History | YMCA of Greater Birmingham


The History of the YMCA of Birmingham

Thirteen years after the City of Birmingham was founded, community leaders established the YMCA. Since then, specific programs and facilities have changed, but not our mission of service to meet community needs.

Temporary housing was available at the original downtown location, as was a game room. There were classes in mathematics, shorthand and other subjects, as well as a reading room and library. As many as ten religious services were held each week.

In these early years, support for the YMCA grew, as leaders of "The Magic City's" manufacturing community lent their support to this civilizing influence. Among the business leaders who were involved in the early growth of the Birmingham YMCA were F.S. Wilson, C.P. Williamson, Robert S. Munger, James W. Sloss, James Bowron, Thomas G. Bush, James R. McWane, and George W. Connors.

Over the next 40 years programs became more varied to include speech arts clubs, radio clubs, law school, short story writing, in addition to the religious activities that were the bedrock for the association.

With the institution of Hi-Y and Gray-Y programs, high school and college students were well served. Saturday morning football games and sandlot baseball games were begun as a way to "recruit potential leaders from the community."

By 1936, community outreach had spread from West End to Glen Iris. As a result, the first branch was built at Five Points South in 1940.

A branch for black members, organized in 1937, was built in 1951. Suburban branches followed: Northeast and Shades Valley were built in 1962, Fourth Avenue West in 1970, and the original Shelby County branch in 1973.

Conceived in 1922 as a complete outdoor recreational center, Camp Cosby moved to its Alpine, Alabama site in 1972.

The downtown branch got a new home in 1985; community centers were added in Alabaster, Fultondale, and Irondale; new Shelby County and Western Area branches were built in the late 1990s; and Hargis Retreat was purchased in 1999.

Summer of 2005 would prove to be the single biggest leap for the Metropolitan Birmingham YMCA, when the association purchased four branches of SportsFirst from the Baptist Health Systems. With that business strategy, branches were added on Highway 280 (Greystone), in Mountain Brook, Trussville, and Vestavia. At the end of the year, the Five Points Family Branch closed to member service and was used for transition while the Youth Center was being completed.

Following the association's largest capital campaign in its history, a city-wide Youth Center in the heart of downtown Birmingham was built and opened in late 2006. The state-of-the-art center features a 30-foot climbing tower, a teaching kitchen, dance studio, computer lab and library, outdoor pool, full sports field, and basketball court. In addition, a youth daycare center operates inside the facility.

In 2010, the association opened a full-service branch in the Alabaster community, to supplement the childcare center that had been in the city for 30 years. By the end of 2011, the largest single facility in the association's history opened in Hoover.

Presently, the Birmingham YMCA has 15 branches and facilities that circle the metropolitan area.

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