How the YMCA Helped Shape America

Today, the Y engages more than 10,000 neighborhoods across the U.S.

As the nation’s leading nonprofit committed to helping people and communities to learn, grow and thrive, our contributions are both far-reaching and intimate - from influencing our nation’s culture during times of profound social change to the individual support we provide an adult learning to read.

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The Y movement was started over 160 years ago. There is a Y whose original charter was signed by Abraham Lincoln, and in 1914, Woodrow Wilson said: “You can test a modern community by its interest in the YMCA.”

In addition to being the oldest and largest social institution in the United States, the Y is also the largest membership organization and the largest provider of child care, youth sports, aquatics programs, camping, health and fitness, day camp and parent-child programs.

The YMCA is community-based. This is why no Y is quite the same. As the saying goes, “Once you’ve seen one Y…you’ve seen one Y…” This flexibility means our mission is broad enough to allow us to do whatever needs to be done.

The YMCA has always been practical. Our founder, George Williams, said, “If a young man says he has lost God, first buy him dinner.” He dreamed of a world where Christian teachings were not just preached, they were practiced.

YMCAs have interpreted the Christian mission in a practical way, often including many groups excluded by others. For example, long before the phrase “cultural diversity” was used, YMCAs were at work in the Great Plains with both the U.S. Cavalry and the Sioux Indians. The Y worked with prisoners on both sides in both World Wars. In Jerusalem, the only place where Arabs, Jews, and Christians can meet is the YMCA. And right here in our own backyard, members mix with a true cross-section of the community every day.

The YMCA has always been about development. Our symbol, the triangle, represents the development of spirit, mind and body.

At the YMCA, people of every age, race, religion and circumstance are welcome. Our doors will continue to be truly open to all…today, tomorrow and for the next 100 years.

For more information about the YMCAs history in the United States, please visit our national Y-USA page: www.ymca.net/history.



The Greater Naples YMCA is the heart of Naples. In 1967 with a strong belief in the Young Mens Christian Association movement, Ms. Gladys Donohue and Mr. Joseph Ruffing, Jr. filed the first documents to create the Collier County YMCA.  From humble beginnings, made by an association who saw the hopefulness of a plot of land on the corner of Airport Road and Pine Ridge Road, the Y has commited itself to strengthening our community. Fifty-one years later thousands of volunteers and staff members have worked tirelessly to address social needs and change lives.


While our commitment to the community remains steadfast, our organization is continuously evolving and innovating.

Over the last 5 years we have grown to be one of the most impactful charitable organizations in the community. As Collier County continues to grow, so does the Y. Our priorities as an organization reflect the needs of the community and prioritize the areas where the Y has a unique opportunity for impact.

We are proud of our historical achievements. Our history gives us pride. Our future, with continued unyielding effort and support from our community, excites us. Our promise is to strengthen our community. Together, moving forward into our future, we will transform lives for generations to come.


Two major sports, basketball and volleyball, were born at the YMCA. A YMCA instructor created the first group swimming lesson, and the Y was the first to establish certification programs for lifesaving, swimming and aquatic instruction. The YMCA also pioneered and greatly expanded summer camping, night school, vocational counseling, adult education, college student services, and junior college.

YMCA World Service workers were forerunners of Peace Corps volunteers. The YMCA assisted in the formation of other major voluntary groups such as Boy Scouts, Camp Fire, and the USO.