History of the YMCA of Reading & Berks County
Rooted in Judeo-Christian values, the YMCA serves youths, families, and individuals in need by providing shelter, care, health and wellness programs, and recreation within the geographic area for which it is responsible.
It is our commitment to address the critical needs of Reading. We are both an organization of members and an organization of community centers. We offer:
5 branches and units
single room occupancy residence program
youth sports, recreation and leadership programs
child care ( including Nite Care)
aquatics and wellness programs for all ages
A Proud Heritage
It all began in London, England in 1844 when George Williams and other founders formed the YMCA. Mr. Williams wanted to provide young men with an alternative to the corrupt environment which prevailed in 19th century London. The Y’s primary activity of that time was to develop a library and reading room and to conduct discussions, lectures and Bible study groups. First known as the “Young Men’s Improvement Society”, it adopted its present name, “Young Men’s Christian Association” on June 6, 1844.
The YMCA was introduced to America by Thomas Sullivan in Boston in 1851. During the YMCA early years, great emphasis was placed upon religious understanding and relationships with Protestant churches.
During the late 1850's YMCA classes in language, music and gymnastics began. Although many YMCAs permitted membership only to men under 35-40 years of age, they developed a Ladies’ Auxiliaries to make rooms attractive, raise money, serve in welfare projects and teach Bible classes.
Today, the YMCA is regarded as a non-denominational, private, lay Christian organization. It has no organic ties to any church, government or state.
From its formative years, the United States YMCA has pioneered across a wide front and has helped other organizations serving youth, such as the Boy Scouts and Camp Fire Girls to get started. The YMCA’s James Naismith invented basketball and a Y Physical Director, William Morgan, invented volleyball. Youth camping was first started by the Y in 1884. Short term capital fund campaigns were another YMCA “first”. The YMCA led the way in disaster relief efforts, organized community and public recreation, developed the concept of man’s unity of spirit, mind and body and reinforced it with a nationwide health and education and physical fitness emphasis. Today, the YMCA is the nation’s leader in health and wellness, aquatics and child care.
The YMCA of Reading and Berks County was founded June 22, 1858, when the first board of directors was elected. Our first official headquarters were located at 6th and Penn Streets.
A reorganization of the Association took place in 1869 under the vigorous leadership of J.H. Sternbergh. Our present building, on Reed & Washington Streets was dedicated May 24, 1914.
Today, the YMCA of Reading and Berks County operates 5 branches:
Adamstown Branch, was formed October 20, 1955 and is proudly known as the “Biggest Little Y in the World”. This branch is the social, recreational and community center for the Adamstown area.
The Tri Valley Branch, headquartered at the Fleetwood Community Center, was originally known as the Kutztown YMCA and was founded in 1942. Tri Valley uses approximately 40 program sites to serve its seven school district territory.
The Youth Services Branch, located upstairs of the Reading Post Office, is an alternative high school for students throughout the county having difficulty in a traditional class room setting.
The Tamaqua Branch is another satellite operation which offers a variety of programs such as preschool education, aquatic classes and competitive swim programs and recreational activities for the residents of the Tamaqua Area School District.
The Central Branch, the grand old building on Reed and Washington Streets, hums with activity 24 hours a day, offering residential housing, health and fitness, 1ST and 2nd shift child care, community services, education and training, social, cultural, art, youth and teen programs. The Central Branch was nearly destroyed by fire on January 28, 1985 leaving the Y family devastated. Thanks to the support of the entire community, the YMCA Central Branch was rebuilt and remains a leader in the field of human services today.