Volunteer founded and volunteer led, the YMCA was established in London, England, in 1844 by George Williams, a draper’s shop assistant, to give young men an alternative to life on the streets. In 1851, Thomas Sullivan, a retired sea captain and lay missionary, started the first U.S. YMCA in Boston.
From there, YMCAs spread rapidly across America. Some were started to serve specific groups such as railroad and factory workers, as well as African Americans, Native Americans and recent immigrants. After World War II, women and girls were admitted to full membership and participation.
History of the YMCA of Norwalk
||Howard Gorham generates adult interest in creating a recreation and educational facility – the Norwalk YMCA.
||An executive committee was formed comprised of two women and eight men. Within a short time of the Committee’s formation a fundraising campaign began which raised $426,000 to build the Norwalk YMCA.
||In July 1927 ground was broken for the new facility.
||The Norwalk YMCA facility is completed. The first General Secretary (CEO) is Ernest Saxon who serves from 1928 – 1939.
||YMCA activities included physical education, bowling, swimming and dormitory housing and pioneering programs for women and girls. One of the first Y’s in the country to build locker facilities for women. The Depression caused staff layoffs and a financial struggle.
||The YMCA began a defense training camp to prepare for military life. Women were admitted to the Board of Directors as members and Preston Shadbolt served as General Secretary (CEO) from 1940 – 1950. Programs included day campaigning, dances, shows, swim classes, ballet and ballroom dancing.
||The Norwalk YMCA faced serious financial problems and was reorganized. New programming was added and included The Biddy Basketball Program, Junior Leaders Club, and Industrial Management programs. A new branch was organized in New Canaan and with rapid growth soon became independent. Emil Faubert served as General Secretary (CEO) from 1952 – 1957.
||Plans to purchase additional property and to renovate the facility were underway. A new indoor swimming and diving complex was added, the old bowling alleys were removed and a health center for men was added. The new facilities were opened in 1966. Richard Lau served as President (CEO) from 1958 – 1968.
||Several new Y’s opened in the region and there were difficult financial times for the Norwalk YMCA. In 1977, a $1 million Capital Campaign got underway and two years later was completed with $1.2 million. George Marsh served as President (CEO) from 1969 – 1978.
||An extensive renovation plan “Concept 80” was developed for the Norwalk YMCA. The Y acquired additional property to increase parking. Renovation and construction were completed in September 1980 with raquetball courts, indoor track and nautilus fitness center were added as well as health centers for men and women. In 1983 the YMCA purchased 500 West Avenue to serve the Y’s expanded childcare needs. Mary Jane Balser served as President (CEO) from 1979 – 1986.
||A Capital Campaign entitled “Invest in Tomorrow” was kicked off with a goal of $1.1 million and $824,328 was raised. In 1995 the Norwalk YMCA expanded its after school programs. Additional improvements were made to the fitness center throughout the 1990’s. From 1999 – 2002 Chris Mogridge was the Executive Director.
||The “Y” marked a transitional ten-year period with three leadership changes in quick succession, culminating with the appointment of our current CEO, Michael Case in 2009. Along with his newly-installed staff, 2010 marked a return to best practices, a 28% increase in membership, two new strength lines in the fitness center and retrofitted pools. A Main Lobby refurbishment and increased emphasis on “member care” commenced in 2011, along with the kick-off of a new Annual Campaign benefitting Youth Development in Norwalk. Our management’s emphasis is a sustained effort to “raise the bar” in Norwalk where our “Y” will once again be a destination of choice for the best programming for families, adults and children.