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Belgian tour finds refuge at Flushing Y

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The Flushing YMCA served as a place of respite for international visitors this past week as its inexpensive rooms played host to more than three dozen travelers stranded as a result of a volcanic ash cloud that left many of Europe’s airports closed for days.

The globetrotters were already staying at the community center when a volcano in Iceland put a damper on their plans for getting home on flights from John F. Kennedy International Airport.

A Belgian tour group of 27 college students and six chaperones stayed in the hostel-style rooms for a week and was scheduled to make their trans-Atlantic return Friday, according to William Nelson, executive director of the Flushing YMCA.

Two European families also stayed at the YMCA on Northern Boulevard during the natural disturbance, and Nelson said they were glad to have a low-priced, community-based facility with a good location and entertainment and sports offerings to call home base as they attempted to find a way back home.

One of the families hailed from France and included teenage children, who made the best of their time at the Y, Nelson said.

“While one of their parents was at the airport, a couple of their kids were playing ping-pong and basketball,” he said. “They reached out to us and we accommodated them with the rooms. What made us happy is they were extremely pleased with the branch, they said the rooms were clean and affordable and they were able to take advantage of the cultural offerings of Flushing and also have access to Manhattan.”

The facility houses many international visitors throughout the year, Nelson said, and was therefore easily able to accommodate the stranded fliers.

The Belgian tour group was scheduled to leave for home Monday as was one of the families. The other family was ironing out flight arrangements and hoped to be in the air as soon as possible.

“It might be pretty terrifying to not be able to get home, especially for the families, and for them to have some people who are respectful of them and helpful, responsive to their needs, can be a big help,” Nelson said. “We’re here to serve the community and our international travelers.”

Reach reporter Connor Adams Sheets by e-mail at csheets@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.

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