An orphan initialism

In a local story I’ve been following for a while in the (San Francisco mid-peninsula) Daily Post, the installment from the 21st: “Gym may continue without Y: Landlord comes to the rescue” by Breena Kerr. Background:

YMCA Silicon Valley announced in June it intended to close the gym in the Palo Alto Square office complex [at Page Mill Rd. and El Camino Real], citiing declining membership and the need to make costly and logistically difficult renovations. As the expiration of the lease approached, the YMCA said it made more sense to close than to try to save the gym.

(The landlord now says he intends to keep the gym running after the YMCA leaves.)

Further background: Over the years, the Page Mill YMCA has developed a considerable membership of seniors, who have become a community. As the Daily Post put it:

Unlike most YMCAs, the Page Mill location is an adult gym, and many members see it as an integral part of their social lives.

But YMCA of Silicon Valley Chief Operating Officer Elizabeth Jordan told the Post in June that the organization doesn’t want to run an adult gym.

“A YMCA that’s perceived as adults-only isn’t in line with the YMCA’s mission,” she told the Post.

In the June quote Jordan characterizes the facility as “an adult gym” but then refines that to “perceived as adults-only”, which is quite another matter. In any case, the Page Mill facility certainly presents itself as for everyone. not just the young, men, and Christians.

From their website:

Palo Alto Family YMCA enriches kids, adults, families and communities through health, fitness and wellness activities, aquatics, camp, youth and adult sports, teen and family programs, and volunteer opportunities and other activities for people of all ages and abilities. We’re more than your local health and fitness club with a pool and gym. At the Y, we help build a healthy spirit, mind and body for all with core values of caring, honesty, respect and responsibility at the heart of everything we do.

Everyone is welcome at the Y.

Historically, the YMCA was aimed at young adult men (not necessarily Christians, though the organization had a Christian purpose). From Wikipedia:

The Young Men’s Christian Association (commonly known as YMCA or simply the Y) is a worldwide organization with more than 57 million beneficiaries from 125 national associations. It was founded on 6 June 1844 by George Williams in London and aims to put Christian principles into practice by developing a healthy “body, mind, and spirit.” These three angles are reflected by the different sides of the (red) triangle—part of all YMCA logos.

… With regard to the history and purpose of the founding, this “organization and its female counterpart (YWCA) were established to provide low-cost housing in a safe Christian environment for rural young men and women journeying to the cities.” It was associated with industrialization and the movement of young people to cities to work. The YMCA “combined preaching in the streets and the distribution of religious tracts with a social ministry. Philanthropists saw them as places for wholesome recreation that would preserve youth from the temptations of alcohol, gambling, and prostitution and that would promote good citizenship.”

YMCA housing was also aimed at other groups of young men, in particular soldiers on leave from their units and visitors from abroad. As far as I can tell, there was no religious test for using the facilities.

In many places, the recreational facilities came to overshadow and even supplant the housing; kids and families became a major focus of the Ys; and women and older members were welcomed as members. That brings us to modern Ys like the Page Mill facility, where “everyone is welcome” — and no element of the initialism YMCA represents a condition of membership. YMCA has become an orphan initialism.

The Silicon Valley YMCA administration apparently wants to preserve some fragment of the Y in the initialism, in that it objects to a YMCA that is perceived as being for adults only. Of course, it could have pursued younger members more vigorously.

Bonus: the YMHA. From Wikipedia:

The YMHA (Young Men’s Hebrew Association) was first set up in 1854 in Baltimore to provide help for Jewish immigrants. A YWHA (Young Women’s Hebrew Association) was first established as an annex to the YMHA in New York in 1888. The New York YMHA and YWHA now operate together as the 92nd Street Y. Another New York YM-YWHA, unrelated to the 92nd Street location, is called the 14th Street Y, located in the Gramercy/East Village neighborhood.

The first independent YWHA was set up in 1902. In 1917 these organizations were combined into a Jewish Welfare Board, and were later renamed Jewish Community Centers (or JCCs), though some retain the YWHA or YMHA designation. In the New York City area, many retained the designation (or simply the term “Y” like the 92nd Street Y still does today) into the 1990s.

The 92nd Street Y is a celebrated cultural resource in New York City, known especially for its program of readings at the Unterberg Poetry Center.

Like YMCAs, JCCs require no religious test for the use of their facilities. From the website of the Palo Alto JCC (where my daughter and grand-daughter are members):

The Oshman Family JCC aspires to be a Jewish neighborhood where all are welcome… OFJCC membership is open to everyone.


Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: