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YMCAs in the United States and Canada use this logo.
The three sides of the red triangle symbolize the YMCA mission to "build a healthy spirit, mind, and body for all".
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 Londonmarker, Englandmarker by George Williams, within eleven years it had become an international movement. The original intention of the organization was to put Christian principles into practice. Young men who came to London for work were often living in squalid and unsafe conditions, and the YMCA was dedicated to replacing their life on the streets with prayer and Bible study. The YMCA idea, which began among evangelicals, was unusual because it crossed the rigid lines that separated all the different churches and social classes in England in those days. This openness was a trait that would lead eventually to including in YMCAs all men, women and children, regardless of race, religion or nationality. Also, its target of meeting social need in the community was dear from the start. Now the YMCA uses a holistic approach to individual and social development encompassing spiritual, intellectual and physical methods. This approach is symbolized by the inverse red triangle used by YMCAs around the world representing the YMCA mission of building a healthy spirit, mind, and body.

The YMCA is a federated organization, made up of local and national organizations in voluntary association. Today, the programs and the degree to which Christ and the Christian faith is emphasized in programs varies between individual YMCA associations. Generally, YMCAs are open to all, regardless of faith, social class, age, or gender.


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.


Although local variations in mission exist and the YMCA's collectively expressed mission has evolved since its founding, the international YMCA movement's mission historically has been one of promoting Ecumenical Christianity.

Paris Basis

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. Two themes resonated during the council: the need to respect the local autonomy of YMCA societies, and that the purpose of the YMCA is to unite all young, male Christians for the extension and expansion of the Kingdom of God.

The need for the respect of local autonomy is expressed in the preamble:

The Fundamental Principle of the Paris Basis is expressed:

There were also three additional proposals of which the first was later adopted as the second fundamental principle, which emphasises the non-political character of the YMCA:

The Fundamental Principle of the Paris Basis is often stated as the entire basis, and the preamble and other articles are omitted.

There are two versions of the Paris Basis, one in French and one in English. It is thought that the French version is the more accurate representation of the agreement reached and that the English version was a result of a later transcription of notes after the meeting. Some adjustments were made to the English version to align it with the French version in 1955. In the French version, the last two words of the main principle are "jeunes gens", which more accurately translates as "young people" rather than "young men" (although all participants in YMCAs at the time were male) (Muukkonen, 2002:90).

Challenge 21

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:


  • Before 1844: The oldest of all YMCA-like organizations is the Basel association, which was founded in 1787 as Lediger Verein. Bremen Jünglingsverein was founded in 1834. All German Jünglingsvereine were cancelled by Nazis and re-established after the war as CVJMs (German initials for the YMCA). In Britain the oldest association is in Glasgow where it was founded in 1824 as Glasgow Young Men's Society for Religious Improvement. In France the Société Philadelphique was founded in Nimes in 1843.

  • 1844: George Williams was a 23-year-old draper, typical of the many young men who were being drawn to big cities by the Industrial Revolution. His colleagues were similarly employed, and they were concerned by the lack of healthy activities for young men in cities such as London. The alternatives were often taverns, brothels, and other temptations to sin. On June 6, Williams founded the first YMCA in London for "the improving of the spiritual condition of young men engaged in the drapery and other trades."

  • 1855: YMCA delegates met in Parismarker, (France), at the First World Conference of YMCAs, marking 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 Churchesmarker and the World Student Christian Federation, reflected elements of the Paris Basis in their founding mission statements.

  • 1865: The Fourth World Conference of YMCAs, Germany, affirmed the importance of developing the whole individual in body, mind and spirit. The concept of physical work through sports was also recognised. This was a new concept for the time.

  • 1880: The YMCA was the first national organization to adopt a strict policy of equal gender representation in committees and national boards. Norwaymarker adopted this policy in 1880.

  • 1885: Camp Baldhead (later known as Camp Dudley), originally located near Orange Lake in New Jersey, was established by YMCA workers George A. Sanford and Sumner F. Dudley as the first residential camp in North America. The camp moved to Lake Wawayanda in Sussex County, New Jersey the following year and then to the shore of Lake Champlain near Westport, New York in 1891.

  • 1900: North American YMCAs, in collaboration with the World Alliance, began working in European ports with millions of migrants leaving for the USA.

  • 1916: K.T. Paul became the first Indian National General Secretary of Indiamarker. Paul had started rural development programmes in India through co-operatives and credit societies. These programmes for self-reliance of marginal farmers became very popular. He also coined the term "rural reconstruction", and many of the principles he developed were later incorporated into the Government's nation-wide community development programmes.

  • 1923: Y.C. James Yen of the YMCA of Chinamarker devised the "thousand character system", based on pilot projects in education. The method became very popular, and in 1923, it led to the founding of the Chinese National Association of the Mass Education Movement.

  • 1939–1945: The YMCA became involved in war work with displaced persons and refugees and set up War Prisoners Aid to support prisoners of war by providing sports equipment, musical instruments, art materials, radios, gramophone, eating utensils and other items.

  • 1955: The First African President of the World Alliance of YMCAs was elected, Mr. Charles Dunbar Sherman from Liberiamarker. At 37 years, he was the youngest President in World Alliance history.

  • 1973: The Sixth World Council in Kampalamarker, Uganda, was 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, that a global viewpoint was more necessary, and that in doing so, the YMCAs would have to take political stands, especially so in international challenges.

  • 1985: The World Council of YMCAs passed a resolution against apartheid, and campaigns against the system began under the leadership of Mr. Lee Soo-Min (Koreamarker), the first Asian Secretary General of the World Alliance.


mission of the YMCA is: To put Christian principles into practice through programs that build a healthy spirit, mind, and body for all. There are many activities that work to achieve these goals.

Healthy spirit

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).

Healthy mind

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 Universitymarker—one of the two schools that eventually became Concordia Universitymarker—started from night courses offered at the Montrealmarker YMCA.

Northeastern University marker began out of a YMCA in Bostonmarker, 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, Michiganmarker.

The 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 legislature 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.

Healthy body

In 1891 James Naismith, a Canadianmarker, invented basketball whilst studying at the YMCA International Training School in Springfield, Massachusettsmarker (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, Massachusettsmarker, invented the sport of volleyball as a slower paced alternative sport, which the older Y members could participate in.

North America

The Archives of the YMCA of the USA are located at the Kautz Family YMCA Archivesmarker, a unit of the University of Minnesotamarker Libraries Department of Archives and Special Collections. The Archives of the Canadian YMCA are held by Library and Archives Canadamarker. 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 national YMCA federation in the United States expresses its mission:

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, Quebecmarker, on November 25,1851.The first YMCA in the United Statesmarker 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 Universitymarker. 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 Floridamarker. 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 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, NYmarker.

Camping also had early origins in the YMCA movement in Canada with the establishment in 1889 of Big Cove YMCA Camp in Merigomish, Nova Scotiamarker.

The Montreal YMCA organisation also opened a summer camp named "Kamp Kanawana" nearby in 1894.

In 1919, YMCA began their Storer Camps chain around the country.

Sports and fitness

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.

Parent/Child programs

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. Louismarker 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.

United Kingdom

The Archive of the British YMCA is housed at the University of Birminghammarker 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.

YMCA during American wars

Starting before the American Civil War, YMCA provided nursing, shelter, and other support in wartime.

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 POW 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.

Nobel Peace Prize winners

See also




  1. From Evangelism to General Service: The Transformation of the YMCA. Mayer N. Zald, Patricia Denton (September 1963). Administrative Science Quarterly, 8 (2), 214–234.
  2. Paris Basis
  3. Turner, Eugene A., Jr. 100 Years of YMCA Camping, YMCA of the USA, 1985.
  4. Kampala Principles
  5. Challenge 21
  6. ; published in the Toronto Star newspaper.
  7. Jarvie, Jenny (Nov. 24, 2006). "Religion Rebounds at the YMCA." Los Angeles Times, p.1.,1,963847.story
  8. Restore Ministries Retrieved on July 23, 2007.
  11. Young Men's Christ Association of Greater Boston records
  12. YMCA Timeline : 1880 - 1899
  13. YMCA Storer Camps
  14. Dallas Morning News. Dallas, Tex.: Jul 3, 1995. pg. 21.A
  15. essay
  16.,"P.C. vs. the Indian Princesses," Michelle Malkin
  17. US YMCA's history page
  18. Glendale, California YMCA, McGaw YMCA, Evanston Illinois , Berkeley, California YMCA

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