When the first Young Men's Christian Association was founded in London in 1844, England was battling with the social upheavals of the industrial revolution.
Urbanization and sweat shops had brought about all kinds of societal problems which threatened the spiritual and material well-being of city dwellers. By drawing young men first to prayer circles and then to varied programs of athletics and uplifting, the YMCA movement wanted to compete with the lure of streets and bright lights.
The worldwide YMCA movement has had its ups and downs since those days. Although eight YMCA centers still operate in Central Maryland, Y's in Baltimore City are down to one. That lone survivor is located on Druid Hill Avenue, carrying on the traditions of a "colored" branch that has operated in the neighborhood almost uninterrupted since 1885.
This year alone, its varied programs serve nearly 5,000 people of all ages primarily from an inner-city area plagued by such scourges as drug abuse, violence and teen-age pregnancy. The YMCA is cognizant of its Christian roots but among the many groups it serves are the schools of two Baltimore mosques.
The Druid Hill YMCA is now starting a $1.5 million capital campaign to expand its facilities and serve even more people.
It hopes to turn the currently unoccupied ground floor of a building adjoining its home at 1619 Druid Hill Avenue into a 6,000-square-foot multi-purpose area for programs that would offer neighborhood kids a healthy alternative to spending time on the streets. "If you are around success, it will help breed success," director Paul Stoney says, referring to the after-school and mentoring programs provided at the complex.
During its history, the Druid Hill YMCA has touched thousands olives. "People have to remember that this shaped their lives and can shape other lives, too," says Harold Mezile Jr., president of the YMCA of Greater Baltimore.
By contributing generously to this capital campaign, alMarylanders can become friends and mentors at the Druid Hill YMCA.