So much more than “swim and gym”

The YMCA was formed in 1844, in London, England, by a young drapery clerk, George Williams, and 11 other young men who shared his concern with the decadence and immorality of 19th-century London. 

Their original efforts centered on developing a library, reading room and a locale for lectures and Bible study.

The example of the young men in London soon inspired others. A retired American sea captain, Thomas Sullivan, brought the YMCA to Boston in 1851. Soon, chapters were formed throughout the United States and Canada, and later, throughout the world. 

The early emphasis on religious understanding and relationship with Protestant churches was soon augmented by programs in the arts, education and gymnastics, setting the stage for modern YMCA programming centered on youth, fitness and recreation. Today, the YMCA is a non-denominational organization that is still inspired and guided by positive moral values.

Over the years, YMCAs have led the way for a host of activities that help define America as we know it. James Naismith, a physical education teacher at the YMCA Training School (Springfield College), invented basketball in 1891 and W. G. Morgan invented volleyball at the Holyoke YMCA in 1895. Lifeguards at every beach and pool in America can trace their roots to the YMCA. The organization has also set standards in community recreation, non-profit capital fundraising and community disaster relief, among many other services.


Today, the Y remains deeply committed to its mission, and has experienced significant growth in terms of programs, facilities, and the share number of people it serves. Here in Rhode Island and nearby Massachusetts, the Y is a vital part of the community. To learn more about today’s Y and its impact on the Rhode Island economy, we reached out to Chief Financial Officer of the Greater Providence Y, Lynne Malone.

WC: How many people does the Greater Providence Y employ, and how many locations does it have? 

Malone: The YMCA of Greater Providence has approximately 1,000 full time and part time employees at 11 locations.  During the summer, we hire an addition 400 seasonal summer camp staff.

WC: How might you summarize the Y's overall mission? 

Malone: The Y has served Greater Providence since 1854.  The Mission of the YMCA of Greater Providence is to build healthy spirit, mind, and body for all, through programs, services and relationships that are based on our core values of caring, honesty, respect and responsibility. We accomplish this mission through our work in healthy living, youth development, and social responsibility.  

WC: What is something about the Greater Providence Y that folks may not realize or that might surprise them? 

Malone: The Y is more than a “swim and gym.”  The work of the Y focuses on helping people reach their goals and overcoming obstacles. An example is the Live Strong Program where The YMCA of Greater Providence is partnering with LIVESTRONG to offer health and wellness programs for cancer survivors. The programs are designed to strengthen and support survivors on the road to recovery after their treatment regimens. Programs are offered free of charge to participants.  Another example is the Out of School programming which is dedicated to closing the achievement gap for underserved students and providing them with every opportunity for success.

WC: All sectors public, private, and businesses small and large have been impacted by a prolonged, sluggish economy. How tough has it been for the nonprofit sector? 

Malone: The sluggish economy impacts nonprofit organizations in several ways. First, many nonprofits have experienced increased needs for services, particularly those organizations that help provide safety net services (food, housing, etc.). At the Y, for example, we are finding many more children in our after school program that are hungry and have added dinner to several of our sites. At the same time, the sluggish economy can impact charitable support from individuals and corporations for these same organizations, like the Y, that are experiencing an increased need for services. As a result, organizations like the Y have found themselves needing to do more and serve more with less.

WC: How has the Greater Providence Y had to respond to the economy in terms of services, raising funds, etc.? 

Malone: Like all other nonprofits we struggle with doing the same or more with less. As funding has not increased at the same level as costs we need to make difficult choices on how to spend the resources we do have. Although we are a nonprofit, we do need to have adequate income to provide the services that so many in our community want and need. 

WC: What is the vision of the Greater Providence Y in terms of being financially healthy moving forward?

Malone: Like all organizations – not for profit and for profit – financial health is essential. For the YMCA of Greater Providence, we believe that we can sustain our financial health through providing high quality services that are relevant and meet the current and emerging needs of the community, particularly in the areas of improving the health of the community and helping all children succeed.   

WC:  Why are nonprofits like the Y so important to the Rhode Island economy?

Malone: Nonprofit organizations are not only employers in the state, providing good jobs, but also help to address the most pressing needs in our community, be it poverty, hunger, the environment, etc. The Y views itself both as a resource to the community as well as a contributor to Rhode Island’s economy and vitality.  

WC: In what ways can businesses connect with Greater Providence Y programs and services?

Malone: There are many ways that businesses can partner with the Y to meet common goals. For one, the Y offers corporate memberships to businesses to help them get and keep their employees healthy. Second, charitable support and sponsorships are a way for businesses to have a social impact with a partner that has a strong local, national, and international brand. Lastly, the Y is always looking for volunteers to participate on our board and committees. Volunteering provides employees with great professional development opportunities and nonprofits like the Y with valuable knowledge, perspective, and expertise.