STRENGTHENING COMMUNITIES FOR OVER 175 YEARS: A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE Y

On June 6, the YMCA marks 177 years as a nonprofit dedicated to strengthening communities through programs and services designed to foster youth development, healthy living and social responsibility. Here are five past notable events and achievements that demonstrate the Y’s commitment to the communities it serves:

1. American Institutions: Celebrations such as Father’s Day, and organizations like the Peace Corps, all have their roots at the YMCA.

2. Summer Camp: The oldest known summer camp, Camp Dudley, first opened in 1885 and countless numbers of boys and girls have since learned the skills and wonders of camping through the Y, developing critical skills and making memories along the way.

3. Innovating & Inventing: From James Naismith's invention of basketball to instructors creating racquetball and what would eventually become volleyball, the Y has a rich tradition in

activities that are played by millions of people around the globe. One Y staffer, Robert J. Roberts, is credited with inventing the term “body building.”

4. A Nobel Peace Prizewinner: YMCA leader John R. Mott was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1946 for the Y's groundbreaking role in raising global awareness and support and for the organization’s humanitarian efforts.

5. Furthering Education: The Y is credited with spearheading the first public libraries, night school for adult education and English as a Second Language (ESL) courses.

The Y Today

The effects of COVID-19 reached across the country, closing the doors to every single one of the 2,650 YMCAs across the country. However, the Y was able to do incredible work over the past year, thanks to our staff and volunteers.

When schools and childcare centers first closed their doors, the Y offered emergency childcare services to essential workers at nearly 1,400 locations. As shelters struggled to offer socially distant beds, the Y provided space for people facing homelessness to live and sleep safely. As seniors felt the effects of social isolation, the Y provided wellness checks and connection to our most vulnerable. As unemployment rose hunger increased, the Y answered the call by providing food—through grocery boxes and prepared meals for the whole family—at over 1,300 locations. And as schools transitioned to remote schedules in the fall, forcing parents and caregivers to juggle child care and work, the Y stepped in again and established virtual learning centers to provide children with a safe place to learn.

Here in the Wausau area, the Woodson YMCA was able to face 2020’s challenges head on. We shifted into care for children of essential workers, making sure they had a safe, nurturing place in child care so their parents could serve our community. Counselors and staff worked diligently to ensure our campers were protected through the unique challenges of summer camp during a pandemic season. We reached out virtually to our families and adults who stayed safe at home. We connected through YouTube or Facebook and our website, giving families some suggested activities they could do together, sharing fun fitness challenges and posting at home fitness classes. Whether you joined in just to see a familiar YMCA instructor or dedicated yourselves to making time for your health while working at home, we saw tremendous growth in views of the virtual offerings.  

A lot has changed since George Williams and 11 other young men gathered in London in 1844, but the heart of the Y’s work remains the same. We’re one of the oldest nonprofits in the United States and rely on members and donors to continue our work. Thank you for your continued support!