LAPORTE — Mary Blondy had the 2020 census statistics to back up her conduct.
Thirty percent of Sullivan County residents are over the age of 65. Less than 20% of residents had easy access to fitness activities. 12% live below the poverty line. Drowning is the leading cause of death from unintentional injury in children under four years of age nationwide.
And she has the will to change those statistics. This is why she is the head of the Loyalsock Foundation. The foundation is a non-profit association that Blondy created in 2019 and is his instrument to push to complete the Summit Wellness Center.
The Summit Wellness Center is the culmination of more than fifteen years of work. In 2006, the idea arose to build a fitness center and swimming pool in Sullivan County for the community, with Eagles Mere resident Frank Comfort in the lead. Comfort is known nationwide for his prolific coaching career with the University of North Carolina swim team.
The pool didn’t materialize, but the wish remains, and now Blondy is pulling out all the stops to make it a reality.
“I think everyone should know how to swim and that’s really how it all started,” Blondy said.
Blondy remembers learning to swim growing up in Shunk and lamented that there was no community pool or YMCA in Sullivan County. That’s why, after leaving the region for a life in finance from New York to Australia to North Carolina and now back, she’s ready to try to make her dream come true.
She wants to expand the wellness center not only to make fitness more accessible to county residents, but also to encourage visitation to the area and give young residents a place to go for fun.
The first step was to secure land, and Blondy managed to secure, through purchases and donations, a 70-acre piece of land just west of Sullivan County High School.
“It’s actually only a third of a mile walk down this path,” Blondy noted, pointing to an old logging road, “I hope the kids can come here after school or the parents will come after dropping off the children.”
The center would stand atop a ridge looking north towards Dushore and south towards Muncy, a peak worthy of lending its name to the proposed facility. Blondy has the site staked out, the driveway cleared, visual renderings of what the eventual compound will look like. She is getting closer and closer to the first stone.
“We estimate the building will comprise 28,000 square feet. It’s with a conference center, a swimming pool, a training area, a hall, pickle ball courts… there are a lot of people in this space, ”she explained.
The complex will also include a treehouse for recreation and education and an outdoor amphitheater as well as a loop trail through the surrounding dense woods.
As she walked, explaining where each feature of the fitness center would go, she checked an email on her phone: The Loyalsock Foundation had received a $220,000 recreation grant from the state to develop the driveway. This will help immensely, as Blondy’s estimates put the final price of completing the project at nearly $14 million. She admits it’s still a long way off, but notes there’s a lot of support for the program.
“We’ve had donations from local businesses, the Sullivan County Recreational Association, county commissioners, the Endless Mountain Heritage Region, everyone wants this to happen.”
A big moment came this summer when, out of the blue, Senator Bob Casey’s office contacted her and wanted to meet her.
“It came out of nowhere. I had about a day’s notice,” she said.
Getting support from local authorities was crucial for the cause, she said. State Sen. Gene Yaw (R-23) and Rep. Tina Pickett (R-110) both spoke with her and offered support in filing grant applications. Yaw helped the foundation apply for the Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program, which will match up to $7 million in donations with public funds. It’s still a long way off, but Blondy and his advisory boards are determined to make it happen.
“I have an executive board and an advisory board, and I just hired someone. It’s my full-time job at this point,” she said.
And after? Develop the driveway to the complex and create walking and cycling paths on the property, so people can immediately begin enjoying the benefits of the project as it progresses.