The story of New York City's YMCA parallels the story of our great City. Throughout our 160-year history, the Y has played an important role in New York City, anchored in its neighborhoods and continuously evolving to meet the needs of the kids, families and adults who live there. Today, the Y reaches half a million New Yorkers through programs that focus on youth development, healthy living and social responsibility.
A new component of the successful Strong Kids Card program, Y-MVP is an innovative digital game designed to motivate, recognize and reward teens to increase their daily levels of Moderate to Vigorous Physical activity while helping them to create life-long healthy habits.
Y Schools is a new program model that establishes a full-time Y presence in partner schools. Y Schools takes a holistic approach to youth development by offering enhanced programs and services that extend from the opening school bell to day’s end.
Y Roads is designed to support young people who are neither employed nor in school to get themselves on a path to success. The center-based model builds on the Y’s strengths in youth work, counseling services and leadership development.
The YMCA was established in New York 1852 to provide young men new to the city a Christian alternative to the attractions of city life. Organized in the Mercer Street Presbyterian Church, the New York YMCA first operated from numerous rented facilities in lower Manhattan, including buildings at 659 Broadway, Astor Place, Waverly Place, Bible House, 161 Fifth Avenue and 3rd Avenue and 9th Street. In 1869, the New York YMCA moved into a large building constructed in the French Renaissance style. Thought to be the first purpose-built YMCA in the United States, the building was designed by notable church architect James Renwick, Jr. It included a large library and reading room, rooms for games, social parlors, a gymnasium, baths, a bowling alley, classrooms, lecture rooms and an auditorium. These features came to be standard at YMCAs throughout the country.
One of the most important events in the early history of the New York City YMCA was the appointment of Robert R. McBurney, first as librarian and later as secretary. Said to be the first paid YMCA secretary, McBurney was an immigrant from northern Ireland whose influence on the development of the YMCA in New York was profound. For example, he helped the national headquarters of the YMCA of the USA locate permanently in New York; there was considerable overlap between the boards of the New York and national YMCA. McBurney was instrumental in developing the metropolitan concept of YMCAs that still operates today in large cities throughout the US. He organized and presided over early New York State conventions and reached out to influential and wealthy men in New York to support the work of the YMCA.
The New York YMCA, in part because of McBurney's leadership, played an important role in the development of local and national social welfare organizations, including the Sanitary Commission, founded in New York in 1861; the U. S. Christian Commission, established in the same year by northern YMCAs to help troops and prisoners of war; the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice, founded in 1876; and the White Cross Army, established in 1885 to promote personal purity among young men. The New York YMCA also supported and publicized the revivalist work of evangelists such as Dwight L. Moody and Ira Sankey.
When McBurney died in 1898, the New York YMCA had more than a dozen branches, including those devoted to serving railroad workers, French and German-speaking immigrants and college students. Although the number of branches and the outreach programs have changed to reflect shifting demographics and community needs, the YMCA in the 21st century provides services to millions of New Yorkers.
During the early years of the YMCA in New York, the organization was also developing and expanding in Brooklyn and other boroughs. Founded in 1853, the Brooklyn Young Men's Christian Association merged with the YMCA of Queens in 1924 to form the Brooklyn-Queens Young Men's Christian Association. This organization merged with the YMCA of the City of New York in 1957 to form the YMCA of Greater New York.