In the spring of 1928, pioneer automaker Charles W. Nash and his wife, completed a study of youth needs in Kenosha. The results of their study led them to make a $400,000 donation toward a community youth center on the condition that their fellow residents match it dollar-for-dollar. Along with their challenge gift to Kenosha, Mr. and Mrs. Nash made the stipulation that, “The new institution will be for the good of all religious classes of whatever denomination…will treat each and every religious denomination as part of the institution…and that one religious denomination will be as welcome as another.”
Three thousand Kenoshans met that challenge and the million-dollar building, first an affiliate of the YMCA (Young Men’s Christian Association), opened its doors and was dedicated to public service in November of 1930, during the worst economic depression in our nation’s history.
Due to the economic turmoil in the country, other community organizations were forced to curtail or decimate their programs, yet Kenosha’s community youth center expanded its services and carried forward its aim, purpose and ideals with even greater zeal. In 1937 the founding members adopted a unanimous resolution to change the name of their institution to the Kenosha Youth Foundation (KYF), in order to fully recognize and include all races and religious denominations in the Kenosha community.
From 1938 forward, the KYF broadened its influence in the community, first by opening Outposts – small satellite branches – that essentially brought the KYF into different neighborhoods throughout the city. The KYF Outposts continued to serve Kenosha until the mid-1980’s and are still fondly remembered by scores of Kenosha’s citizens.
During World War II, the Kenosha Youth Foundation was home to the USO Canteen for servicemen and women, mainly from the Great Lakes Naval Station. In its first year of operation, the Kenosha USO entertained more than 40,000 people. Scores of other Kenosha organizations contributed personnel, materials, and resources to insure the success of the local USO. When the USO suspended its activities in early 1946, it had served over 250,000 servicemen and women in its four years of operation.
In 1974, the KYF built a large addition to the original building which included a natatorium, later dedicated to Allan Korf, a KYF benefactor, who made a generous donation of real estate to the organization. Literally generations of Kenoshans have learned to swim here at the Y.
In 1994 the KYF expanded the Summer Day Camp program with the addition of a site in Kenosha County. In 1995, the Before and After School Program, which until then was operating solely out of the Downtown location, added four sites in Kenosha Unified School District elementary schools. Today this program takes place at the Y, in 10 KUSD schools and in one county school. With the addition of Tykes & Tots, Preschool Playmates and Junior Jams, the Y now offers full-day services to children ages 6 weeks to 15 years. The Kenosha YMCA is the largest child care provider in the community and since its inception this state-licensed program has served many thousands of families.
In 1997, a cooperative venture between the KYF and Kenosha County, made possible by a generous donation from county resident Fanny J. Pringle, resulted in the formation of the Pringle Nature Center in Bristol Woods County Park. The nature center’s programs were designed to provide important environmental education services to the community.
Recognizing the need to reach more of the ever-expanding community as well as to alleviate overcrowding at the downtown location, the KYF Board made a major land purchase in west central Kenosha in 1997. In 1999, the KYF launched its “Answering the Challenge” campaign to raise funds for a new facility west of the downtown location. As in 1928, campaign organizers hoped that the Kenosha community would contribute to this new facility in much the same way as they did when Charles M. Nash provided his initial matching grant.
In 2002, the decision was made to re-affiliate with the YMCA of the USA, and on June 1, 2003 we made it official by becoming the Kenosha YMCA. This was much more than a simple name change however, as we also adopted the mission, core values and goals of this world-wide organization.
In October of 2003, the state-of-the-art Callahan Family Branch of the Kenosha YMCA opened its doors for the first time. The Callahan Family Branch is a mission-driven facility designed and dedicated to meeting the needs of the entire population of the Kenosha community. Today, with its two locations, the Kenosha YMCA remains Kenosha’s largest and most complete recreational facility.
And the rest, as they say,
One out of three Americans reports being a YMCA member at some point in life, but what’s even more remarkable is that the YMCA has touched virtually all Americans in some way. YMCAs invented basketball and volleyball. YMCAs pioneered camping, public libraries, night schools and teaching English as a second language. YMCAs introduced the world’s first indoor pool and group swim lessons. YMCAs offered after-school child care long before “latchkey kids” had been given a name. And YMCAs have provided war relief since the Civil War, aiding millions of soldiers at home and abroad.
The list of accomplishments goes on and on and on…
So what is the YMCA’s secret? Put simply, it’s a solid commitment to improving communities. YMCAs have always been flexible enough to change, to try new things, to be pioneers.
Above all, the YMCA movement is about people – all ages, races, religions and incomes. Forever mission-driven, Ys exist to mold the kind of people who care about each other, who are firm in their own sense of worth and that of others, who try to foster understanding and respect, who take responsibility for their own lives and help improve the lives of others.
Today, the nation’s YMCAs still provide vital services and serve as a force for hope. As we celebrate this rich history, we look forward to a bright future.