In this unique season, we are called to serve our community in unique ways. Today’s pandemic is a once-in-a-lifetime event, but the Y is no stranger to stepping into world-changing moments. We have a long history of adjusting to meet large-scale community needs. From its start as a home away from home for young workers during the Industrial Revolution to supporting morale in the trenches of Europe, the Y has been there to connect all people to their potential, purpose, and each other for over a century.
A Safe Place
Interior of the first YMCA meeting space in London.
In 1844, industrialized London was a place of great turmoil and despair. Twenty-two-year-old George Williams, a farmer-turned-department store worker, was troubled by what he saw. He joined 11 friends to organize the first Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA), a refuge of Bible study and prayer for young men seeking escape from the hazards of life on the streets.
A Welcoming Wagon
Participants in a YMCA program for immigrants in the late-19th century.
Welcoming and engaging newcomers and immigrants has always been part of the Y’s work. In 1856, the nation’s first-known English as a Second Language (ESL) class was held for German immigrants at the Cincinnati YMCA. Since then, the Y has offered programs that celebrate the diversity of the communities we serve and help neighbors find common ground.
A Supporting Service
A YMCA canteen serves meals to soldiers in France during World War I.
Throughout World War I, the YMCA provided morale and welfare services for the military. By war’s end, the YMCA, through the United War Work Council, had operated 1,500 canteens in the United States and France; set up 4,000 YMCA huts for recreation and religious services; and raised more than $235 million—equivalent to $4.3 billion today—for relief work to rebuild communities after the conflict.
A Reminder of Home
During World War II the YMCA, along with five other organizations, founded the United Service Organizations for National Defense, today known as the USO, to keep soldiers on the frontlines stay connected to family, home and country.
In addition to its public support for the war effort, YMCA staff worked secretly in U.S. internment camps holding 110,000 Japanese Americans, organizing clubs and activities for the children.
Our Response in Time of Crisis
YMCA Child Care participant eats lunch.
The Y is here to strengthen our community in turbulent times. Today, as we work together to limit the spread of COVID-19, the Y is adapting yet again. While our facilities are closed, we’re hard at work providing free child care for the families of health care providers, first responders, and essential workers. The Y is also seeking to break down the walls of social isolation through virtual programs and classes for all ages to keep us all active and engaged with one another from our homes.
During this unprecedented time, the Y is not collecting membership dues, but we are providing crisis response to our community through child care, meals for youth, care calls to isolated community members, and more. We need your help. Join more than 100 others by donating your membership dues as a YMCA Cause Member today.