BRADENTON -- At G.T. Bray Recreation Center, it is like a family.
"Everyone knows everybody," said Mallory Carteaux, G.T. Bray Recreation Center fitness and wellness coordinator. "You don't get lost here."
On Saturday, the G.T. Bray Recreation Center will be open to the community to celebrate the county center's fifth anniversary. There will be free admission all day. Special activities, including fitness classes, athletic contests, pool games, food and prizes, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
"We create a sense of community in here," said Jeff Lightburne, the center's fitness and wellness supervisor. "I think that's what makes us different."
During Saturday's open house, the community will be able to do everything that is included in the center's membership, for whom rates were recently reduced to $20 a month, Lightburne said.
"It's kind of cool to showcase the facility," he said. "We just want the community to know what we offer."
At the open house, people will take a sheet around to all the activities where they will have the sheet initialed by center staff to be entered in a drawing.
"It's a way to get them to every area," Lightburne said.
Compared to other area gyms, G.T. Bray Recreation Center has a "more bou
tique kind of feel," said Carteaux, who also teaches fitness classes.
"We give out advice all the time," she said. "We care about what they are doing and their health."
Bradenton resident Sam Hyman, a longtime member of the center, comes three times a week. Hyman said he comes to the recreation center because he's trying to stay healthy and there are a lot of good people there.
"It's improved and gotten bigger with better equipment," Hyman said of the fitness center compared with when he joined.
In Lightburne's five years working at the recreation center, he said the biggest change has been the center's growth.
"We don't know how to be stagnate," he said. "We don't know how to coast."
But as the growth continues, Carteaux said they don't want to lose the tight-knit community in the process.
"We want to grow to continue to have an impact," she said.
Changes in the last year
Since the recreation center opened in October 2010, a lot of change has taken place in past year and a half, Lightburne said.
Expansion of the fitness center, more community outreach and the Kids Club are among the changes. The fitness center is now a 3,000-square-feet state-of-the-art facility plus a 1,600-square-foot space for group exercise classes, which have grown from about between five and 10 classes a week to 30 classes a week today.
"Fitness has kind of been an ongoing expansion," Lightburne said. "We still need room to grow because obviously membership is growing."
When the recreation center opened in 2010, there were about 400 members. Today, membership is about 1,200 and growing with the recently reduced membership rates, Lightburne said.
"I feel like I'm making the county healthier one day at a time," he said.
Carteaux was also brought on as a fitness coordinator, which allowed for more classes, including the monthly beach yoga class at Manatee Public Beach.
"Things have changed in the last year," she said.
Charlie Hunsicker, the Manatee County parks and natural resources department director, has been a "driving force" behind the changes, Lightburne said.
"Charlie Hunsicker is the man," Lightburne said.
Kathy Maskin, who lives in Anna Maria, has been coming to G.T. Bray since 2000 to play tennis and workout.
"They've added more and more equipment as years go by," she said. "They've always improved."
But the key of G.T. Bray is the personnel, Maskin said.
"They greet you, help you out and you make friends with the people you work out with," she said.
The membership rate is also great, Maskin said.
"I have never been in a facility that has been this low of a price to meet all the needs," she said. "There is something for everyone."
Claire Aronson, Manatee County reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7024. Follow her on Twitter @Claire_Aronson.