The YMCA is a worldwide organization that started in the 19th century in England. George Williams and a group of Christian men rallied together to respond to the needs of young men who, because of industrialization, were migrating to urban areas in search of employment. By 1851 the YMCA movement had crossed the Atlantic and the first YMCA in North America was established in Montreal.(reference-Web) It was in 1886 that the Cape Breton YMCA opened in Sydney.
The YMCA is 'dedicated to the growth of persons in spirit, mind and body and in a sense of responsibility to each other'. The emphasis is on developing the whole person. Addressing a person¹s literacy needs and ability to participate productively and responsibly in their community. The YMCA has a long history in the field of adult education. YMCAs became known as centres of communities and pioneers in outreach services. When education served mostly the elite, the YMCA developed night school classes for the average working man.
Over the years, the scope of adult education in the YMCA has covered the broad range of topics and an even broader range of clients served. Classes in post-secondary education as well as English and French second language classes were offered, as well as employment initiatives to adult basic education and functional literacy.
During the Depression the YMCA developed programs to help overwhelming numbers of unemployed youth. Practical training and schooling offered by the YMCA¹s taught courses ranging from carpentry, farming and metal work to literacy programs. Some were offered at railway YMCA¹s, built along developing railway lines.
In 1925 the Montreal YMCA established a school to offer business college and matriculation classes during the day and grammar school and high school classes in the evening. In 1926 the Montreal YMCA School was renamed Sir George Williams College. By 1930 there were over 1200 students. This college still operates today and is now known as ³Concordia University².
Ottawa followed the example of the Montreal YMCA, opening Carleton College in 1938. Its main purpose was to fill the need for adult higher education in the Ottawa area. In 1946, over 1500 students were registered for classes. Carleton is now a university and remains a strong force in the Canadian education scene. York University in Toronto also grew out of YMCA night school programs.
Today the YMCA has almost a half million members in Canada. While the YMCA¹s guiding mission committed to personal growth, developing leadership skills became a natural outgrowth. Employment training and education continued to grow into the YMCA mainstream right through to the 1950¹s. During the 1980¹s, an emphasis on youth brought various job training, internship and mentoring programs.
The newest generation of programs offers everything from job search support, literacy training and computer training, to career assessment and small business start-up classes. It was in 1987 that the YMCA opened nine Enterprise Centres across Canada, including one in Glace Bay, Nova Scotia, where I now work. I am the head of what is now called, the YMCA Entrepreneur Centre. We provide one-on-one support in developing a business plan as well as offer different supporting business workshops. The YMCA's mission to improve lives, is as strong as ever.