While it started out in 1844 as a group for Bible study, the YMCA’s name has become synonymous over the years with swimming and working out.
Although the organization does promote healthy living, YMCA officials say they are so much more than that — a concept they’re trying to drive home with a recent name change.
While the organization’s logo will continue to include the YMCA lettering, ultimately it has decided to go by a simplified name — the Y.
“That’s what most people refer to us as anyway — so the organization is just adopting a name that resonates more with people,” said Mike Brown, Georgia Mountains YMCA president and CEO.
“This is really about a branding change — about re-identifying what the Y is today.”
Today’s Y is an organization dedicated to healthy living, youth development and social responsibility. It is also a nonprofit organization, a fact that few people know, Brown said.
“I always say that we are the best kept secret because a lot of people don’t realize all that we do,” he said.
Last year alone, the Georgia Mountains group — which includes the J.A. Walters YMCA in Gainesville — served more than 30,000 families through its after-school programs, camps and other activities.
“We often get overlooked for (charitable donations) because people don’t see us as a cause-driven organization — we haven’t been doing a very good job teaching about the impact that the Y has,” Brown said.
“More than 30 percent of our participants receive a scholarship — some of those participants are even attending for free, all because of our fundraising efforts.”
And when about 150 families came in last year wanting to cancel their memberships because they’d lost their jobs and couldn’t afford to keep paying their dues — the organization wouldn’t let them quit.
“We gave each of them a free, six-month membership. I don’t know any other wellness center in town that would’ve done that,” Brown said.
“We did it because we thought it would be best if they kept coming. We wanted to give the families some sort of stability.”
If it wasn’t for the financial assistance offered to his family more than 30 years ago, Brown — who has worked in the Y organization for the last 18 years — said his life may have been very different.
“Without the support of the Y, I would’ve never been involved in extra-curricular activities because my mom couldn’t afford it,” Brown said.
“I had a pretty rough life, but the people at the Y nurtured me and made sure that I was able to do things like go to camp.”
As a member of the Y national committee, Brown was able to sit in on some of the earlier presentations about the logo and name change. During those meetings, many of the southern clubs argued that changing the formal logo and name of the organization would take the Christian values out of the Y, Brown said.
“I stood up and told that I started going to the Y when I was 3 and that my relationship with Christ had nothing to do with a logo — it had more to do with the people at the club who helped me,” he said.
“YMCA will still be on the side of the logo. The Y is still a Christian organization that was founded on Christian principles, but you don’t have to be a Christian to be a part of it.”
Locally, the Y name change should be complete by December, but nationally the transition may take up to five years.
While everyone may not be excited about the rebranding of the Y, Brown says he’s behind the revisions 100 percent.
“The logo itself is softer and more vibrant,” Brown said.
“It’s supposed to represent who we’ve always been — a fun and exciting social service that has a true cause.”