Harrisburg YMCA Online
YMCA AT NORTHERN YORK
Brief History of the YMCA Movement
Beginnings in London
The Young Men’s Christian Association was founded in London, England, on June 6, 1844, in response to unhealthy social conditions arising in the big cities at the end of the Industrial Revolution (roughly 1750 to 1850). Growth of the railroads and centralization of commerce and industry brought many rural young men who needed jobs into cities like London. They worked 10 to 12 hours a day, six days a week. Far from home and family, these young men often lived at the workplace. They slept crowded into rooms over the company’s shop, a location thought to be safer than London’s tenements and streets. Outside the shop things were bad—open sewers, pickpockets, thugs, beggars, drunks, lovers for hire and abandoned children running wild by the thousands.
George Williams, born on a farm in 1821, came to London 20 years later as a sales assistant in a draper’s shop, a forerunner of today’s department store. He and a group of fellow drapers organized the first YMCA to substitute Bible study and prayer for life on the streets. By 1851 there were 24 YMCAs in Great Britain, with a combined membership of 2,700. That same year the Y arrived in North America, first in Montreal and then Boston. The idea proved popular everywhere. In 1853, the first YMCA for African Americans was founded in Washington, D.C., by Anthony Bowen, a freed slave. The next year the first international convention was held in Paris. At the time there were 397 separate YMCAs in seven nations, with 30,369 members total.
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.
Harrisburg Area YMCA
The Harrisburg Area YMCA was founded in 1854 by some prominent businessmen looking for ways to keep young men off of the streets and out of trouble. The objective was to improve the “spiritual and social conditions of young men”. Over the next century and a half the Association not only survived and grew but remained true to the spirit of its original mission as it provided help for the city’s needy, relief aid for local soldiers during times of war, and guidance for the young men and women of Harrisburg to grow and mature.
We are still fulfilling that mission today by granting over $500,000 worth of scholarships to families in the Harrisburg area. The Harrisburg Area YMCA still offers quality child care, swimming lessons, Black Achievers Club, health and fitness classes and wellness areas, summer camps for all ages, along with a wide variety of other activities that appeal to all ages. Our Active Older Adults take trips together, sponsor an Ethnic Diversity Luncheon, and strive to maintain healthy lifestyles through activities at the YMCA. Our child care program is the one of the largest providers in the Harrisburg area, servicing children from Northern Dauphin to the Camp Curtin Area, Downtown and before and after-school care on the West Shore. Our swim lessons celebrated their 100th anniversary in 2006 – and the Y is still the largest organization offering swimming lessons to the members of our community.
The Harrisburg Area YMCA's West Shore Branch began offering programs in the Dillsburg area in 1998 with a summer camp program. In 2002 they began a partnership with the Northern York County School District as well as local churches and other non-profit organizations to provide program services as needed. Programs range from swimming lessons to adult sports.
For more information on the Harrisburg Area YMCA's branch locations and program offerings outside of the Northern York area, visit www.ymcaharrisburg.org.