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.


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.


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 in 1967. The first board president, Mr. David K. Johnson was named in 1969. 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, we are now situated at what is considered the busiest intersection in Collier County.

Throughout the years we have been a steadfast leader in strengthening this community. From our early roots in daycare, to developing a preschool education program, we are the world class model of early education. The YMCA Gaynor Early Learning Center staff has set the bar in Collier County. Our Norris Aquatic Center built over a decade ago, now serves as a training center for members of the USA National Team. Through nearly a 50-year history of serving Collier County, the Greater Naples YMCA has grown, always striving to better serve our community.

Perhaps the most memorable event in recent history is the Labor Day fire of 2013 that destroyed our facilities. A lightning strike on that afternoon sent the YMCA up in flames. Nearly 70 percent of the building was damaged. What wasn’t burned by fire was flooded from
the rains that followed. Under Paul Thein’s leadership as President and CEO, the YMCA was totally renovated and rebuilt as a much larger facility; the YMCA was fully rebuilt in less than 20 months.

The newly opened Y is considered world-class and is branded as a Healthy Living Campus. The wellness center is named after the Richard M. Schulze Family Foundation. Schulze sparked a fundraising effort through a $1.5 million challenge grant. This challenge engaged the YMCA leadership to raise $5 million in a rebuild effort. Upon opening, the YMCAs Wellness Facility was enshrined with local and regional awards, including two Grand Aurora Awards naming the Naples YMCA as the Best Commercial Facility built in 2015 and the Best Recreational Facility in the Southeastern United States. Many agencies recognized the YMCAs momentum in the community including Cybex Wellness, who named the Naples YMCA as an Official Training Center for their North American clients. Today, the Naples YMCA stands stronger than ever, piloting many regional and national programs with the help of a plethora of nonprofit associations that have joined our movement.

In 2016 Florida SouthWestern State College selected the Greater Naples YMCA as their provider of choice for the supervision and operation of the world class Naples Children & Education Foundation (NCEF) Early Childhood Education Center. This award winning LEED-certified building design originally funded and opened by NCEF in 2008 boasts seven classrooms, a children’s art studio and a creative playground.  The seven age appropriate classrooms directly open to outdoor play areas that provides a learning environment centered on play and nature.


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.