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Our History

The Young Men’s Christian Association of Winston-Salem had its beginnings in October of 1888, housed in a building that no longer stands at the corner of Third and Main streets. By the organization’s first anniversary in 1889, there were 128 members and annual expenses of $1,700. A page from the 1894-95 accounting book shows a regular member and well-known figure in Winston-Salem history: R.J. Reynolds.

By 1897, membership was approaching 500, and the YMCA had already outgrown its space at Third and Main Streets. A year later, it moved to the Brown Building at the corner of Fourth and Main. In 1907, the YMCA acquired land at the corner of Cherry and Fourth streets for the price of $12,500. The building (later the site of the Nissen Building) was finished in 1908 at a cost of $41,500. Dues for the YMCA at that time were $10 a year.

In 1910, the YMCA launched a campaign to teach every Winston-Salem boy to swim. It was the beginning of a long tradition of providing swimming lessons for the community. In 1924, the Patterson Avenue branch, which served African-Americans in the city, opened in a house on Depot Street.

In 1926, John W. Hanes Memorial YMCA Camp — now known as YMCA Camp Hanes — opened in Stokes County, 23 miles northwest of Winston-Salem.

In 1938, as the Winston-Salem YMCA celebrated its 50th Anniversary, Bowman Gray was installed as the Association’s President.

A shift in focus to serving the entire family, not just men and boys, occurred locally and nationwide in the post-War years. YMCAs were becoming increasingly decentralized as suburbs expanded and brought the YMCAs with them. The same trend was evident here, as YMCA organizations were founded in Kernersville and Walkertown in the 1960s.

1970 was the year that Helen Yandell, Erline Pryor and Nancy Dunlap each swam 50 miles, as part of an American Red Cross swim program at the Spruce Street YMCA.

In 1985 the Patterson Avenue YMCA moved to a new, modern facility at a scenic location in the woods of Winston Lake Park and was renamed the Winston Lake Family YMCA.

In 1990, the YMCA began an international partnership with Ukraine, bringing YMCA programs, services and mission to the former Soviet Union country. In 1994, the YMCA created the Character Development theme in response to declining morality and lack of values education. The result was a new effort to promote the YMCA’s commitment to four “core values”: caring, honesty, respect, and responsibility. The YMCA of Northwest North Carolina has since added “faith” to its list of core values.

The YMCA also developed its own fund-raising capacity, setting up a Heritage Club for major donors and instituting its annual Partner With Youth campaign. 2003 was a record-breaking year for the Association’s Partner With Youth campaign, raising more than $659,000.

In 2004, the YMCA donated $2.2 million in financial assistance through the Open Doors Program in an effort to respond to growing community needs. The Association also adopted a rolling three year strategic plan called Healthy Communities 2010 to help guide the vision for the YMCA of the future.

By 2007 the YMCA extended its strategic plan, Healthy Communities 2015, to broaden health and wellness initiatives in our communities. One aspect of this plan, PACES (Program for Active Children Eating Smarter), addresses the issue of childhood obesity by implementing structured recesses at local elementary schools and providing intervention to educate and motivate children with regard to exercise and nutrition. The YMCA is also involved with encouraging educational success and is the lead agency for Graduate Our Future, an initiative targeting Forsyth County’s high school with the lowest graduation rate. The collaborative effort responds to academic performance, attendance, behavior and familial components affecting students’ success.

In 2010, the YMCA revitalized its brand, released a refreshed logo and identified three areas of focus: Youth Development, Healthy Living, and Social Responsibility.
YMCA of Northwest North Carolina merged with the YMCAs of Iredell and Alexander County in 2012. With the merger, the two branches and satellite branch of the former Iredell County YMCA were renamed to the Statesville Family YMCA, Alexander County Family YMCA and the Barium Springs Family YMCA, respectively. The expanded association now serves more than 67,000 members through 14 branches in Alexander, Ashe, Davie, Forsyth, Iredell, Stokes, Surry, Wilkes, and Yadkin Counties. The merger also enabled the YMCA of Northwest North Carolina to have a strong national voice in determining the future of Ys across the country.

In 2014, we celebrated the 125th anniversary of meeting the needs of our community.

In 2017, Stan Law was named the next President and CEO of the YMCA of Northwest North Carolina, making him the first African-American to lead this Y Association in its history. In 2019, the YMCA of NWNC updated its mission statement to read: “Helping all people reach their God-given potential in spirit, mind and body.” This change was made to reflect the Y’s commitment to serving all people and ensuring that all feel welcome.

In 2020, the Y pivoted during the COVID-19 Pandemic to serve the needs of the community — offering emergency childcare to essential workers, food drives with community partners, hosting blood drives at numerous branches, helping distribute masks, and so much more during the pandemic.