Celebrating 160 Years of the YMCA in the Twin Cities

Together with you, the YMCA of the Greater Twin Cities gives our community the support it needs to learn, grow and thrive every day.

From advocacy to aquatics, child care to camps, family fun to fitness, mentoring to multicultural experiences, sports to safe spaces, water safety to wellness, everything we do helps strengthen our neighborhood and the people who live here.

Our Y has been serving the Twin Cities community since 1856 – longer than Minnesota has been a state!

See what our members and participants shared about what the Y means to them and our community:

See how the YMCA has been serving the Twin Cities for 160 years.

YMCA Street banners 1856

1856 – On July 28, a small group met in St. Paul’s First Presbyterian Church to form a Young Men’s Christian Association. On June 27, 1866, the YMCA in Minneapolis was formed at Free Will Baptist Church. The Y would serve as a safe space for newcomers to the area to meet, socialize and participate in their communities.

Minneapolis Y Boys Branch

1880s – The Minneapolis Y organized a “Boys Branch” that included open gym time, concerts and lectures, including visits from Civil War veterans. The Y also had a “rambling club” that led excursions to places like Minnehaha Falls, Fort Snelling and Lake Calhoun.

Minneapolis Y Boys Camp on Lake Minnetonka

1900s – The Minneapolis Y offered its first Boys Camp on Lake Minnetonka to 47 campers. A decade later, the Y would establish its first permanent camp sites – Camp Icaghowan and Camp St. Croix. Every activity was an opportunity to build character, develop leadership skills and appreciate the outdoors.

University Y merges with the Minneapolis Y

1910s – The University Y merges with the Minneapolis Y. UY members welcomed incoming students, printed handbooks, gave orientation and tours and provided guidance on subjects from financial aid to class registration. After World War I, the UY hosted convocations and discussions around geopolitical issues.

YMCA in the 1930's

1930s – Throughout the Depression, the Y gave free memberships to the unemployed and refused to cut services to those in need. The Y still provided lodging, meals, medical attention, first aid, clothing and tuition for night school.

Youth in Government comes to the Twin Cities

1940s – Youth in Government comes to the Twin Cities in 1946, using model legislature to introduce youth to the issues, processes and challenges of state government and prepare for potential careers in political leadership.

Junior Sports and Olympics

1960s – The Y hosted Junior Sports and Olympics, working with community agencies and schools to engage 15,000 kids a year in basketball, wrestling, swimming, track and field, etc.

Y child care center

1970s – The first Y child care center opened in 1969 to accommodate families with two working parents. In the 1970s and 80s, Y child care expanded throughout the metro and into elementary and middle schools.

Branch without a building model

1970s – In its early days, the Y employed a “branch without a building” model by forming cooperative relationships with community partners to run programs in schools, church gyms and other spaces. In the 1970s and beyond, the Y began to build full-service facilities in the communities it served to offer more opportunities for all.

Multicultural Achievers program

1980s – The North Community and Blaisdell Ys began the Multicultural Achievers program. Successful multicultural leaders were asked to serve as mentors to inner city students, building relationships to help develop their talent and leadership potential and encourage them to plan for future educational and career opportunities.

Beacons program

1990s – Beacons began as a partnership among Minneapolis schools, government agencies and youth organizations with the Y as the leading agency. The program gives youth access to a wide variety of educational and enrichment activities in a safe, affirming environment – right in Minneapolis schools. Beacons helps improve attendance, academic performance and behavior.

Minneapolis and St. Paul Ys merge

2016 – After nearly two decades working in close partnership, the Minneapolis and St. Paul Ys merge to become the fourth largest Y association in the world in 2012. Today, our Y engages over 250,000 youth, adults, families and seniors each year in a variety of programs and services that ignite youth development, healthy living and social responsibility.

Learn more about the history of the Y in the Twin Cities