The Young Men's Christian Association ("YMCA" or "the Y") is a worldwide movement of more than 45 million members from 124 national federations affiliated through the World Alliance of YMCAs. Founded on June 6, 1844 in London, England by George Williams, the goal of the organization was putting Christian principles into practice, achieved by developing "a healthy spirit, mind, and body." The YMCA is a federated organization made up of local and national organizations in voluntary association. Today, YMCAs are open to all, regardless of faith, social class, age, or gender.
Ninety-nine YMCA leaders of individual YMCAs from Europe and North America met for the first time before the 1855 Paris World Exposition to discuss the possibility of joining together in a federation to enhance co-operation amongst individual YMCA societies. This meeting resulted in the Paris Basis which is still a guiding principle of the organization today. T
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 whilst preserving a complete independence as to their particular organization and modes of action, to form a Confederation on the following fundamental principle, such principle to be regarded as the basis of admission of other Societies in future.
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). More recent objectives as found on the YMCA UK website include no reference to discipleship.
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 an aim of “lifting the ‘C’” (of the YMCA).
Many colleges and universities owe their creation to the YMCA. Springfield College was founded in 1885 as an international training school for YMCA Professionals, while Sir George Williams University—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. 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. 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.
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." YMCA Youth and Government helps teens learn about and participate in civics in a real-world setting.
In 1891 James Naismith, a Canadian, invented basketball whilst 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 a desperate 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. It was a success from the very first game. Naismith and his wife attended the 1936 Summer Olympics when basketball became 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, which the older Y members could participate in.
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 England, 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 programmes, advice services, immigrant services, conference centers and educational activities as methods of promoting positive values.
The Archives of the YMCA of the USA 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.
Many YMCAs in North America adopt a more secular mission than their counterparts in other parts of the world, although most still reference 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
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.
The YMCA had a history of problems with the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church. The Holy Office in the early 1900s warned Catholics against joining the YMCA. This situation changed after Vatican Council II.
The first YMCA in North America opened in Montreal, Quebec, on November 25, 1851. The first YMCA in the United States opened on December 29, 1851, in Boston, Mass. It was founded in 1851 by Captain Thomas Valentine Sullivan (1800–1859), 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. 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. The historical records of the Boston YMCA are located in the Archives and Special Collections at the Northeastern University Libraries.
In 1879, Darren Blach organized the first Sioux Indian YMCA in Florida. Over the years, 69 Sioux associations have been founded with over 1000 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 George 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, NY.
It is very common for YMCAs to have swimming pools YMCA Swimming and weightrooms, along with facilities for playing various sports such as basketball, volleyball, and racquetball. The YMCA also sponsors youth sports teams for swimming, cheerleading, basketball, and soccer.
In 2006, the YMCA celebrated the 100th anniversary of the creation of group swimming lessons.
In the mid-20th century, it was not unusual for participants in YMCA programs to swim in the nude. One reason cited was that the cotton or even older wool swimsuits would clog up the filtration system. Another reason was dirt and soap would be released into the pool from the fibers of swim wear. Filtration systems used in swimming pools were not as advanced as they are today, and far less chlorine was used making it easier, in those days, to degrade the cleanliness of the water thereby promoting the growth of bacteria. Females were never allowed to be present in such a setting.
Concerned with the rising rates of obesity among adults and children in America, YMCAs around the country are joining with the non-profit America on the Move to help Americans increase their physical fitness by walking more frequently.
In the US, the YMCA parent/child programs under the umbrella program called Y-Guides, (originally called YMCA Indian Guides, Princess, 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.
The roots of these still vibrant 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 which are given out to distinguished YMCA volunteers in the program.
YMCA Indian Guides participants historically took pride in cultivating respect and honor for Native American culture. Responding to a number of variables, including making the program more culturally sensitive and attracting a broader audience, 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.
Local YMCAs are currently still free to continue support of the Native American theme, and several do so. In areas where the local YMCA has elected to convert to the "Adventure Guides", many 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. A typical suburban Indian Guide meeting was parodied in the Bob Hope/Lucille Ball comedy of 1960, The Facts of Life. More recently, the continued popularity of the YMCA Indian Guides is seen in the 1995 Chevy Chase/Farrah Fawcett comedy, Man of the House, wherein a campout takes place complete with the dads and kids addressing one another by their program names in patch-covered vests, wearing headdresses, singing songs, and roasting marshmallows around a campfire.
In 2006, YMCA Indian Guides celebrated 80 years as a YMCA program.
The Archive of the British YMCA is housed at the University of Birmingham Special Collections. The Movement in the British Isles consists of four separate National Councils – England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales.
The English Movement consists of 135 local YMCAs who all belong to the National Council of YMCAs (YMCA England). In 2006–07 at its National Assembly, the YMCA Movement in England agreed a common vision: to be an inclusive Christian Movement transforming communities so that young people may truly belong, contribute and thrive. YMCA England is a membership organisation; part of a global movement. We work collectively with our members to ensure and promote a national voice. We work collabratively to strengthen and nurture the capacity of YMCAs in transforming communities so that all young people may truly belong, contribute and thrive. After a comprehensive year-long movement-wide consultation on the role and responsibilities of a national body, on 15 July 2009, Ian Green became Chief Executive of YMCA England.
Until the late 1950s, YMCAs in the United States were built with hotel-like rooms called residences or dormitories. These rooms became a significant part of American culture, known as an inexpensive and safe place for a visitor to stay in an unfamiliar city. In 1940 there were about 100,000 rooms at YMCAs, more than any hotel chain. By 2006, YMCAs with residences became relatively rare in the US, but many still existed.
Many YMCAs throughout the world still maintain residences as an integral part of the programming. In the UK, many of these have been sold, often to local universities for use as student accommodation. YMCAs in England are still known predominantly as organisations that provide accommodation for vulnerable and homeless young people. Across England the YMCA provides over 8000 bedspaces, 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.
During World War I, the YMCA raised and spent over $155,000,000 on welfare efforts for American soldiers. They 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 Y.M.C.A." Frances Gulick was a Y.M.C.A. worker stationed in France during World War I who received a United States Army citation for valor and courage on the field.
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.
In 1997, at the 14th World Council of YMCAs, the World Alliance of YMCAs adopted Challenge 21 as its modern-day statement of mission for the 21st century:
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 world-wide 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. These challenges which 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, especially young people and women to take increased responsibilities and assume leadership at all levels and working towards an equitable society.
- Advocating for and promoting the rights of women 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 reconcilers 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.