Which Y?

They share three letters in common — three words, in fact — “Young,” “Christian” and “Association.” They each have a gym, a pool and an after-school program. Even their fees are pretty comparable ($58 a month for a family membership at the YM, $50 at the YW). But their mission statements move in decidedly different directions (YM: To put Christian principles into practice through programs that build healthy spirit, mind and body for all; YW: Eliminating racism, empowering women — it’s what we are about and what we intend to do).

Beyond those three letters, what else do these two community cornerstones share? Both Ys were formed in London in the 1800s. The YM came first (1844), spreading to the U.S. seven years later. The YW was organized in 1855, landing on our shores three years later. Both were championed by religious zeal, though the YM focused on corralling the lives of wayward men, while the YW harnessed Christian principles to social action.

Both Ys started residence programs, addressing inner-city housing concerns. And while it may still be “fun to stay at the YMCA,” the YW no longer offers rooms for travelers. It is, however, the largest U.S. provider of shelter services for women and their families.

The first African-American YM was created in Washington, D.C., in 1853. The first black YW branch opened in Dayton, Ohio in 1890. In the 1930s, both Ys began working for civil rights and against violence toward African-Americans. In 1946, the YW adopted an Interracial Charter — eight years before the Supreme Court ruled against segregation. Both Ys began the process of integration during the 1960s.

These days, the YWCA offers programs ranging from low-cost health screenings, free childcare and support groups to water aerobics and yoga. The YMCA is known for aquatics, fitness facilities, children’s programs and family-oriented activities.

— Alli Marshall

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About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall is the arts section editor at Mountain Xpress. She's lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. Alli is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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