In addition to her work as a sales representative with Genentech, Susan Jankowski supports the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA). Founded in 1844 as a way to promote mental, physical, and spiritual health among young men in London, the YMCA currently boasts a membership of more than 45 million people worldwide. Over the years, members of the YMCA have impacted a number of major events in the fields of sports, popular culture, and the military. Here is a brief overview of the myriad roles that the YMCA has played throughout its history in North America.
Wartime assistance – During the 1860s, the YMCA provided essential support, sheltering, and nursing services to those injured or displaced by the American Civil War. The YMCA also supplied more than $150 million in welfare for American troops abroad and contributed some 25,000 of its employees in military bases and units around the world. In addition to assisting Japanese-Americans in internment camps by organizing youth activities and helping young men leave the camps to attend college, the YMCA was instrumental in the founding of the USO during World War II.
The invention of basketball and volleyball – In 1891, a YMCA sports coach named James Naismith invented the sport of basketball to keep children active during the snowy winter months in Massachusetts. Four years later, a YMCA physical education director named William G. Morgan invented the sport of volleyball as a less intensive alternative to basketball for older members of the organization. Although the early rules of both sports were rough, they quickly gained momentum and became staples of American sports.
The Village People – In 1978, an American band known as the Village People released a song titled “Y.M.C.A.” The song, which featured popular dance moves, rapidly climbed the charts, reaching the #2 spot on the U.S. charts in 1979. Although many interpreted the lyrics of the song, which describe the virtues of the YMCA, as a representation of gay culture, lead singer and songwriter Victor Willis insists that the lyrics were meant to reflect the potential for fun among young urban African-Americans.