The idea of a YMCA was first thought of by the first gentleman, George Williams, along with eleven of his friends. They organized the first Young Men’s Christian Association in London. Its purpose was to be a refuge for young men who escaped from a dangerous life. The Y offered something, “new” for its time; it strived to meet social and community needs. A retired sea captain; Thomas Valentine Sullivan, the second gentleman involved in establishing this organization, had the same idea as that of Williams. He used his idea to provide for the needs of sailors and merchants for a “home away from home.” He created his Y at the Old South Church in Boston in1851. The Y has evolved from being a place to stay to the nation’s largest non-profit organization committed to nurturing the potential of young and old alike, promoting healthy living and fostering a sense of social responsibility.
The Greater Carbondale YMCA was founded in 1885, headquartered on the second floor of the Mitchell Building on Salem Ave. On May 4, 1913 steps were taken in the reorganization of the YMCA. On June 23, 1913 it was decided to make immediate plans for the present building on Main Street and after raising $36,000 – including the initial gift of $10,000 from Catherine and Anna Alexander, daughters of a prominent Carbondale businessman.
Known as a “railroad YMCA”, the YMCA’s primary use in those days was temporary housing for railroad workers; while the gym, track and pool served local men and boys who enjoyed recreational exercise such as basketball and volleyball. An extensive program of Bible classes, gymnasium and swimming programs, lectures, night school classes, public speaking, social activities, visiting the sick and many other activities to service the residents of Carbondale through wholesome recreation and education. The purpose of all these activities and events was the development of Christian personality and the building of a Christian society. In 1916, the Ladies Auxiliary was organized.
In 1976, plans were drawn up to expand the YMCA facilities. An architect and contractor were secured and construction began on the Church Street facility in September of 1980. The new facility was opened in November 1981. With both buildings in operation, the YMCA could offer residents of the Greater Carbondale area increased programming and recreation such as childcare, additional youth basketball, and cardio machines.
In 2002, membership was barely at the 500 mark. Facilities and equipment were struggling to keep up with the needs of its members. In 2003, a new Board of Directors began on a path to increase membership and update the equipment. Within three years, membership had tripled. This trend continued and the organization was outgrowing its’ buildings. In 2007, the YMCA took on the enormous task of the 21st Century Capital Campaign to expand and renovate the entire campus; costing over $10 million. This dream was realized with the Grand Opening of fully renovated, handicap accessible campus in March 2010.
Now, over 130 years later, membership is over 4,300 and the Greater Carbondale YMCA is thriving; furthering its mission of programs that build a healthy spirit, mind and body for the greater good of upper Lackawanna, Wayne and Susquehanna counties in Northeast Pennsylvania. In September 2016, the Greater Carbondale YMCA was ranked in the top 1% of YMCAs nationwide among 500 YMCAs for Community Impact.