Ssangulia has walked the 2 1/2 miles from her Riverdale home to the Riverdale YMCA. Once there, she does calisthenics, plays paddleball, jogs, bicycles and then caps off the workout with a swim.
"Not bad for someone Social Security age," said Ssangulia, who is in her late 60s. "It kept me nice and alert. It was better than going to a department store and buying dresses a size too small, like some women do."
This week, YMCA officials announced that its Riverdale branch -- described as the only full-service YMCA in Prince George's County -- must close March 31 because of financial problems. The closing means that Ssangulia and other elderly people who form the core of the regular membership will lose not just a facility, but an important outlet in their lives.
"I'd love to see somebody be able to keep it open, especially for our senior citizens. This is the largest single group of senior citizens we have," said Jeri Cushman, executive director of the county's YMCA program. "But every year, it has been a deficit operation and this year, it's way out of hand."
The Riverdale YMCA is not much to look at. Located in the basement of a Giant Food store, it has low ceilings and cement floors. The pool is so small it can only accommodate a handful of swimmers at a time.
But regulars say it has been convenient for the nearby community, a middle-class area with a large number of older residents. About 60 of them, many of whom do not drive and must walk to their workout, visit the YMCA regularly to stay in shape. The total membership is 1,200, Cushman said.
Increasingly, finances have been a major problem. The county's YMCA program, which operates at 16 sites, including school and community buildings, receives funds for its day-care operations from the United Way. But the only income for the Riverdale facility comes from annual membership dues -- $182 for each adult.
Rent at the Riverdale Plaza site is $50,000 a year and utilities cost another $24,000, Cushman said. The facility's total operating debt is $124,000 and growing. With only a year left on their lease, officials decided to close immediately.
The elderly who depend on the Riverdale YMCA have refused to give up, however. They are currently circulating petitions, to be given to county and state government leaders, that plead their case for an exercise and recreation center in Riverdale.
But Cushman said that the obvious first choice to take over the facility, the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, has no interest in it.
Juanita Horseman, for one, refuses to give up hope.
"All of us senior citizens are worried, sure," said Horseman, 74. "We like the sauna and the pool and the exercise room because it's all so good for our aches and pains and our high blood pressure and our arthritis. I know personally how much good going to there for the past three years has done me.
"All week," she said, "other people have been asking me, 'Do you know where you're going to go now? What are you going to do?'
"And I have to say, 'No, I don't know. I just hope somebody will take over the 'Y'. I just hope somebody will remember us.' "