YMCA is 100 years old today Celebrations COVID-hit but not abandoned

IN January this year, Sarah Newland Martin and her team were feverishly putting the final touches to plans for a year-long celebration of the most significant milestone of the Kingston Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA).

Then COVID-19 hit.

Today, June 9, marks the 100th anniversary of the YMCA, which has moulded the lives of countless at-risk youth, though perhaps better known as the bedrock of swimming in Jamaica. The celebrations will be muted but will not be abandoned.

“To celebrate this occasion, we have an organising committee under the chairmanship of the Hon Michael Fennell, OJ, to plan a series of events to highlight to the public at large the work of the Kingston YMCA, to re-energise all who participate in its programmes, and to raise funds to sustain its activities whilst modernising and introducing new programmes,” Newland Martin, the first woman general secretary of the Kingston YMCA, informed supporters of the ‘Y’, as it is famously called.

The team had planned to roll out the celebrations starting Sunday, June 7 with the usual church service.

“However, all of these plans have had to be suspended in view of the present circumstances with the coronavirus pandemic and we will, therefore, have to review these plans as soon as normality has returned… You will hear further from us on this in due course,” she said.

Fennell is the former president of the Jamaica Olympic Association, an accomplished businessman and a philanthropist with a reputation as a patriot.

This year, Newland Martin herself marked a big milestone — 34 years since taking the helm of the Kingston YMCA, first as associate general secretary and two years later as general secretary.

A severely disabled woman, Newland Martin, in those 34 years, became the face of the YMCA, and is now a household name and the best-known Jamaican associated with the global organisation. For her extraordinary work, she was awarded the insignia of the Officer of the Order of Distinction (OD) by the Government of Jamaica.

Throughout its history, the YMCA has doggedly pursued a series of lofty programmes aimed at building a family organisation that enables the development of young people through structured activities to strengthen the spirit, mind and body, and promote YMCA and its Christian values of “love, peace, service, and justice”.

Newland Martin said: “As we celebrate this important milestone, we are very proud of our achievements over the years, and this has been demonstrated clearly in large-scale community outreach programmes, including the establishment of Boys’ Town for vocational training, education, sports, culture, and spiritual upliftment of depressed youths in Western Kingston.”

She recalled that at the time of its emergence, the Y was the most ambitious youth and social development programme ever undertaken by a YMCA in the Caribbean, highlighted by the youth development project, formerly the street corner boys’ programme, that promoted leadership development training for young people between the ages 14 and 26 years.

YMCA is also well known for its aquatics, tae-kwon-do, summer camp, counselling (formal and informal) programmes, and referrals. It also facilitates sports and games for people with disabilities.

“We wish to thank all who have assisted the work of the YMCA over the years, in particular our staff, the volunteers, and our sponsors, and pledge our continued commitment to the development of our young people with solid Christian values,” said Newland Martin.

— Desmond Allen

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