Letter From the CEO: Jan 2017

Feb 2, 2017, 14:32 PM by

The C in YMCA

One of the questions I am always asked is about the "C" in the YMCA.

What does it stand for? How Christian of an organization is the YMCA? These are not easy questions because every Y in the country is different. For example, when I worked at the Houston Y, we would start every meeting with a prayer, many Ys had a chapel and alcohol was never allowed at a Y event. In contrast, when I worked for the St. Louis Y, our overnight camp had a group of cabins that had been donated and named after the Anheuser Busch Company and alcohol at a Y event was not frowned upon.

A Little History

Historically speaking, one of the original missions of the YMCA was to bring Christianity to parts of the world via missionaries. This has evolved over time: The Y has grown and changed in its offerings to the community, but our Christian heritage is a very important touchstone for us. We are not specifically a Christian organization but an organization founded by Christians and steeped in Christian values. We are a nonprofit that absolutely does important work in the community, and we use our Christian heritage as a foundation for our mission.

The Y Values

The four core values of the national YMCA are caring, honesty, respect and responsibility. There is also a national mission statement:

The mission of the YMCA is to put Christian principles into practice through programs that build healthy spirit, mind and body for all. 

These values and mission statement act as a lighthouse for us. Lighthouses are not exact navigation tools; they act as a guide and warn us when we are about to enter dangerous waters. Since the Y is 173 years old this year, we have studied and argued about the mission statement pretty heavily, much like the Supreme Court interprets the constitution. At the Y, we don’t have a Supreme Court to fall back on, and because we are a federated organization, local interpretation is important. So each Y is different and unique. It is supposed to reflect the community it serves.

"We take those last two words in our mission statement as sacrosanct. The 'for all' means exactly that."

However, I would not be out of turn to say that a universal truth for the Y in the United States is that we take those last two words in our mission statement as sacrosanct. The "for all" means exactly that. We don’t care who you are; we only care about your behavior. This is pretty clear and has almost no ambiguity. 

The other part of that mission statement talks about Christian principles. That has a ton of ambiguity. What does that mean? Again, it depends on the Y. In our Y, we fall back to our four core values of caring, honesty, respect and responsibility to illustrate our Christian roots.

Who can argue with those values? They are universally seen as good traits, and they transcend all major religions. When I worked at the Houston Y, we had a bible in the lobby and scripture painted on the walls of the workout areas. We also created a women’s only workout area, and the unintended result was that a significant number of Muslim women joined the Y. One of them told me that she had never been to such a welcoming place. A good outcome; an outcome that was based on our values and our heritage of inclusiveness. 

Putting the Y In Inclusivity

The YMCA of Boulder Valley is ecumenical. We don’t have a bible in the lobby, we don’t say prayers before meetings, and there are no scriptures on the walls. However, does that mean we are not a Christian organization?

When I was a policeman many moons ago, my sergeant once told me you don’t tell people what you are about to do, you just do it. He was referring to arresting someone, but the truth in what he said holds true for most things in life. Don’t proclaim how good and Christian you are, just do the good work. There is no need to proclaim from on high all that we do, we just need to do it and do it well.

As long as we are focused on staying true to our values (caring, honesty, respect and responsibility), we will be honest to our "C." When we have an issue at the Y we try to make our decisions based on those values; they give us a touchstone by which we can make the right decision. 

For the Love of the Y

For me it was really summed up in the first Harry Potter book (bear with me on this, and you will see the connection). Basically, Harry could not be killed by an evil wizard because of Harry’s mother:

“Your mother died to save you. If there is one thing Voldemort cannot understand, it is love. He didn’t realize that a love as powerful as your mother’s love for you leaves its own mark. Not a scar, no visible sign… to have been loved so deeply, even though the person who loved you is gone, will give us some protection forever. It is in your very skin.”

The Y is one of those organizations that was founded on belief. A belief in a higher power that can do miracles on the Earth and is there to help us in all aspects of our life. The Y has tried to be a part of that greater good through its programs and values. Our volunteers are with us because of a love for the community and for the families they serve. Our staff members are here because they love making a difference and adding resilience to the community.

We have tried to imbue that value of love and caring into our programs so we can add to what every parent wants for their kids. We strive to make our members and participants more resilient so bad things can’t leave their mark. We take care of children, we teach them values, we feed them. We provide a place for seniors, we help prevent chronic diseases and so much more.

All that keeps us true to our heritage. 


Thank You, 
Chris Coker 
CEO/President of YMCA of Boulder Valley