DARKE COUNTY – Since it’s founding in 1844 to serve as a refuge for young men in industrialized London, the YMCA has grown to become a fixture in many Americans’ lives.
In 1851, just six years after the organization’s founding, retired sea captain Thomas Sullivan became inspired by the stories of the Y in England, and led the formation of the first Y in Boston.
Since then, YMCA’s in the United States have laid claim to a proud history while serving the people in their communities in a variety of practical ways.
Locally at the Darke County YMCA, the organization has gained a new Chief Executive Officer in Sam Casalano, and he’s committed to bringing the organization’s message to both past, present and future members.
“Over the course of the past 165 years, the work of the Y has grown and evolved, but one thing has remained constant: Our mission, to put Christian principles into practice through programs that build healthy spirit, mind, and body for all,” said Casalano. “It is our reason for being as a movement, and it is a driving force behind our cause of strengthening community. Being for all is really what distinguishes the Y from everyone else.”
Looking back, the YMCA has a long record in American history.
The Y developed the first known English as a second language program in the United States in response to the influx of immigrants in the 1850’s.
The YMCA organization also pioneered basketball, volleyball, and group swimming lessons around the turn of the 20th century, giving a recently industrialized nation new, safe physical activities that could be enjoyed indoors and outside.
During World War II, the Y partnered with other national organizations for National Defense, today known as the USO.
When the number of working parents exploded in the 1980’s, Y’s responded by greatly expanding childcare programming.
More recently, the Y has been a leader in addressing the country’s lifestyle health and chronic disease crisis.
“This is our legacy,” said Casalano. “Our challenge is to build on this legacy to continue to help our community address the complexities of daily life, and we must respond by maximizing our collective ability to launch innovative, broad-scale solutions.”
To carry on its legacy, the Darke County YMCA has been striving to meet the needs of the community it serves through programming, classes, and initiatives, said Casalano.
“We focus our efforts on three areas: nurturing the potential of every child and teen, improving the health and well-being of our community members, and by giving back and providing support to our neighbors.”
And according to raw numbers, the initiative has a solid following locally.
In Versailles, the population is 2,661 with a total YMCA membership of 1,150, meaning 43 percent of the population enrolls in the Y experience.
The Greenville Y population currently has 3,624 members, and about 1 in 3 community members are benefiting from the Y locally, said Casalano.
“Along with the schools and churches, the Y is having a strong impact on a large percentage of our citizens on a regular basis.”
The Y is also positioned as an inclusive organization of men, women, and children, with an ‘Open Door Policy’, which means we never turn an individual away for their inability to pay.
And the YMCA continues to change with the times, focusing on current day issues facing the population.
According to a 2013 community-wide needs assessment, the most critical issues facing our community include high unemployment rates, chronic disease, and bullying in schools.
“In the coming months we will be initiating a job seekers networking group for those seeking new employment options, and will be offering free diabetes education classes, which will be open to the entire community,” said Casalano. “Incorporating bullying education into all youth programming, as part of our character values emphasis, will also be a priority.”
The Darke County YMCA administration has also pledged its commitment to partner with other non-profits to make the local experience a reality for even more community members, and plans to reach out to local businesses to offer workplace wellness options for their employees, in our effort to combat chronic disease issues.
While Casalano is just beginning his first full year as the YMCA Darke County CEO, his goals for the YMCA and entire organization remain crystal clear.
“Though the world may be unpredictable, one thing is certain – the Y is, and always will be, dedicated to building healthy, confident, secure and connected children, families and communities.”