history web header


More than 50 Years of Community Service

In 2018-19, the North Suburban YMCA celebrates 50 years in its Northbrook facility. The bustling community center we know today has deep roots stretching back to a basement home office, an enthusiastic army of volunteers, and a consistent mission to improve the health and well-being of all.


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 Northbrook YMCA was located in the basement of the Thiels’ 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 campouts with Indian Guides and Princesses.

The dream for a permanent home started to become a reality in 1966. Now formally called the North Suburban YMCA, our 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 construct the Y’s facility on property donated by the Covenant Church next door. Community leaders participated in a groundbreaking ceremony two days before Christmas, 1967, and the project was completed March 19, 1969. The spirit and dedication of community members will remain a constant thread throughout the Y’s decades to come.


A Constant Presence Through Changing Times

From its earliest days through the start of the 21st century, generations of local residents relied on the NSYMCA, learning to swim in the pool, 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:

  • Facility Improvements: Led by CEO Howard Schultz and an active volunteer Board of Directors, the Y raised funds through capital campaigns to pay off the Y’s mortgage and undertake a massive renovation project to make the building more welcoming, safe, energy efficient, and accessible. Upgrades completed since 2008 include:
    • Complete renovation of locker rooms, lobby lounges, strength training center and track, childcare centers, dance studios, and other spaces
    • Expansion and replacement of the Y’s parking lot
    • Installation of a passenger elevator
    • Creation of a wheelchair-accessible playground
    • Updates to fitness and cardio equipment
    • Addition of a power lift to make the swimming pool accessible to those with mobility challenges


  • Affordability for All: During the same period, the Y re-dedicated itself to making its programs available to everyone in the community, including those in financial need. The Strong Kids Fund was established to offset program and membership costs for individuals who could not otherwise afford to participate.
    • One out of five people using the Y are receiving some level of aid from the Strong Kids Fund.
    • Since its launch in 2007, the annual Ken & Alta Thiel Strong Kids Dinner has been attended by hundreds of members and friends and has raised over $3 million for the Fund.


  • Expanded Programs for All Ages, Abilities, and Interests: Thousands of individuals participate in NSYMCA programs every year and even more attend special community-wide events held throughout the year.
    • Its 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. The new “2 Seconds 2 Long” program is a major anti-drowning initiative, offering free water safety skill assessments and lessons to second-grade students at partner schools.
    • 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
    • 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 top-notch 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.


  • Strong Community Connections: The NSYMCA also partners with a variety of community organizations for mutual support and joint events.
    • The Y opens its doors to the general public for a variety of events throughout the year, including the Spooktacular Halloween Party, Holiday Extravaganza, summertime Party at the Y, and the Celebration of Cultures presented by the Northbrook Community Relations Commission.
    • Expanded services to the special needs community are made possible by partnerships with organizations like TotalLink2 Community and Exercise Connection. The annual Journey of Hope cross-country bike team visit encourages everyone to celebrate the abilities of individuals with special needs.
    • The Y’s Strong Communities Initiative unites Y staff, members, and community partners in diverse monthly volunteer service projects. Program participants have created floral arrangements for hospitals and nursing homes; planted and distributed rose milkweed plants to support monarch butterfly populationshosted a wheelchair football exhibition game, and delivered thousands of toys to social service organizations supporting children throughout the northern suburbs. These were just a few of the projects in the first full year of the Strong Communities program, which earned 2017 Advancing Our Cause Award from the YMCA of the USA’s Executive Conference of Small to Midsize YMCAs.


Looking Forward to the Next 50 Years

The Y has withstood the challenges of economic downturns and social uncertainty, providing enriching, nurturing programs for the north suburban community. Thanks to the Strong Kids Fund, no one is turned away from programs due to an inability to pay. The generous and consistent support of our community, and the importance of our driving missions, sustains the NSYMCA as a vibrant, vital center for youth development, healthy living, and social responsibility.