The Young Men's Christian Association (commonly known as YMCA or simply the Y) is a worldwide organization with more than 57 million beneficiaries from 125 national associations. It was founded on 6 June 1844 by George Williams in London and aims to put Christian principles into practice by developing a healthy “body, mind, and spirit.” These three angles are reflected by the different sides of the (red) triangle—part of all YMCA logos.
The different local YMCAs are voluntarily affiliated through their national organizations. The national organizations in turn are part of both an Area Alliance and the World Alliance of YMCAs. The World Alliance’s main motto is “empowering young people,” and it is headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland.
- 1 History
- 2 Organizational model
- 3 YMCA activities
- 4 North America
- 5 United Kingdom
- 6 Panama
- 7 Africa
- 8 Nobel Peace Prize laureates
- 9 Gallery
- 10 See also
- 11 References
- 12 External links
With regard to the history and purpose of the founding, this “organization and its female counterpart (YWCA) were established to provide low-cost housing in a safe Christian environment for rural young men and women journeying to the cities.” It was associated with industrialization and the movement of young people to cities to work. The YMCA “combined preaching in the streets and the distribution of religious tracts with a social ministry. Philanthropists saw them as places for wholesome recreation that would preserve youth from the temptations of alcohol, gambling, and prostitution and that would promote good citizenship.”
Founding and Paris Basis
The YMCA was founded by George Williams, a London draper, who was typical of the young men drawn to the cities by the Industrial Revolution. He and his colleagues were concerned about the lack of healthy activities for young men in major cities; the options available were usually taverns and brothels. Williams's idea grew out of meetings he held for prayer and Bible-reading among his fellow-workers in a business in the city of London, and on 6 June 1844, he founded the first YMCA in London with the purpose of “the improving of the spiritual condition of young men engaged in the drapery, embroidery, and other trades.” By 1851, there were YMCAs in the United Kingdom, Australia, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and the United States.
In 1855, 99 YMCA delegates from Europe and North America met in Paris at the First World Conference of YMCAs, held before the 1855 Paris World Exposition of the same year. They discussed joining together in a federation to enhance cooperation amongst individual YMCA societies. This marked the beginning of the World Alliance of YMCAs. The conference adopted the Paris Basis, a common mission for all present and future national YMCAs. Its motto was taken from the Bible, “That they all may be one” (John 17:21). Other ecumenical bodies, such as the World YWCA, the World Council of Churches, and the World Student Christian Federation have reflected elements of the Paris Basis in their founding mission statements. In 1865 The Fourth World Conference of YMCAs, held in Germany, affirmed the importance of developing the whole individual in body, mind, and spirit. The concept of physical work through sports, a new concept for the time, was also recognized as part of this “muscular Christianity.”
Two themes resonated during the council: the need to respect the local autonomy of YMCA societies, and the purpose of the YMCA: to unite all young, male Christians for the extension and expansion of the Kingdom of God. The former idea is expressed in the preamble:
The delegates of various Young Men’s Christian Associations of Europe and America, assembled in Conference at Paris, the 22nd August, 1855, feeling that they are one in principle and in operation, recommend to their respective Societies to recognize with them the unity existing among their Associations, and while preserving a complete independence as to their particular organization and modes of action, to form a Confederation of secession on the following fundamental principle, such principle to be regarded as the basis of admission of other Societies in future.
1870s to 1930s—an influential period
The YMCA was very influential during the 1870s and 1930s, during which times they most successfully promoted “evangelical Christianity in weekday and Sunday services, while promoting good sportsmanship in athletic contests in gyms (where basketball and volleyball were invented) and swimming pools.” Later in this period, and continuing on through the 20th century, the YMCA had “become interdenominational and more concerned with promoting morality and good citizenship than a distinctive interpretation of Christianity.” Today the YMCA is more focused on inspiring youths and their families to exercise and be healthy.
Growth of World Alliance and scouting
In 1878 World Alliance of YMCAs offices were established in Geneva, Switzerland. Later, in 1900, North American YMCAs, in collaboration with the World Alliance, set up centers to work with emigrants in European ports, as millions of people were leaving for the USA. In 1880, the YMCA became the first national organization to adopt a strict policy of equal gender representation in committees and national boards, with Norway being the country that first adopted it.
In 1885 Camp Baldhead (later known as Camp Dudley), the first residential camp in the United States and North America, was established by A. Sanford and Sumner F. Dudley, both of whom worked for the YMCA. The camp, originally located near Orange Lake in New Jersey, moved to Lake Wawayanda in Sussex County the following year, and then to the shore of Lake Champlain near Westport, New York, in 1891. By 1910 the YMCA was an early influence upon scouting, including the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) and German Scouting. Edgar M. Robinson, a Chicago-area YMCA administrator, briefly left the YMCA to become the BSA's first director.
Rural development to World War II
In 1916 K. T. Paul became the first Indian national general secretary of India. Paul had started rural development programs for self-reliance of marginal farmers, through co-operatives and credit societies. These programs became very popular. He also coined the term “rural reconstruction,” and many of the principles he developed were later incorporated into the government’s nationwide community development programs. In 1923 Y.C. James Yen, of the YMCA of China, devised the “thousand character system,” based on pilot projects in education. The method also became very popular, and in 1923, it led to the founding of the Chinese National Association of the Mass Education Movement. In 1928 a historic YMCA in Jerusalem was established during the British Mandate. During World War II the YMCA was involved in war work with displaced persons and refugees. They set up War Prisoners Aid to support prisoners of war by providing sports equipment, musical instruments, art materials, radios, gramophones, eating utensils, and other items.
From the 1940s—global challenges
United Nations to apartheid in Asia
In 1947 the World Alliance of YMCAs gained special consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council. In 1955 the first black president of the World Alliance of YMCAs, Charles Dunbar Sherman from Liberia, was elected. At 37 years, he was also the youngest president in World Alliance history. In 1959 the YMCA developed the first nationally organized scuba diving course and certified their first skin and scuba diving instructors. By 1974, the YMCA had set up a curriculum to begin teaching cave diving.
In 1973 the Sixth World Council in Kampala, Uganda, became the first World Council in Africa. It reaffirmed the Paris Basis and adopted a declaration of principles, known as the Kampala Principles, which include the principles of justice, creativity and honesty. It stated what had become obvious in most national YMCAs; a global viewpoint was more necessary, and that in doing so, the YMCAs would have to take political stands, especially so in international challenges. In 1985 the World Council of YMCAs passed a resolution against apartheid, and anti-apartheid campaigns were formed under the leadership of Lee Soo-Min (Korea), the first Asian secretary general of the World Alliance.
Challenge 21 and recent years
In 1997, at the 14th World Council of YMCAs, the World Council in Germany adopted “Challenge 21,” giving even more focus to the global challenges, like gender equality, sustainable development, war and peace, fair distribution, and the challenges of globalization, racism, and HIV/AIDS:
Affirming the Paris Basis adopted in 1855, as the ongoing foundation statement of the mission of the YMCA, at the threshold of the third millennium, we declare that the YMCA is a worldwide Christian, ecumenical, voluntary movement for women and men with special emphasis on and the genuine involvement of young people and that it seeks to share the Christian ideal of building a human community of justice with love, peace and reconciliation for the fullness of life for all creation.
Each member YMCA is therefore called to focus on certain challenges which will be prioritized according to its own context. In practice, concepts such as environmental responsibility may be ignored at the national and local levels.
These challenges are an evolution of the Kampala Principles
- Sharing the good news of Jesus Christ and striving for spiritual, intellectual and physical well-being of individuals and wholeness of communities.
- Empowering all to take increased responsibilities and assume leadership at all levels and working towards an equitable society.
- Advocating for and promoting the rights of and upholding the rights of children.
- Fostering dialogue and partnership between people of different faiths and ideologies and recognizing the cultural identities of people and promoting cultural renewal.
- Committing to work in solidarity with the poor, dispossessed, uprooted people and oppressed racial, religious and ethnic minorities.
- Seeking to be mediators and reconciles in situations of conflict and working for meaningful participation and advancement of people for their own self-determination.
- Defending God’s creation against all that would destroy it and preserving and protecting the earth’s resources for coming generations. To face these challenges, the YMCA will develop patterns of co-operation at all levels that enable self-sustenance and self-determination.
In 2002 the World Council in Oaxtepec, Morelos, in Mexico, called for a peaceful solution to the Middle East crisis. In October 2008, and again in 2009, YMCA of Greater Toronto in Canada was named one of Greater Toronto’s Top Employers by Mediacorp Canada Inc. On 11 July 2010, the YMCA of the USA rebranded its name to the popular nickname, “The Y,” and revised the iconic red and black logo to create five colored versions.
Today, YMCAs are open to all, regardless of religion, social class, age, or sex.
A federated model of governance has created a diversity of YMCA programs and services, with YMCAs in different countries and communities offering vastly different programming in response to local community needs. In North America, the YMCA is sometimes perceived to be primarily a community sports facility; in Great Britain, the YMCA is sometimes perceived to be primarily a place for homeless young people; however, it offers a broad range of programs such as sports, personal fitness, child care, overnight camping, employment readiness programs, training programs, advice services, immigrant services, conference centers, and educational activities as methods of promoting its values.
Financial support for local associations is derived from program fees, membership dues, community chests, foundation grants, charitable contributions, sustaining memberships, and corporate sponsors.
The first YMCA was concerned with Bible study, although the organization has generally moved on to a more holistic approach to youth work. Around six years after its birth, an international YMCA conference in Paris decided that the objective of the organization should become “Christian discipleship developed through a program of religious, educational, social and physical activities” (Binfield 1973:265).
Restore Ministries of the YMCA of Middle Tennessee provides an example of how the Christian influence in the YMCA still exists today. Founded in 2000 by Scott Reall, Restore provides support groups and individual counseling with the aim of “lifting the ‘C’”(of the YMCA).
The International Coalition of the YMCA Universities brings together universities from all over the world, including Brazil, England, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Mexico, Uruguay, USA, and Venezuela. The universities offer a wide variety of courses on different levels.
In the U.S.A., various colleges and universities have historically had connections to the YMCA. Springfield College was founded in 1885 as an international training school for YMCA Professionals, while one of the two schools that eventually became Concordia University—started from night courses offered at the Montreal YMCA. Northeastern University (Boston, Massachusetts) began out of a YMCA in Boston, and Franklin University began as the YMCA School of Commerce. San Francisco's Golden Gate University traces its roots to the founding of the YMCA Night School on 1 November 1881. Detroit College of Law, now the Michigan State University College of Law, was founded with a strong connection to the Detroit, Michigan YMCA. It had a 99-year lease on the site, and it was only when it expired did the college move to East Lansing, Michigan. Youngstown State University traces its roots to the establishment of a law school by the local YMCA in 1908. The Nashville School of Law was the YMCA Night Law School until November 1986, having offered law classes since 1911 and the degree of Jurist Doctor since January 1927. YMCA pioneered the concept of night school, providing educational opportunities for people with full-time employment. Many YMCAs offer ESL programs, alternative high school, day care, and summer camp programs. In the India, YMCA University of Science and Technology Faridabad was founded in 1969. It offers various program related to science and engineering.
American high school students have a chance to participate in YMCA Youth and Government, wherein clubs of kids representing each YMCA community convene annually in their respective state legislatures to “take over the State Capitol for a day.”
In 1891 James Naismith, a Canadian American, invented basketball while studying at the YMCA International Training School in Springfield, Massachusetts (later to be named Springfield College). Naismith had been asked to invent a new game in an attempt to interest pupils in physical exercise. The game had to be interesting, easy to learn, and easy to play indoors in winter. Such an activity was needed both by the Training School and by YMCAs across the country. Naismith and his wife attended the 1936 Summer Olympics when basketball was one of the Olympic events. In 1895 William G. Morgan from the YMCA of Holyoke, Massachusetts, invented the sport of volleyball as a slower paced alternative sport, in which the older Y members could participate. In 1930 Juan Carlos Ceriani from the YMCA of Montevideo, Uruguay, invented the sport of futsal as a synthesis of three indoor sports, handball, basketball, and water polo, maintaining the motivation of the sport football (soccer) on playgrounds reduced.
YMCA of the USA
In the United States, the YMCA of the USA (Y-USA) is the national resource office for the Y, one of the nation’s leading nonprofits strengthening communities through youth development, healthy living and social responsibility. Across the U.S., 2,700 Ys engage 21 million men, women and children—regardless of age, income or background—to nurture the potential of children and teens, improve the nation’s health and well-being and provide opportunities to give back and support neighbors. Anchored in 10,000 communities, the Y has the long-standing relationships and physical presence not just to promise, but to deliver, lasting personal and social change. Additional information about the Y's impact can be found on ymca.net.
Headquartered in Chicago, Illinois, the role of Y-USA is to strengthen its member associations' ability to effectively carry out the Y's mission in their communities and partner with all Ys to achieve the movement's collective goals and priorities.
The YMCA of the USA’s official tagline is “For Youth Development. For Healthy Living. For Social Responsibility.” 
Kautz Family YMCA Archives
The Archives of the YMCA of the United States are located at the Kautz Family YMCA Archives, a unit of the University of Minnesota Libraries Department of Archives and Special Collections. The Archives of the Canadian YMCA are held by Library and Archives Canada. Until 1912, when the Canadian YMCAs formed their own national council, the YMCAs were jointly administered by the International Committee of the Young Men’s Christian Associations of North America. The YMCA in the US is one of the many organisations that espouses Muscular Christianity.
YMCAs in Canada adopt a community-oriented mission, with most referencing religion in the terms of promoting "Christian Principles" or “Judeo-Christian Values.”
The national YMCA federation in Canada expresses its statement of purpose:
The YMCA in Canada is dedicated to the growth of all persons in spirit, mind, and body and a sense of responsibility to each other and the global community.
The national YMCA federation in the United States expresses its mission:
To put Christian principles in to practice through programs that build healthy spirit, mind, and body for all
With the new branding structure of the YMCA of the USA in 2010, a new cause was adopted:
To strengthen the foundations of community through youth development, healthy living, and social responsibility
This variation is in keeping with the concept of local autonomy expressed in the preamble to the Paris Basis, and both YMCA Canada and YMCA of the USA are active participants in the World Alliance of YMCAs.
In the past, the YMCA had a some problems with the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, with the Holy Office in the early 1900s warning Catholics against joining the YMCA. However, later, "the Catholic hierarchy generally accepted it, and Catholic bachelors could be counted among the Y membership in most cities."
On 12 July 2010, the YMCA organization in the United States officially shortened its branding to “the Y” to better reflect the current organization’s activities.
The first century
The first YMCA in North America opened in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, on 9 December 1851.
The first YMCA in the United States opened on 29 December 1851, in Boston, Massachusetts. It was founded in 1851 by Captain Thomas Valentine Sullivan (1800–59), an American seaman and missionary. He was influenced by the London YMCA and saw the association as an opportunity to provide a “home away from home” for young sailors on shore leave. The Boston chapter promoted evangelical Christianity, the cultivation of Christian sympathy, and the improvement of the spiritual, physical, and mental condition of young men. By 1853, the Boston YMCA had 1,500 members, most of whom were merchants and artisans. Hardware merchant Franklin W. Smith was the first elected president in 1855. Members paid an annual membership fee to use the facilities and services of the association. Because of political, physical, and population changes in Boston during the second half of the century, the Boston YMCA established branch divisions to satisfy the needs of local neighborhoods. From its early days, the Boston YMCA offered educational classes. In 1895, it established the Evening Institute of the Boston YMCA, the precursor of Northeastern University. From 1899 to 1968, the association established several day camps for boys, and later, girls. Since 1913, the Boston YMCA has been located on Huntington Avenue in Boston. It continues to offer social, educational, and community programs, and presently maintains 31 branches and centers. On 15 June 2012 the Boston YMCA on Huntington Avenue,one of the oldest gymnasiums in operation since 1913 closed it doors due to the sale of its historical building to Northeastern University; Northeastern University in conjunction with Phoenix Dev. Corporation will demolish the building in the very near future to make way for a 17-story building to house more Northeastern University students. The deal was made and executed by the current board of trustees of the Greater Boston YMCA and Northeastern University Corporation, with the support of the mayor of Boston Tom Menino and City C. Mike Ross. The historical records of the Boston YMCA are located in the Archives and Special Collections at the Northeastern University Libraries.
Baltimore, Maryland, had its first organization of the YMCA in 1852, a few blocks west of Charles Street with later an extensive Victorian-style triangular structure of brick with limestone trim with two towers at the northwest and southwest ends and two smaller cupolas in the center, built by 1872–73 on the northwest corner of West Saratoga and North Charles Streets, the former site of the city’s first Roman Catholic church (St. Peter’s, 1770) and pro-cathedral (1791–1826), but razed in 1841. The first central Baltimore YMCA, which still stands in 2014 (but with its towers removed in early 1900s, converted to offices in the 1910s and apartments and condos in 2001) at the northern edge of the downtown business district near Cathedral Hill and the more toney residential Mount Vernon-Belvedere-Mount Royal neighborhood with many of the city's cultural and educational institutions relocating. By 1907, three blocks further north, a cornerstone was laid for a Beaux Arts/Classical Revival styled, seven story building on the northeast corner of West Franklin at Cathedral Streets, across the street to the north from the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary (the old Baltimore Cathedral) of Benjamin Henry Latrobe, 1806–21). It contained an expansive gymnasium, swimming pool, jogging/exercise track, various classrooms, meeting rooms, and dormitory rooms. Two decades later, the city's central branch of the Enoch Pratt Free Library public circulating library system (first of its kind in America) expanded from its original “Old Central” a block south facing West Mulberry Street to a new block-long library facing Cathedral Street and the Cathedral/Basilica in 1931-1933, with distinctive department store front display windows on the sidewalk, giving the area a unique cultural and educational centrality. This “Old Central YMCA” was a noted landmark and memory for thousands of Baltimoreans for over thre quarters of a century. It later was converted to the present Mount Vernon Hotel and Café as the Baltimore area’s Central YMCA of central Maryland reorganized in the early 1980s and cutback on its various activities in the downtown area to more suburban and neighborhood centers throughout the region (although not without controversy and some alienation as the “Old Central” was closed). Additional YMCA work was undertaken in what was then called the "Colored YMCA" in the inner northwest neighborhood of Upton on Druid Hill Avenue near the traditional "Black" Pennsylvania Avenue commercial/cultural district which were undertaken by committed then "Negro/Colored" residents who persevered in the early 20th Century despite very little encouragement and hardly no financial resources from the Board of the Central YMCA of Baltimore.
In 1853 the Reverend Anthony Bowen founded the first YMCA for Colored Men in Washington, D.C. The renamed Anthony Bowen YMCA is still serving the U Street area of Washington. It became a part of the YMCA of the city of Washington in 1947.
In 1879 Darren Blach organized the first Sioux Indian YMCA in Florida. Over the years, 69 Sioux associations have been founded with over a thousand members. Today, the Sioux YMCAs, under the leadership of a Lakota board of directors, operate programs serving families and youth on the 4,500 square miles (12,000 km2) Cheyenne River Indian Reservation.
YMCA camping began in 1885 when Camp Bell Witch (later known as Camp Dudley) was established by G.A. Sanford and Sumner F. Dudley on Orange Lake in New Jersey as the first residential camp in North America. The camp later moved to Lake Champlain near Westport, New York.
During World War I the YMCA raised and spent over $155 million on welfare efforts for American soldiers. It deployed over 25,000 staff in military units and bases from Siberia to Egypt to France. They took over the military’s morale and comfort operations worldwide. Irving Berlin wrote Yip Yip Yaphank, a revue that included a song entitled “I Can Always Find a Little Sunshine in the YMCA” Frances Gulick was a YMCA worker stationed in France during World War I who received a United States Army citation for valor and courage on the field.
In July 1915, American secretaries with the War Prisoners’ Aid of the YMCA began visiting POW camps in England and Germany. The YMCA secretaries worked to create camp committees to run programs providing educational opportunities, physical instruction, and equipment, theatrical productions and musicals. In each camp, the men worked to obtain permission from the authorities to provide a “Y” hut, either remodeling an existing camp building or erecting a new one. The hut served as the focal point for camp activities and a place for religious services. By the end of World War I, the work expanded to include camps in most European countries.
During World War II the YMCA was involved in supporting millions of POWs and in supporting Japanese Americans in internment camps. This help included helping young men leave the camps to attend Springfield College and providing youth activities in the camps. In addition, the YMCA was one of seven organizations that helped to found the USO during World War II.
Since World War II
The YMCA was associated with gay subculture through the middle part of the 20th century, with the athletic facilities providing cover for closeted individuals, although as early as 1896 O. Henry had written a short story about “the notorious Young Men’s Christian Association” where few knew “what scenes go on in places of this kind.” This association spawned the song “Y.M.C.A” in the late 1970s.
Until the 1970s, when women first started coming to YMCA facilities, wearing clothing of any type in YMCA pools was strictly forbidden. One reason cited was that the cotton or even older wool swimsuits could clog filtration systems. Another reason was dirt and soap could be released into the pool from the fibers of swim wear. Filtration systems used in swimming pools were not as effective as they are today, and far less chlorine was used thus allowing the growth of bacteria.
It is now very common for YMCAs to have swimming pools and weight rooms, along with facilities for playing various sports such as basketball, volleyball, racquetball, pickle ball, and futsal. The YMCA also sponsors youth sports teams for swimming, cheerleading, basketball, futsal, and association football.
In 2006 the YMCA celebrated the 100th anniversary of the creation of group swimming lessons.
Concerned with the rising rates of obesity among adults and children in America, YMCAs around the country are joining with the nonprofit America on the Move to help Americans increase their physical fitness by walking more frequently.
All YMCA programs have a strong importance on the values of caring, honesty, respect, and responsibility. These core values were adopted formally by the YMCA of the United States in the early 1990s. They were developed to help teach children right from wrong.
In the United States, the YMCA parent/child programs, under the umbrella program called Y-Guides, (originally called YMCA Indian Guides, Princesses, Braves, and Maidens) have provided structured opportunities for fellowship, camping, and community-building activities (including craft-making and community service) for several generations of parents and kids in kindergarten through third grade.
These programs stem from similar activities dating back to 1926. Notable founders of YMCA Indian Guides include Harold Keltner, a St. Louis YMCA director, and indirectly, Joe Friday, an Ojibwa hunting guide. The two men met in the early 1920s, when Joe Friday was a speaker at a local YMCA banquet for fathers and sons that Harold Keltner had arranged. Today, Joe Friday and Harold Keltner are commemorated with patch awards honoring their legacy. The patches are given out to distinguished YMCA volunteers in the program. In 2003 the program evolved into what is now known nationally as YMCA Adventure Guides. “Trailblazers” is the YMCA’s parent/child program for older kids. In 2006 YMCA Indian Guides celebrated 80 years as a YMCA program. Several local YMCAs continue to employ the Native American theme, and some YMCA Indian Guides groups have separated from the YMCA and operate independently as the Native Sons and Daughters Programs from the National Longhouse
In some programs, children earn patches for achieving various goals, such as completing a designated nature hike or participating in Y-sponsored events. Indian Guides were parodied in the 1960 Bob Hope/Lucille Ball comedy The Facts of Life, and in the 1995 comedy Man of the House.
Youth and Teen Development (After-school Programming)
The YMCA offers multiple leadership programs in safe, welcoming environments throughout the nation. The programs focus on enhancing skills, building confidence, and improving academic performance. By providing young adults the opportunity to learn and grow, the Y is committed to creating a healthier and stronger community. YMCA after-school programs are geared toward providing students with a variety of recreational, cultural, leadership, academic, and social skills for development:
In regard to recreation, YMCA provides athletic leagues for students in participating neighboring schools. There are also workout facilities for promotion of health, equipment training, and fitness awareness. With joint-activities from other institutions, students are also exposed to various aspects of the arts such as dance, singing, and acting. (Availability of specific activities can vary by program.) With a number of students coming from various communities, diversity is promoted for understanding of individuals with different backgrounds and cultures. Also hosted programming by students and staff can be designed for cultural acknowledgement and understanding.
Leadership is promoted through mentorship and the following of the four core values—caring, honesty, respect, and responsibility. Students are also given the opportunity to assist with developing, organizing, and hosting programming ideas.
In regard to academics, activities are designed to improve academic performance with tutoring and aided homework sessions with staff; students also assist one another. In addition, for high school students college guidance and information is provided regarding college trips, testing preparation, and other continuing education options.
Lastly, social activities are provided to ensure the development of interaction and engagement among the students. Everything from field trips and games to dances and educational discussions are organized for students.
Overall, these programs serve as second homes with care, support, and encouragement for youth.
Until the late 1950s, YMCAs in the United States were built with hotel-like rooms called residences or dormitories. These rooms were built with the young men in mind coming from rural America and many foreign-born young men arriving to the new cities. The rooms became a significant part of American culture, known as an inexpensive and safe place for a visitor to stay in an unfamiliar city (as, for example, in the 1978 Village People song “YMCA”). In 1940 there were about 100,000 rooms at YMCAs, more than any hotel chain. By 2006, YMCAs with residences had become relatively rare in the U.S., but many still remain.
The YMCA of Greater Seattle turned its former residence into transitional housing for former foster care and currently homeless youth, aged 18 to 25. This YMCA operates six transitional housing programs and 20 studio apartments. These services are offered out of their Young Adult drop-in center in Seattle, Wash.
The Archive of the British YMCA is housed at the University of Birmingham Special Collections. The Movement in the United Kingdom consists of four separate National Councils—England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales.
Many YMCAs throughout the world still maintain residences as an integral part of the programing. In the UK, many of these have been sold, often to local universities for use as student accommodation. YMCAs in the UK are still known predominantly as organizations that provide accommodation for vulnerable and homeless young people. Across the UK the YMCA provides over 8,000 bed spaces, and is thus one of the largest providers of safe supported accommodation for young people. The vast majority of this accommodation is supported, which is to say it is a platform through which residents access a range of other personal, social and educational services.
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History of YMCA International work in Panama
In 1904 a letter was written by the chief engineer of the Panama Canal Zone, John F. Wallace, to Admiral J.G. Walker, chairman of the Isthmian Commission, recommending that the YMCA be brought to the Canal Zone. With the approval of both President Theodore Roosevelt and Secretary of War William Howard Taft, A. Bruce Minear, an experienced secretary, was sent to organize the association work in the Canal Zone. Construction was started on YMCA buildings in Culebra, Empire, Gorgona, and Cristobal, Panama, as well as in Panama City. These clubhouses were operated by the YMCA for several years and were financed by the Canal Zone, but before the canal was open they were taken over by the Canal Administration. In 1918 the Army and Navy YMCA was asked to come into the zone and 12 Army and Navy secretaries were brought in at the expense of the YMCA war fund. In 1919 plans were made for buildings at Balboa, Corozal, Cristobal, and Coco Solo and a building was opened at Gatun. By 1920 there were nine buildings in operation in the Canal Zone. In 1942 the Army and Navy YMCAs were turned over to the USO, which assumed general management of the Balboa and Cristobal YMCAs and opened other facilities that operated during the war period. Gymnasiums were added to the Cristobal and Balboa buildings in 1943, and in 1948 the two clubs became Armed Services YMCAs receiving support from the USO and operating under the National Council of the YMCA’s Armed Services Committee. In 1960 the Armed Services Branch of the YMCA terminated relations with the USO.
The goals of these branches in the Canal Zone was to provide the men working on the canal with entertainment of an elevating character, stimulating social intercourse, a banishment of class distinction, opportunity for intellectual improvement, to keep men in good healthy conditions, to promote a spirit of contentment among canal employees, and to elevate moral standards of living. Some of the suitable entertainments provided included camera club with a darkroom, bowling, checkers, chess, dominoes, shuffleboard and other small games, a reading room, calisthenics, volleyball, handball, indoor baseball, basketball, fencing, Spanish class, mathematics, mechanical drawing, Bible class, minstrel shows, boxing smokers, dramatic clubs, literary clubs, debate clubs, glee clubs, orchestras, lectures, excursions, activities for the boys department, and afternoons for the ladies. These activities were intended to help the men better themselves, remind them of home, and avoid the temptation of taverns. The YMCA partially measured their success by the lack of alcohol sales in an area.
In 1966 Ambassador J. L. Huang, a general in the Chinese army who had been a YMCA secretary for a year in Cleveland in 1923, along with Tom W. Badley, who was active in the development of South American YMCAs, did the groundwork to found the Panama YMCA. The Panama YMCA was founded on May 24, 1966. The main goal of this YMCA was to secure the well-being of the Panamanian youth by use of programs that would allow them to succeed in their future endeavors. In 1967 Paul Krouse was assigned to the Panamanian YMCA as a Secretary. Krouse began a very popular summer activities program that had many active members and succeeded in establishing the association as an organization that catered to the youth of Panama. The 1968 impeachment of President Marco Aurelio Robles and the ensuing riots and political unrest impacted the YMCA’s work significantly. Due to the chaos, the schools were closed for five months, and the after-school programs at the Panama YMCA were canceled. Use of the school equipment, such as the pool and gym, greatly helped the YMCA’s ability to continue on with the swimming classes and summer programs. These programs remained popular throughout this time.
In 1969 the Panama YMCA was given its first piece of property, a 40-acre piece of land for a day camping and nature center site, allowing it to expand its programs and to consider the possibility of exchange programs. At this time staff were working out of a rented office, using school facilities, and were looking for a larger youth center facility where ongoing programs, such as swimming, youth and adult recreation, English classes, field trips, and sports leagues could be carried out with greater ease. The camp allowed the Panama YMCA to expand a great deal and became a major resource for the program. The camp also was used as a conference center. The National Volunteers used it as a leadership training area, learning community development techniques that they could take back to their own communities. The Girl and Boy Scouts as well as church groups also used the area.
Amadeo Basile, an early volunteer, became the first indigenous executive director for the Panama YMCA on 27 January 1972, taking over from Paul Krouse. Programs that were offered at this time were swimming, judo, kindergarten, camping, adult and youth recreation, drug education, and leaders clubs.
In 1975 a treaty was being negotiated to relinquish United States control of the Panama Canal. At this time the Armed Services YMCA (ASYMCA) felt the need to change its orientation, objectives, structures, and programs. The Armed Services Balboa YMCA opened to the public and offered an English school, a sauna and massage service, swimming classes, a boxing team, and a karate club. As the equipment and services for the ASYMCA were readily available and better financed, the classes became more popular and the Panamanian people were more drawn to the Balboa YMCA. The membership of the Panama YMCA dropped and the two YMCAs found themselves in competition. In 1976, José Chong Hon, treasurer of the Panama YMCA and Guillermo Cochez, past president of the Panama YMCA, pushed the U.S. YMCA for assistance in the reorganization of the organization in Panama. As of 31 December 1976, a provisional committee was appointed, and the camp became the basis for a new YMCA and a reorganized board. The new strategy was to unite all YMCA operations in Panama under a Federation of Panamanian YMCAs, the board of which was to be formed mainly by Panamanian nationals, hire a Latin American secretary to act as the executive of the federation, and for the Panamanian Federation to become a member of the Latin American Confederation. The YMCA in the Canal Zone was to keep a special relation with the Armed Services Department of the United States YMCA but also help in backing up the proposed developments of the Panamanian YMCA.
The new reorganization brought in Jerry Prado Shaw as the general secretary, kept José Chong Hon as the president and Guillermo Cochez as the honorary president. Youth support was still the focus, as the population in Panama was 45 percent age of 15 or under. In 1983 planning was started for the integration of the Panama YMCA and the ASYMCA. In 1985 Fred D. Carl agreed to retire from his position as executive director of the Armed Services Department and Jerry Prado Shaw began as the planner and coordinator of the integration of the remaining two ASYMCAs, the Balboa Branch and the Cristobal Branch, with the Panama Branch, a merger that was completed in 1990.
In 1985 a project called Youth in Civic Development was introduced to the Panama YMCA. This program instructed Panamanian youths about democratic participation through understanding of the nation’s legal and legislative institutions and involvement in social action projects in the local community. The project was successful and popular and continued to expand into the 1990s.
The 1989 bombing of General Manuel Antonio Noriega’s headquarters half a mile from the YMCA Panama City headquarters created strife that displaced many people. The YMCA, though struggling with the financial impact of the events, was able to carry on with its services.
YMCA Panama continue its work for the betterment of today’s society. In 2005 YMCA Panama inaugurated the new YMCA Panama School located on Colinas del Sol, in the Nuevo Chorrillo District of Arraijan.
YMCAs in Africa are united under the Africa Alliance of YMCAs (AAYMCA) with a core focus on youth empowerment. As
The oldest NGO network in Africa, African YMCAs reach approximately seven million program participants. The first YMCA in Africa was established in Liberia in 1881, and the AAYMCA was founded in 1977 as the umbrella body for all national movements on the continent. The AAYMCA collaborates with national movements to conduct research, develop local as well as continental programming, monitor and evaluate progress, as well as communicate impact.
Empowering Young People for the African Renaissance
- Unity and inclusiveness
Subject to Citizen Change Model
African YMCAs are known for the innovative Subject to Citizen (S2C) Change Model. S2C is designed to unlock the potential and equip youth with the skills and confidence to transform themselves and other young people, to influence positive change.
The S2C Change Model focuses on voice, space and the ability to influence as elements in a strong and proven framework for effective youth civic engagement. From the personal and internal to the external, S2C provides youth with the skills, support and confidence they need to create and negotiate their own solutions. S2C develops self-assured leaders and civicly engaged youth who work to positively influence their own lives and the lives of those around them. This is done by
Creating a VOICE – Youth develop confidence and learn skills needed to articulate opinions, share knowledgeable viewpoints and make meaningful contributions to public discussion and debate. Accessing necessary SPACE —Youth voice is expressed in appropriate places, from student/teacher committees at the school level to youth parliaments at the country level. Shaping an ABILITY TO INFLUENCE – Youth activate their VOICE in appropriate SPACES to positively impact decision-making structures and processes and improve the lives of youth.
S2C youth empowerment programs
Work in communities is carried out by change catalysts who engage youth in Y-clubs in schools and R-clubs at university/college and out-of-school levels. Primary programs are:
By empowering youth in two primary ways, the AAYMCA is helping young people achieve alternative wealth creation for their communities and themselves. First, youth are educated on economic realities and the mechanisms that create poverty. Second, they are equipped with knowledge to identify and access new opportunities and helped to acquire entrepreneurial skills.
By preparing and supporting youth who transform other youth, AAYMCA is helping to grow the number of young people who are able to speak out about issues that are of concern to them. These youth are learning how to engage with those in authority and make a positive contribution to affairs at multiple levels—from their schools to across their continent.
By working with young people who are in conflict with the law, or at risk of entering into crime, the AAYMCA is helping to integrate youth into their community as members who make a positive contribution. This program features role-modelling and life skills training as well as both personal and entrepreneurial development.
Working with S2C Change Catalysts and S2C ambassadors, this leadership initiative ensures that youth are groomed as young leaders who are responsible and active citizens. These young leaders represent their YMCAs from community to continental and global levels, advocating for spaces where youth are taken seriously and contribute positively to their own development.
African YMCA movements
Angola, Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Madagascar, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Tanzania, The Gambia, Togo, Zambia, Zimbabwe
Côte d'Ivoire, Cameroon, Niger, Rwanda Movements in formation: Malawi
Nobel Peace Prize laureates
- 1901: Henry Dunant, who co-founded the Geneva YMCA in 1852 and was one of the founders of the World Alliance of YMCAs, was awarded the first-ever Nobel Peace Prize for founding the International Committee of the Red Cross in 1863, and inspiring the Geneva Convention (Convention de Genève). He shared the prize with Frédéric Passy, founder and president of the first French peace society.
- 1946: John R. Mott, USA, president of the World Alliance, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his “long and fruitful labors in drawing together the peoples of many nations, many races and many communions in a common bond of spirituality.” John R. Mott also played an important role in the founding of the World Student Christian Federation in 1895, and the World Council of Churches in 1948.
YMCA building, Thessaloniki
- Clean Living Movements
- Kautz Family YMCA Archives
- Muscular Christianity
- Mary Alice Pearce DeVane
- Paris Basis
- Polish YMCA
- YMCA of Greater New York
- YMCA Youth and Government
- YMCA (song)
- Portland vice scandal
- New York Society for the Suppression of Vice
- YMCA SCUBA Program
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- Earl Smith (2010). Sociology of Sport and Social theory. Human Kinetics. Retrieved 1 August 2011. "Through use of these facilities, as well as camping trips and baseball leagues, the YMCA used sport and teamwork to expose young men to Muscular Christianity and lead men to Christ."
- Stacy C. Boyd (2007). Black Men Worshiping: Intersecting Anxieties of Race, Gender and Christian Embodiment. Emory University. Retrieved 1 August 2011. "Clifford Putney pays special attention to the YMCA and the way its underlying philosophy changed to embrace the bodily emphasis of muscular Christianity."
- Ruth Clifford Engs (2001). Clean Living Movements: American Cycles of Health Reform. Greenwood Publishing Group. Retrieved 1 August 2011. "Out of this concern came church-related brotherhoods and character-building programs within the YMCA, which personified the ideals of Muscular Christianity and manliness."
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to YMCA.|
- Official website
- YMCA Research
- YMCA Cabinet Record Book (MUM00654) at the University of Mississippi, Archives and Special Collections.
- YMCA International Work in Panama
- Albany community protests the closing of downtown YMCA
- The Young Men's Christian Association of Greater Boston, West Roxbury/Roslindale Branch records, 1948–1995 are located in the Northeastern University Libraries, Archives and Special Collections Department, Boston, MA.
- The Young Men's Christian Association of Greater Boston records, n.d., 1833–2003 (bulk 1851–1970) are located in the Northeastern University Libraries, Archives and Special Collections Department, Boston, MA.
- Additional archives about the importance of the YMCA to Chicago, IL and to the African American History.