We have all heard of the YMCA haven’t we? But if challenged do we really know what it is? What it is about? Where it is? What it does? How big it is? Well, not really.
Yes, we all do know about the song though – YMCA the essential song for the crowds at the disco or dance floor or big party. Yes, the one where it is endemic for all and sundry, even the unknowing, to copy the antics of the others and follow the dance arm choreography gestures invented to match the song lyrics – in time with the music Y with arms outstretched to make the letter: then M now arms bending at the elbows for the fingertips to meet over the chest: followed by C when the arms are extended to the left: finally A made with hands held together above the head. Very energetic and all very participative.
The song and the antics came from America of course – over thirty five years ago by the group Village People and was amazingly popular when released, and is a song that remains so today. What you probably didn’t know though is that it was actually inspired by the organisation, the actual YMCA, the institution itself (reportedly because the composer saw the sign and thought about the fact that a lot of people went there when in town, made friends, and enjoyed life. He had a most valuable insight didn’t he?
OK then, so what about the YMCA, what should I know? For a start it is a Christian organisation – did that come as a bit of a surprise then? Did you think it was simply a youth hostel? The letters stand for young men’s Christian association [but these days it works with both young men and women, irrespective of culture, religion or race]. It is nicknamed the Y. It was founded in London a hundred and seventy years ago, but it is now a worldwide set up, sixty million members serving more than a hundred different countries in every corner of the World, and has its headquarters in Geneva.
A triangular part of the Y logo is representative of the body, mind, spirit, and a main motto is “empowering young people”.
In the beginning as they say, the YMCA set out to provide safe cheap accommodation in a Christian environment to country youngsters travelling into the cities for work.
If you have ever been to a Holiday camp, you can thank the YMCA – they started it all off with their one on the Isle of Wight in the late eighteen hundreds!
In today’s times though the YMCA multi-tasks with the best of them. Religious aspects remain a part naturally, but youth work is more holistic these days. Education plays its part as well with university & college institutions in many countries. Then there is also a commitment to athletic pursuits as well, involving facilities and many sports – and we even have the YMCA to thank for inventing basketball & volleyball (albeit over a hundred years ago!). There are numerous programmes undertaken in the areas of parents & children, youth & teen development, and their residencies in particular are an integral part of national programmes. For example in the UK the YMCA is still a major provider of beds (over eight thousand) & supported accommodation for young people, especially for the homeless and the vulnerable. You never hear much about it, it is below the radar as they say, but it provides a much needed and invaluable conduit to social & educational facilities that allows people to get their lives together, get back into society, even get a job and a future career – all kinds of success stories that obviously will never reach your ears.
[As you would expect the YMCA has certain ‘core values’ which are summarised as caring, honesty, respect, and responsibility. Things we all try to impart to our own children and family I suspect?]
YMCA song by ‘Village People’ disco group
Young man, there’s a place you can go. I said, young man, when you’re short on your dough. You can stay there, and I’m sure you will find Many ways to have a good time