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What is the YMCA?

By K T Solis
Updated May 23, 2024
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The YMCA (Young Men's Christian Association) is a nonprofit community service organization located in various parts of the world. It is one of the largest community service organizations in the U.S. and serves people of all ages, religions, races, and backgrounds. The organization was founded in London, England on 6 June 1844.

The YMCA was initially created to alleviate the terrible social conditions found in large cities toward the conclusion of the Industrial Revolution. Many young men at that time traveled to large cities like London in order to find work on the railroads and in factories. They often worked ten to 12 hours, six days a week. The men usually lived on the premises of their workplaces, sleeping in crowded rooms above the factory or shop. The city streets were hotbeds of crime and unsavory characters, so sleeping at the workplace was one of the safest places for a young worker.

George Williams, a London worker in a draper's shop, organized the first YMCA along with several of his co-workers. The club involved Bible study and prayer in order to offer a wholesome alternative to life on the streets. In 1851, 24 locations existed in England, boasting 2,700 members. That same year, the organization crossed the ocean to become established in North America.

On 25 November 1851, an organization was established in Montreal. On 29 December 1851, a YMCA was founded in Boston. The organization continued to grow in popularity, and a center for African-Americans was established in 1853 in Washington, DC. This particular facility was founded by Anthony Bowen, a freed slave.

Today's YMCAs provide countless activities and services for people of all races, backgrounds, and religions. YMCAs in the U.S. offer low-cost child care services, job training, drug abuse prevention classes, swimming lessons, and fitness programs for adults and children. People have the option of taking a Yoga or aerobics class or working out in the YMCA's fitness center.

Sports lovers can even join one of the YMCA's organized sports teams. Some people may not know that the sports of volleyball and racquetball were both invented at the YMCA. Volleyball was invented in 1895 and racquetball was born in 1950. Both sports made their debuts in a U.S. YMCA.

Sports aren't the only classes provided by the organization. It even offers arts programs that teach people how to dance, write, paint, sing, or act. There are even special classes for senior citizens.

The organization strives to contribute to the well-being of society by providing programs that contribute to healthy families and communities. The organization can be found in Africa, Latin America, Asia, the Middle East, North America, Europe, and the Caribbean. Each member of the international YMCA family determines local needs and develops programs that assist their own individual communities.

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Discussion Comments
By Animandel — On Feb 07, 2014

I love the kids' sports camps and the youth sports leagues at my YMCA. There is also childcare available and other activities for kids. And not all the activities are sports related. It's a great place for the entire family.

By Sporkasia — On Feb 07, 2014

YMCA's started out as a sanctuary for young men, but they serve the entire family and singles and everybody else today. My local YMCA is now more commonly called the Family Y, which is more appropriate considering its variety of members.

By Drentel — On Feb 06, 2014

YMCA centers are great places to work out. They have good facilities and usually a good variety of activities. They are good for newcomers to a town because they are as much social centers as they are workout facilities. You originally go for the exercise, but you continue coming back for the friendships.

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