In 1867, when the New Bedford YMCA first opened its doors, the city was facing the declining years of the once-flourishing whaling industry and still decades away from the boom of the coming textile era. The Civil War had just ended and rebuilding was getting underway.
Into that uncertain time, the organization founded for the benefit of young Christian men made a splash in the city, opening its doors in September and beginning a rich tradition of community service to SouthCoast families.
Community is the guiding light of the organization which in its truest form is a gathering place of friendship and good feeling, James F. Scherer, president and chief executive officer of YMCA Southcoast, and executive director Tara Pacheco told The Standard-Times editorial board.
It’s our promise to strengthen the community, Scherer said, and we do that through our core principles, our guiding pillars, as we call them.
Those pillars include youth development, healthy living, and becoming good stewards of existing resources, respectable goals that have taken the New Bedford Y, over its 150 years of existence, beyond the sports games, swim lessons, and dances of the past.
Although those programs may still exist, today’s Y is also working with the school department on student educational programs, offering its own child care, hosting city-wide events like the New Bedford Half-Marathon, and helping feed New Bedford families with vegetables grown on its Dartmouth farm.
And, while it might have started to serve a specific population, today’s YMCA opens its doors to all and continues to welcome families and individuals from all backgrounds, faiths, genders and colors.
As Scherer puts it, “We represent the community in its truest form.”
This month, the YMCA is taking time to celebrate those people — the community that has helped it flourish for 150 years — and turning its thoughts to the future and the needs of new generations of families.
Y leadership knows there will be many challenges ahead, including identifying emerging under-served populations and upgrading an aging space — built in 1972 and expanded in 1996 — and local Y leadership will be focused on these in the years ahead. But first, they ask the community to join them in celebrating the prior 150 years of community service at a Sept. 23 gala being held, appropriately enough, in a decorated and transformed YMCA gym.
It is a good time for anyone who has benefited from the Y's presence in the city to come together and recognize the power, history, and staying power of this respected organization.