A guy walks into a Y...

Tom Massey

Sounds like the beginning of a lame joke – but not in my case.  I could be wrong, but I think I have walked into as many different YMCAs as anyone. 

I recently walked into the Y in Minia, Egypt.  One of the first things I saw were the character development banners.  I admit, I got a little choked up.  Many (very many) years ago, Ron Kinnamon asked me to develop the character development program for the YMCA of the USA.  I had no idea that effort had reached the other side of the world.

Could we – the YMCA – really be that connected all over the earth?

Next the Minia Y staff took me through the gym, pool, and to the ballfield which was full of kids playing sports.  The sights, sounds, feelings, and yes – even the smells – were just like I experienced as a child at the Warren, Arkansas YMCA.

I have walked into Ys in almost all 50 states and in Manila, Jerusalem, Hong Kong, London and other international cities.  I know this for certain:  there is a thread that connects all of them.

It is not the facilities, programs, or even the staff.  Those can be very different.  It is not a common mission statement or vision – nothing that “lofty.”  I could almost be convinced it is an intangible, like the “YMCA Spirit” or a great buzzword:  culture.  Nope, too vague.

So why do I feel so connected to these Ys?  Why do I feel at home in their facilities and become fast friends with the staff and boards?  I think it is a deep, shared commitment to the TASK of helping all people grow in spirit, mind, and body.  It can be discussed and framed in many ways – but everyone connected to the Y seems to have a common, focused commitment to DO things that help people improve in those 3 areas. 

It is this execution on a common task that I feel when I walk into any YMCA.  Sure, it involves planning, securing resources, staff development, facilities, etc.  But those are just platforms to do the WORK of the YMCA. 

Our DNA is not what we say, or even who we are.  It is what we do.  All over the world.