Melvin Kling Blew a Kiss

The Teen Fitness Center at the South Shore YMCA is named in his honor.

Hilton Flores/Staten Island AdvanceGregory Coil, Senior Executive Director of the Staten Island YMCA (left) with Melvin E. Kling, Sr. (right) who blows a kiss to the crowd after giving his speech. The Teen Fitness Center at the South Shore YMCA is named in his honor.

Staten Island native Melvin Kling Sr. didn’t have an easy childhood.

Which is why Kling — a successful Realtor and Island legend — is so committed to bettering the lives of young people everywhere.

Last night, that commitment came full circle with the naming of the Staten Island YMCA South Shore Melvin E. Kling Sr. Teen Fitness Center in Eltingville.

Kling, in his acceptance speech, heaped praise on countless people who he said helped bring a new YMCA to the South Shore — notably, Norma D’Arrigo, who heads countless YMCA fundraisers. But the Hon. John Fusco, Kling’s best friend, said what a lot of people in the audience of more than 200 knew — “It was Mel who did it,” Fusco said. “He worked day and night to get it done.”

Kling, who grew up working on farms here and turns 80 soon, gave an impassioned acceptance speech and had tears in his eyes as he expressed his love for the YMCA. “I was poor as a kid,” he said. “I was always on the outside looking in. I never want to see a kid on the outside looking in on Staten Island. The Y does that: They bring kids in.”

Hilton Flores/Staten Island Advance The Y After School Dancers from PS 54 perform at the YMCA South Shore Branch at the naming of the Melvin E. Kling, Sr. Teen Fitness Center.

This was reinforced when two women — both of whom lost their husbands at early ages — told of how the Y came to their rescue with free programs and after-school care.

Robert Scamardella, immediate past chair of the YMCA Board of Managers, spoke of “the legend of Mel Kling,” whose dedication to the YMCA has spanned more than 25 years.

“You know, hard work spotlights the character of people. Some turn up their sleeves, some turn up their noses and some don’t turn up at all. Mel Kling, in everything he does, turns up his sleeves,” Scamardella said.

Kling said the YMCA center would build for everyone a stronger future by building the minds, bodies and spirits of our youth.

“Our teens represent the future of America,” said Kling. “It is our responsibility as a community to provide them with the tools they need to succeed. They need a place to meet and share and grow. The YMCA teen center combined with our specialized teen programs is that place.”

The evening also served as the kickoff of the 2010 Strong Kids Campaign.

Strong Kids is designed to raise the money necessary for youth programs and scholarships at the Staten Island YMCA so that no one is turned away due to an inability to pay.