The pandemic slowed the world down, but at the Y, our courage, support, and connection through the incredible power of social responsibility has never been stronger. Through it all, The North Suburban YMCA has remained focused on ensuring the community has access to charitable programs, financial assistance, and operational security for generations to come.
The Early Days: Grassroots Commitment In 1960, Kenneth A. Thiel received permission from the Evanston YMCA to open a satellite Y in the Village of Northbrook. The first office for the NSYMCA was located in the basement of Thiel’s home with only one desk, chair, and telephone. The Northbrook Y began to offer a patchwork of programs for youth at various locations, including swim lessons at the high school and family camp-outs. Soon, the Y launched a grassroots fundraising campaign under the leadership of James Otis, Jr. Teams of volunteers gathered at the Y’s new offices, a donated basement space on Shermer Road. Their door-to-door canvassing helped raise the funds needed to build the Y’s facility on property donated by the Covenant Church next door. Community leaders participated in a groundbreaking ceremony two days before Christmas in 1967, and the project was completed March 19, 1969.
From its earliest days through the start of the 21st century, generations of local residents rely on the NSYMCA, learning to swim, shooting hoops in the gym, and practicing ballet positions in the dance studios. Various additions over the years expanded the original building into an 85,000 square foot facility to keep up with changing needs.
In 2008, the Y faced challenging times as its building required significant updates and the economy placed hardships on many Y member families. Despite these challenges, the community stepped up to strengthen the Y and affirm its role as a source of support and connection for everyone. Leadership took dramatic steps on several fronts to ensure that the Y would continue to thrive, including making sweeping facility improvements led by former CEO Howard Schultz and an active volunteer Board of Directors.
“There’s so much more to our YMCA than gym and swim. We are education, youth development, volunteerism, preventive health, and more. The Y doesn’t just strengthen our bodies and minds, it strengthens our community. No
Social Responsibility Initiatives
Social responsibility is essential to the Y’s mission. Our Y is part of a thriving network of service organizations throughout the northern suburbs, and we are proud to lend a hand when we have the opportunity. The power of social responsibility has never been stronger.
- Holiday Giveback draws volunteers to help create “Blessing Bags” for people experiencing homelessness. The Blessing Bags, filled with essential items such baby wipes, socks, deodorant and other toiletries, are donated by NSYMCA members and board members, local businesses, and the community at large, and distributed through local 501c charities.
- Feeding Local Families in Need. In partnership with the Northfield Township Food Pantry and Hunger Free Northbrook - a program of Hunger Resource Network, the Y helps to feed local families. Donations of new packaged foods and cleaning items are collected in a large yellow bin outside of the Y’s entrance
- Hosting Critical Blood Drives with the Red Cross
- “Treats for Troops” Initiative collects leftover Halloween candy for troops at the Great Lakes Naval Base.
Community Strong Fundraising Events (formerly the Strong Kids Fundraising Dinner) The NSYMCA’S fundraising events support its financial assistance fund, the Community Strong fund, allowing programs to be accessible to everyone in the community.
- The Y provides over $560,000 annually in financial assistance to more than 1 out of 5 Y members. These funds enable families to access programs and services like after-school childcare, day camp, swim lessons, and chronic illness prevention programs. This is made possible through on-going fundraising initiatives and the Y’s Community Strong fundraising activities which have included a Golf Outing and a “Dinner Under the Stars” event held on the Y’s Northbrook campus.
- Y.E.S. Adult Education Series the most popular adult programming offering with virtual and live programming covering topics from Estate Planning to Meditation.
- Successful Summer Camp after more than a year into the pandemic, the Y knows that kids need a safe place to learn, grow, and connect during the summer. In 2021, the Y had its most successful summer camp season ever, keeping kids ages 2-14 safe and active!
- Group Ex Classes fitness classes designed for all fitness levels provide a safe, welcoming, and inclusive environment that inspire members to feel successful in their individual wellness programs. We encourage our members to find a workout that they enjoy, regardless of what the trends may say.
- “Virtual Y” takes our Y beyond our walls and makes it convenient for our members to continue their wellness journey while at home, connecting members not only physically but mentally. Our virtual platform includes fitness, meditation, adult education, art, dance, and more. With virtual memberships, the NSYMCA also benefits from a new revenue stream including working with the corporate community to offer an online wellness option for their employees
- Celebration of all Cultures and Ages. The Y has always supported diversity throughout its community, from partnering with the CRC to hosting Taste of Asia to sponsoring Black History Month programs and SeniorPalooza.
- Café Voca, a coffee bar in the Y’s lobby, provides vocational training and employment experience for individuals with intellectual and developmental challenges.
- Addressing Mental Health Issues As the NSYMCA responds to the mental health crisis due in part to the pandemic, Y staff members were certified as “Mental Health First Aid Responders”.
- Responding to Evolving Social Needs Y staff members are trained in best practices to creating a gender inclusive environment and offered practical tools for implementing gender inclusion.
"Offering classes online through the Virtual Y is the best way to continue to live out our mission to strengthen communities by keeping them connected, active, and healthy at home.”
- Diversity in Business Awards (2021)
- Readers’ Choice Awards – Best overall camp, sports camp, art studio, bar/bat mitzvah venue, dance studio, fitness center and gym, and swim school. (2021)
- Illinois State Alliance -Program Excellence Award for Adult Education Series (2020
- Better Magazine Awards - Best Art Instruction (Suburbs) and Best Coding Classes (2020)
- North Shore Choice Awards – Best Fitness Center, Best Personal Trainer, Best Yogo, Best Swim School, Best Dance Studio, Best Birthday Party Venue, Best Bar/Bat Mitzvah Venue (2020)
“We’re committed to delivering breakthrough programming to all, regardless of ability to pay, age, background, ethnicity/race, faith, ideology, national origin, gender, gender identity, or sexual orientation.”
- The Y’s indoor pool supports one of the area’s largest and most successful aquatic education programs, with multi-lingual instruction to ensure that children from all backgrounds have the chance to learn water safety and the benefits of swimming.
- Sports programs provide year-round recreation for all ages, including basketball, racquetball, soccer, t-ball, pickleball, gymnastics, and martial arts. Youth sports promote sportsmanship, teamwork, and confidence along with physical fitness.
- The Y’s North Suburban School of Dance combines artistic expression with physical well-being for students age three to adult, with an emphasis on nurturing confidence, persistence, and the joy of dance.
- Summer day camps, afterschool programs, early childhood education classes, and school break mini-camps offer families a safe, enriching place for children to learn and grow.
- Visual arts classes run the gamut from pre-school playtime to advanced digital media and adult technique programs, enhancing each individual’s self-expression and skill development.
- Highly qualified fitness instructors and personal trainers are dedicated to helping participants meet their wellness goals, using state-of-the-art equipment and exciting, motivating strategies. Yoga classes enhance wellness both physically and spiritually.
- Specialized programs bring active older adults together for physical exercise, social engagement, and intellectual stimulation.
- Individuals with special needs learn and grow in structured, inclusive programs in wellness, dance, art, and aquatics, achieving better health, social connectedness, and self-esteem.