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Scott Colom: Why the YMCA stays relevant


Scott Colom



Every year thousands of people start non-profits and other charity groups. Most begin with good intentions and idealistic hopes of tackling some endemic problem. And these groups usually make a difference for a year or two, or, at best, a lifetime. But a few of the groups are able to survive beyond generations; are able to expand beyond nations, and are able to change the world.  


The YMCA is one of those rare groups. It accomplished this by finding the right core principles but also by adapting those principles to current problems and serving the needs of the community in different ways. 


The Young Men''s Christian Association was founded in 1814 in England when workers at a drapery factory decided to start praying together. When word spread about the prayer meetings, branches formed all over England, Scotland and Ireland. In 1851, a retired sea captain named Thomas Sullivan decided to bring this fellowship to America and in a few decades, what started as a prayer group in London, had spread to every major U.S. city, including Columbus.  


More than 80 years after its founding in 1924, our YMCA is still an essential gene in the DNA of Columbus. The YMCA has accomplished this by using its Christian principles to serve different needs. For some, that means a place to met physical needs, such as playing pick up basketball at noon (I''ve made a jump shot or two during these games), swimming, or working out in a Zumba fitness class. For children, this often means a place to socialize with friends and pursue different interests offered by the YMCA, like youth basketball leagues, art classes, theater plays, and summer camp at Camp Henry Pratt. 


For others, the YMCA provides opportunities for spiritual growth and counseling. Stephanie Gibson, the Christian Emphasis Outreach Director, coordinates programs like "Journey to Freedom," an eight-week course that teaches ways to achieve personal advancement through Christian principles and teachings. Stephanie also coordinates a support group for women whose lives have been affected by the incarceration of a family member or friend.  


In recent years, the YMCA has also worked to increase its presence in the community. Councilman Charlie Box, former superintendent Del Phillips, and Terri Gooch created a partnership with the YMCA and Franklin Elementary Magnet School, where Franklin students take physical education classes at the YMCA every week. This partnership gives the students the opportunity to use great facilities for physical education and the YMCA the chance to mentor young students and help with character development. Additionally, Barbara Bigelow, the community development coordinator, helped initiate an annual Health Kids Day three years ago, an event that provides families a way to spend time together and learn important health information.  


The YMCA''s most ambitious project and its potentially most consequential is a project in the works called Y- Build. Based on a project offered at a YMCA in Nashville, the YMCA wants to partner with the Genesis Dream Center and MUW to offer high school dropouts and other at-risk young adults a program to change their lives. For nine months, the program would house the participants, work with professionals to offer them important social skills, and teach them a professional trade and coordinate a apprenticeship with a local business. 


When those men were praying in a factory in the 19th Century, they could not have known centuries later, on a different continent, people in a city with less than 30,000 would benefit from their prayers. Nonetheless, in the different phases of my life, the YMCA has had a major impact on me. As a child it was a place for me to play different sports and hang out with friends; as a young adult it provides a place to work out and fellowship with others; and, as a community member, it provides a place to enjoy my city. But, because of the leadership and vision of the current executive director, Andy Boyd, and others, it''s now working to provide me a way to help improve my city. Meeting those different needs is why the YMCA will continue to be with us for centuries to come.  


Scott Colom is a local attorney. His e-mail address is [email protected]


Scott Colom is a local attorney.


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Reader Comments

Article Comment jaymike76 commented at 5/5/2011 1:34:00 AM:

One of my fondest memories as a child was going to camp henry pratt the summer of 1986. My first experience at camp and my first experience with the YMCA of Columbus. It continued into my teens when i started playing basketball there. Now i'm in the military and when i come home i always try to show my face there. Without the YMCA there really isn't a safe place for young men and women to go in Columbus to work out, swim and play basketball. i just wish it didn't require a membership. Not everyone can afford to be a member.


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