Bringing the 'C' back to the 'Y' in 'YMCA'

by Karen L. Willoughby, |

PORTLAND, Ore. (Christian Examiner) – Bob Hall and Larry Whittlesey want to make the "C" an active part of the "Y" again.

Hall is president and CEO of the Columbia/Willamette Young Men's Christian Association in Portland, and Whittlesey is director of US Mission Network, a subsidiary of this YMCA chapter.

"Knowing what's in the YMCA USA's constitution including the preamble, I would like to think we're being faithful to those foundational documents," Hall told Christian Examiner. "We're not creating something new; we're just taking them seriously. My encouragement to other Ys would be to take them seriously."

YMCA USA claims to "put Christian principles into practice through programs that build healthy spirit, mind and body for all," and it states a goal is "to develop a faith for daily living based upon the teachings of Jesus Christ, that they may thereby be helped in achieving their highest potential as Children of God."

The 'Y' in Portland, Oregon, is running back to its 'C' roots | YMCA USA

However, the 2,700-plus local YMCAs are not required to adhere to every word of the national organization's mission, purpose or goals, but rather to fit within their community's – donors' – standards.

Hall said that partly in an attempt to widen its donor base, many local YMCAs lessened the emphasis on the "C" in order to reach more of the public.

All the programs at the "Y" are optional he emphasized and all the Christian programming is marked. So his "Y" is positioned to extend the "C" to local communities, Whittlesey said.

"The 'Y' is an incredibly-placed organization in between the world and church," Whittlesey said. "My passion is to get 'Ys' to see it is serving our constituents better, our communities better if we do these things. If all we offer is a piece of equipment to work out on, a pool to swim in, and don't offer people answers, some solutions, we're not really serving them."

In 2013, Hall acquired a grant from a major Northwestern U.S. foundation, the M.J. Murdock Trust, to start the US Mission Network. Its purpose: to encourage YMCAs across the nation into returning to their Christian roots.

"The Y is like Switzerland; it's neutral territory," Whittlesey told Christian Examiner. "We're that neutral spot people can come to for answers to real-life issues.

"On a regular basis we have people who are hurting come in the doors of the Y," Whittlesey continued. "This can range from marital problems to teen suicide, drug and alcohol problems, finances, grief and more.

"We now have a person who reaches out to people who are hurting and works with them through those issues. [The Y's Christian component] makes a difference to those people who find a listening ear, compassionate heart and practical help in overcoming life's challenges we all experience."

While he's aware that some people might cancel their donations to the Y because of the renewed emphasis on its Christian mission, Hall said he was not overly concerned about the possible negative impact on donations which fund operating expenses.

"If somebody decides they don't want to give because of the position we take, that's unfortunate," Hall said. "For those who don't want to give, there are those who do want to give for the same reason. We leave that in God's hands."